Your excellent pair of articles called “The Triumph of Watergate” brought to mind so many of the issues Americans faced in the early 1970s. I was a college student then at a small moderate-to-liberal campus where it seemed that only a few major issues penetrated the cocoon of college life.
There was a minimum of active interest in the 1972 presidential election, because most people concluded that Nixon would be reelected no matter what was said or done. This concerned some students who thought about the possible implications of the Watergate break-in, but, generally, people saw the Watergate incident as just something that had happened eight hundred miles away and as a small-time operation not worth the space the media gave it.
Shortly before the election I asked a friend if it bothered her to vote for someone who might have betrayed America’s trust by involving himself in the cover-up of an illegal act. The answer surprised me, although I suppose it should not have. She told me that “they all do it. Nixon was just the one who got caught. He should have been more careful. He’s no better or worse than anyone else in politics, and they have no right to persecute him and drag him through the mud.” I mentioned this to other people who in varying degrees seemed to agree. I was frightened for the nation.
Late on election night, my roommate and I returned to the dorm after putting the college newspaper to bed. There was a sign on our door that said, “Hurray Four More Years!” I remember taking down the sign and writing on the bottom, “and God help us all.” We hung it on the door of the neighbors who gave it to us.
It was almost a year to the day later when people began to understand the depth of the President’s involvement in the whole affair, and that it was a serious breach of his oath. And the system worked! President Nixon resigned, bowing to intense pressure, before he could be impeached.
I again stand in awe of what the founders of this nation have wrought. They gave us a frame of steel on which to build a society, shaped to the needs of the day. They would probably be pleased to see that their frame works as well today as it did in their time, perhaps better because time and struggle have tempered it.