President’s Woes Don’t Equal Watergate

lossy-page1-800px-Richard_M._Nixon_press_conference_releasing_the_transcripts_of_the_White_House_tapes._-_NARA_-_194576.tifInside the beltway, there’s a tendency to “gate” everything.  If you’re old enough, or a student of history, you know that Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal was one of the most notorious presidential scandals ever (that didn’t involve an intern!) Ever since then, any potential trouble for a president (and sometimes others) in Washington has been given the suffix “-gate.”







Our political shorthand for an inside-the-beltway crisis made it across the pond for Camillagate!

Why, this week, even Disney had to deal with Princess Meridagate!

And, of course, the latest — Umbrellagate!

Image via

Image via

But on the 40th anniversary of the actual Watergate hearings — the ones prompted by the break-in to the Democratic Party headquarters ordered by President Nixon as he was trying to gain re-election (remember CREEP?) — 2013 Republicans are trying to convince us that the current woes of the Obama administration related to Benghazi, the IRS and the Associated Press are Obama’s Watergate moments.

Leading the walk down the Obama-is-worse-than-Nixon memory lane is conservative columnist George Will, who claims that President Obama’s “lawlessness” deserves a criminal investigation, while contending that poor, poor Richard Milhous was just misunderstood and should have remained in office, planting the seeds of a possible Obama impeachment in his readers’ minds:

“It remains to be discovered whether the chief executive is guilty of more than an amazingly convenient failure to superintend the excesses of some executive-branch employees beyond the Allegheny Mountains. Meanwhile, file this under “What a tangled web we weave” … .”

This isn’t the first time someone like Will has waxed nostalgic for the days of Nixon, hoping that we’ll forget that presidentially directed criminal activity like breaking into the opposing political party’s headquarters to plant listening devices isn’t quite the same thing as an administration subpoenaing reporters’ records to quell the conservative attack on a commitment to finding terrorists. But in classic political shell game form, the Obama administration now stands accused, among other things, of overstepping First Amendment bounds. I’m not saying I like what the Department of Justice has done, but can we all take a step back and see the full picture that includes the Republicans’ role in possibly forcing the DOJ’s hand, rather than just one “breaking news” snapshot on the full timeline of the story?

The news cycle trifecta the President has found himself in this week certainly isn’t good, but unless there is more (and it’s looking like the Republican ideas about Benghazi are unraveling by the minute) we are a long way from Obama being the Democratic equivalent of one of the most politically corrupt politicians of our time.

With the rush to label every criticism of a president as a “scandal” and dubbing each one with the suffix “-gate,” also means we’ve perspective on Watergate’s historical significance, and that the word “Watergate” was shorthand for the presidentially directed criminal activities of Nixon and the subsequent cover-up that sent a variety of government officials to prison.

I’m not saying all the other “-gates” we have had through history constituted acceptable behavior (note to politicians – please don’t ever send Twitpics of your privates again. KTHX!), but as we are “celebrating” the 40th anniversary of the Watergate hearings, we should remind ourselves what the word “Watergate” stands for (aside from the name of a luxury condominium complex in Washington, D.C.) —  a constitutional crisis about what to do when a president commits criminal acts. So far, none of these other “-gates” come anywhere close.

Seriously, Republicans? you can do better than making a mountain out of an umbrella.

But given the attraction to the word, I have to wonder — would another break-in at the now-infamous residential hotel be Watergate-gate?

Joanne Bamberger is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Broad Side.  She was formerly known around these internet parts as PunditMom, but now she is trying to be herself. She is the author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America (an bestseller and now available in E-book form!). She was recently awarded the Campaigns & Elections Magazine/CampaignTech 2013 Advocacy Innovator Award.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/National Archives

  • Will just makes me laugh out loud.

  • Jonathan Menon

    Not that this comment of mine has any real relevance to your article except a cosmetic one, but have you also noticed how the location of every disaster is now called “ground zero?”

    Ground zero used to be the spot where a nuclear detonation took place.

  • @Jonathan, That is an excellent point. We should start making a list of cultural references like that that have lost their original meaning/impact because of overuse.

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