At the gate
Like many people, I remember certain dates in my life because of the major political events that happened then. One of these is August 8, 1974. I had just returned to Ireland from Germany, and was preparing to begin my studies in Trinity College Dublin. That evening I had been invited to a party, and as I was returning rather late at night I heard on the car radio that Richard Nixon had resigned, and I was able to listen to extracts from his resignation speech delivered in the Oval Office of the White House. It was the culmination of the events that had begun with the burglary of the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate complex in Washington two years earlier, which eventually implicated the President and changed American politics. It also produce the sometimes irritating practice of adding ‘gate’ as a suffix to names of political or other scandals.
For many of my generation in the early to mid-1970s, Richard Nixon was one of the really great villains, and back in August 1974 my rather happy post-party mood was greatly enhanced by the news. And indeed the events and revelations around Watergate tended to portray a president who was at best cynical about political integrity, and a system that was easily corrupted. And yet, with a growing distance from the mood of the time, history may yet view Nixon differently. His foreign policy in particular could be described as smart and imaginative, and even some of his domestic initiatives were progressive. Indeed by the end of his life in the early 1990s he hasd become something of an elder statesman, with admirers in unexpected quarters.
However, in the end Nixon will also always be a reminder of the destructiveness of political corruption, just as Watergate will be a symbol of vigilance where democracy may be at risk. The specific details of what happened at the time of the burglary and the subsequent attempted cover-up may get lost in the mists of time, but the significance of the scandal almost certainly will not. And that is a good thing.