June 17 marks the 41st anniversary of the second Watergate break-in. This is a good time to take a look back and reflect on what can happen when a corrupt administration throws a protective cloak around the misbehavior of a gang of unscrupulous cheats, liars and crooks.
On the morning of June 18, 1972, millions of us were unaware of the festering corruption that would ultimately rot our confidence in the president. We did not know that his administration was using the FBI as a tool to wiretap telephones of reporters regarded as unfriendly to the White House. We were oblivious to the fact the administration encouraged the IRS to audit media representatives whose reporting criticized the president.
Millions found it nearly impossible to believe political operatives were using the most fearsome agents of our government to punish, discourage and intimidate political opponents.
When whispers about the June 17 break-in began to arouse public concern, we had no idea the felonious trail would lead to the office of the nation’s Attorney General. As the magnitude of the scandal provoked widespread anger, defensiveness, disbelief and anxiety, many of us refused to entertain the idea that the president might, himself, be an active participant in the crimes, unconscionable payoffs and cowardly cover-ups.
Prior to the 1972 election, when the FBI reported that the Watergate break-in was the tip of a profoundly corrupt political iceberg involving a massive campaign of unlawful surveillance and sabotage carried out by the president’s reelection committee, many of us recoiled from the idea that the dirty trail might lead to the desk of President Nixon.
The shady tricks, the felonies, the perjuries, the cover-ups, worked. President Nixon won the 1972 election in a landslide. Even so, diligent reporters determined to uncover the truth fueled the legal proceedings that extracted damning documents and testimony leading certainly to the conclusion that our president was an active participant in the dirty, dishonest, cowardly behavior that threatened to undermine the people’s confidence in their government.
I might have been one of the last, but when President Nixon in a November, 1973, statement insisted, “I am not a crook,” I wanted to believe him. Forgive the cliché here, but the rest, as we know, is history. President Nixon may not have known about the break-in in advance. But he did know about it shortly afterwards and he did take an active role in covering it up and telling disgraceful lies to the American people. Sadly, millions of us welcomed his disgraceful resignation.
For many of us, belief in the integrity of Richard Nixon was destroyed. But we continued to believe in the integrity of the office of President of the United States.
Now fast-forward to the administration of Bill Clinton. On June 17, 1998, news of his tawdry affair with Monica Lewinsky made headlines. Nine days later, the president addressed the nation. He looked us in the eye, pointed his finger at the camera and stated: “Now I have to go back to work on my State of the Union speech … But I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
Once again, millions of us were biased in Mr. Clinton’s favor because he was, after all, the president of the United States. Surely, President Nixon notwithstanding, no one would have the gall to look us in the eye and tell us an outright lie. We wanted to believe our president was telling the truth. Unfortunately, another White House occupant was willing to demean his office by disgracing himself and lie to his fellow citizens. Many of us, to our embarrassment, bought it.
Sadly, we now know there are politicians of a certain caliber who are more than happy to employ the power of public office to intimidate, discredit and discourage political opponents. We know there are people who solicit our trust and confidence holding themselves out as examples of moral strength and uprightness, when in reality, they are nothing more than cheap cowardly deceivers.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen it all before.
The expansive show of moral outrage, the protestations of ignorance, the indignity, the demands for accountability, and the pleas for attentions to be focused everywhere but on the scandals, the cynical blame placed on the victims. So who do we blame when we find ourselves entertaining the possibility that our president may be deceiving us? Some would happily encourage us to put the blame anywhere but the White House.
Perhaps it’s all our fault. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired
and Edmond resident.