Vivid memories of what my life was like in the midst of the greatest political unheaval in American history have flooded me in recent weeks. The news media have pursued me for comments, reflections, and observations almost as doggedly as they did for fresh news in the days of the unfolding drama.
It is—dubious though commemorating a burglary might seem—the tenth anniversary of what began as a bungled act of political espionage and ended in the unprecedented resignation and disgrace of a U.S. president and his men. But Watergate is more than an event. Few today could recount what happened, when, and to whom. Even fewer could explain why. Yet the term, a permanent addition to the American lexicon, is now used to embrace all manner of political chicanery and high-level misdeeds.
Most reporters of late are looking for fresh tidbits, heretofore undisclosed secrets—like whether Mr. Nixon was really drunk in the evenings as Henry Kissinger said someone told him. John Erlichman’s recently published memoirs, so full of anger and bitterness that I could barely labor through them, have spawned a host of new questions.
The human bunglings and failures of the “Watergate cover-up” add credibility to the biblical account of the Resurrection.
The folks I feel sorriest for in this enterprise are the serious historians. How will they ever manage to sort out all that happened? Since truth is usually stranger than fiction, facts in such an interwoven, intriguing event will probably never be unearthed.
The more thoughtful reporters have wanted to explore the deeper meanings of the constitutional crisis and the fall of the Nixon presidency. What caused it?
That is a good question. Watergate was a historical imperative, the explosion of pent-up frustration ...1
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