Research Paper: Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal

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Nixon and Watergate

It was the Presidential Crisis of Richard Nixon, though, that seemed to shape the way the world viewed America in the 1970s. The so-called "Watergate Affair" encompassed a number of secret, and illegal, activities sanctioned by President Nixon or his aids. In brief, Nixon hired some underlings to break into the Democratic Party Headquarters (The Watergate Hotel) on June 17, 1972. They were tasked to gather secret information to be used against the Democrats in the upcoming election. Watergate, however, simply became a symbol of the numerous scandals that were uncovered by reporters from the Washington Post and elsewhere. Nixon, of course, downplayed the scandal, but when tapes of conversations were found, it became clear that Nixon himself had accepted illegal campaign contributions, and had harassed opponents with Presidential powers, and abused his position in office as well as his duty toward the Constitution (Stans 1998).

Nixon continued to deny his involvement, stating to the nation in November, 1973: "People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got" (Kilpatrick 1973). Nevertheless, in May 1974, the Congressional House Judiciary Committee opened public impeachment hearing against President Nixon. Practical to the end, Nixon realized he had lost political and public support, and that it was certain he would be impeached and likely convicted and imprisoned. Instead, he resigned the Presidency on August 9, 2974, after making an impassionate television address to the public. Nixon never admitted to any wrongdoing, but later said he might have had "errors in judgment" (Kutler 1992 167-72).

As a result of Watergate, Nixon was disbarred by the State of New York, and because he would admit no wrongdoing, he resigned all his law licenses. On September 8, 1974, however, he was pardoned unconditionally by his successor, President Gerald Ford, thus ending any possibility of a future indictment. The pardon was, of course, quite controversial and many claimed it was part of a secret deal made in payment for Nixon's resignation (Ford 1974).

Nixon's Early Years- Richard Milhous Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, California. He was raised in a conservative Quaker environment. His childhood was difficult economically, and he lost two of his four brothers before he was 20. After graduating from Whittier High School second in his class he was offered a scholarship to Harvard, but was unable to accept due to fiscal issues not covered by the award. Instead, he went to Whittier College and excelled as Student Body President, debater, and on the college baseball, football and track teams. He received a full scholarship to Duke University School of Law, at the time new and actively recruiting top students from around the country. Scholarship money was reduced year to year, forcing the students into intense competition, upon which Nixon seemed to thrive -- he graduated third in the class in 1937 (Nixon Biography 2008).

Nixon's first choice was to work with the relatively new, but highly visible FBI. Instead, he worked in commercial litigation and personal legal matters, although interestingly refused to work on divorce. He did not enjoy practicing law, but knew he needed to excel in order to achieve any political ambition. During this time he courted a relatively unwilling "Pat" Ryan who, after two years, finally agreed to marry Nixon on June 21, 1940. In January, 1942, the couple moved to Washington, D.C., where Nixon took a federal job at the Office of Price Administration. This job made him exempt from military service; however, Nixon believed in service and was commissioned into the Navy in August 1942. He did not see actual combat, but excelled in numerous administrative jobs, including his work in negotiating the termination of war contracts. Nixon resigned his Naval commission on New Year's Day 1946 (Black 2007).

Nixon as a Cold Warrior- It was during his 1946 election to the House of Representatives representing the 12th Congressional District in California that Nixon became interested in the politics of the Cold War, which continued after being elected to the senate in 1950. It was the 1950 campaign, which was rough and contentious, that Nixon became known as a "Red Warrior." In fact, it was this campaign that Nixon uttered the famous phrase about his opponent, former actress Helen Douglas, in that she was "pink right down to her underwear" -- and thus became known to the world as "Tricky Dicky" (Ibid. 178).

In retrospect, it almost seems that Nixon, from an early political start, was looking for a cause with which to attach his name. The Cold War and Anti-Communism proved to be just that cause. For example, Nixon gained national attention in 1948 when his HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) broke the Alger Hiss spy case. Central to this case was a witness, Whittaker Chambers, who alleged that Hiss, a State Department official, was a Soviet agent. Many disbelieved Chambers, thinking him someone cloying for media attention. Nixon believed him, however, and the accusations proved true when microfilm documents accessible only to Hiss were discovered in the famous "pumpkin patch." Hiss was convicted of perjury in 1950 and put Nixon into the limelight as a staunch anti-communist and politician unafraid to rock the boat to preserve democracy ((Powers 1998 223-5; Ambrose 1988 179-82).

Nixon was easily reelected and began taking an aggressive position in opposition to the spread of global communism, his view that President Truman was mishandling the Korean War, statehood for Alaska and Hawaii, and in a liberal stance he would continue to follow throughout his political career, civil rights for minorities. He remained opposed to monetary controls, benefits for illegal immigrants, and public power policies. For a young politiican, he proved ot be just the type of person coveted by the Republican Party (Ibid. 224-30). In 1952, General Dwight Eisenhower chose Nixon to be his Vice-Presidential running mate, a position he served from 1953-1961. There did not seem to be a great deal of friendship between the two men, but Eisenhower realized he needed the type of electorate Nixon would bring. In fact, during allegations that Nixon had a secret fund, Nixon responded with his famous "Checker's Speech" in which he went on national television, released his tax returns and told the public that even though his daughters loved their little dog "Checkers," since it had been given as a gift he wanted no taint of scandal and would give the dog back. For the time this uncharacteristically blunt appeal to America via the new medium of television resulted in an increase in support for the Republican Party and aided the Eisenhower (Morris 1990).

Nixon as Vice President- In most cases the role of the Vice-President was neither notable nor particularly important to the Administration. A prime example of this was Harry Truman, who was kept out of the loop about the war effort, the Atomic Bomb program, and several other key elements by the Roosevelt Administration. Instead, Nixon often took the lead role with the media and GOP party politics. For example, Nixon intervened with his role as the President of the Senate to rule on filibusters so that Eisenhower's 1957 Civil Rights Bill, which created the United States Commission on Civil Rights, would pass (A Hold is Broken 1957).

Nixon garnered international attention in two prominent ways during his Vice-Presidency, one of which would serve him well during his own tenure as President. First, trying to garner additional goodwill towards America during the Cold War Nixon flew to Caracas, Venezuela, where he and his motorcade were pelted with rocks and injuring Venezuela's Foreign Minister. Nixon, however, remained calm during the entire event, and was applauded by the international press for his professionalism (Nixon Library). In July, 1959, Nixon flew to Moscow for the American National Exhibition. Prior to his trip he commented to the press, "There is no magic formula which will settle the differences between us, no conferences at the Summit which will dramatically end world tensions. The road to peace is a long and hard one, and if we are to stay on it, both out people and our leaders must display patience and understanding to a maximum degree" (Nixon Visits Russia 1959). It was during this trip that Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev engaged in a light-hearted debated about the various merits of capitalism and communism, an impromptu exchange known affectionately as "The Kitchen Debates" (Safire 2009). Nixon's handling of the contentious and cranky Khrushchev placed him into the role of an international states man and his nomination as the 1960 Republican candidate for the U.S. Presidency.

The Race for The Presidency, Part 1- In many ways, the 1960 election was a mandate for change, but certainly not a foregone conclusion. Nixon campaigned on his decade of experience, his international acumen, and a plan for economic growth and deficit reduction (the 1950s Cold War had increased the deficit) (Black 266). John F. Kennedy, the young Senator from Massachusetts, asked the country… [END OF PREVIEW]

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