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Stop calling minor scandals ‘Worse than Watergate’

Stop calling minor political scandals “worse than Watergate.”

It doesn’t matter what the scandal is, it likely isn’t worse than Watergate.

Hyperbole is a well-used arrow in the rhetorical quiver of most politicians and the commentariat. Exaggeration to make a point has its place in political discourse. But to constantly describe something minor as something horrendous does two things, it makes the person who is constantly claiming the sky is falling look foolish and ignorant, and it minimizes the horror of something that should never be minimized.

Watergate was a horror and we forget that at our peril. President Ford didn’t call it our “long national nightmare” for nothing.

But forget that we have. Every time we put the suffix –gate on the end of some minor kerfuffle, we minimize Watergate. And calling some scandal worse than Watergate grossly misstates the severity of the scandal and Watergate.

Both liberals and conservatives do it, politicians and the political punditry.

President Reagan probably conspired to evade a law restricting funding Nicaraguan rebels. That was bad, but it wasn’t even close to being worse than Watergate.

None of President Clinton’s many scandals were “worse than Watergate” even though he was impeached. Lying under oath in a deposition about having sex with a woman who wasn’t his wife hardly rises to the level of Watergate.

Nothing President Obama has been accused of lately is all that serious. Even it if turns out he had a hand in directing the IRS to give extra scrutiny to Tea Party groups, it’s bad, but it’s still not “worse than Watergate.”

An argument could be made that President Bush committed sins that were “worse than Watergate,” after all, he invaded a country on false premises and sanctioned the torture of prisoners. Unlike Watergate, thousands of people were unnecessarily killed and tortured under his regime. But unlike Watergate, Bush’s horrors were done with the full knowledge and sanction of the Congress and the American people.

Nixon committed his crimes in secret and if not for his bungling burglars and a courageous newspaper the nation might never have learned of Nixon’s crimes and the level of contempt he had for the Constitution and the rule of law.

In case you’ve forgotten or are too young to have lived through it and didn’t get adequate instruction about it in school, here’s a brief synopsis.

The term Watergate encompasses two things: The June, 1972 break-in and attempted bugging of Democratic National Party headquarters’ office in the Watergate office complex in Washington D.C., and the resultant attempt to cover up Whitehouse complicity in the break-in through deceit and interfering with the FBI investigation; and the coverup also was intended to keep secret a whole host of felonious activity that started at the beginning of Nixon’s first term of which the Watergate bugging attempt was a part.

Most of the country didn’t believe the stories the Washington Post published about Nixon’s criminal complicity. Despite reams of evidence and stories in the Post connecting the Whitehouse to the break-in, Nixon was overwhelmingly re-elected. Nixon ended up hoisting himself on his own petard by taping all the conversations in the Oval Office. Nixon’s own words revealed during Congressional hearings in 1973 and 1974 convinced the country he was a crook and he was driven from office in shame.

If not for Ford’s immediate pardon, Nixon would have gone to jail for his crimes, joining at least 40 other members of his administration who spent time in prison for their actions before and after Watergate.

Among the charges that led to their incarcerations were burglary, extortion, bribery, wiretapping, fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury.

Nixon believed he was above the law and used the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies to intimidate and destroy his political enemies. In the end, the law won. But it was close. It’s possible that if not for a little tape left on a door lock, the nation might never have found out what a tyrant their president was.

So to equate minor scandals with Nixon’s massive abuse of power and the criminal cabal he led from the Whitehouse is dangerous for our nation.

We owe it to subsequent generations who didn’t live through Watergate to know how to judge what real abuse of power is and to be ever vigilant for it.

Otherwise, if it happens again, they might simply dismiss it as just more cacophonous political grandstanding by blowhards simply exaggerating to make a point.

Stop saying “worse than Watergate” until it’s proven through multiple convictions and impeachment that it really was.

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