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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Watergate Scandal’#146;s 30th Anniversary

    When President Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974 as a result ofvarious illegal acts to help him get reelected, Michael Barnhart was happy tosee him go.

    ‘I was angry at the idea that anyone thought himself above the law,’said Barnhart, a history professor at Stony Brook University with a specializationin modern American history and U.S. foreign relations. ‘I was pleased withNixon’#146;s eventual resignation.’

    Nixon’#146;s series of illegal activities is now referred to as Watergate becauseof the initial break-in of the Watergate complex in Washington D.C. on June17, 1972.

    Watergate’#146;s 30-year anniversary is approaching and some Americans arereevaluating their past views of elected government officials, as well as theirfeelings today. While many Americans feel that Watergate has had a lasting impact,many argue that its impact has waned over the years.

    Stanley Feldman, a professor in SBU’#146;s political science department feelsthat Watergate has had a heavy impact on Americans’#146; view of their governmentofficials.

    ‘Yes, first of all, Watergate damaged American trust of officials,’Feldman said. ‘Americans’#146; belief and trust of officials in the wakeof Watergate and in the years since then have been much lower then the periodbefore.’

    Feldman felt that war is a bigger factor in determining American’#146;s levelof trust in the government than any personal actions of elected officials. Heused President Bush’#146;s War on Terrorism as an example of Americans regainingtrust because they feel it is needed now.

    ‘Post September 11, people’#146;s trust has shot up again,’ Feldmansaid. ‘My guess is that people want to have the feeling that things areunder control, that the government is able to handle it and patriotism is apart of it. It is a need to feel secure.’

    Barnhart agreed that in wartime Americans have a tendency to blindly gain additionaltrust in the government and that officials often use this to their advantage.

    ‘You have to remember that Americans historically have distrusted government,and often with good reason,’ Barnhart said. ‘Only in wartime do Americanstend to lower their suspicions and rally round the flag.’

    Walter Zink II, assistant adjunct general of the U.S. Army felt that, to somedegree, Americans remain mistrustful of government officials as a result ofWatergate, especially Americans who were alive to see it happen.

    Paul Teske, the director of master’#146;s and Ph.D Programs in the SBU politicalscience department and a professor specializing in American public policy, feltthat Watergate made government officials more mistrustful of each other. Heexplained that since Watergate, elected officials are now less forgiving ofeach other and are more ready to go against a member of their opposing politicalparty.

    ‘One contrast between 1972 and now is the increase in party wrangling,’Teske said. ‘At the time of Nixon there was less republican and democratsbashing each other. Parties for that congress were a little bit more moderatethen.’

    Teske talked about the President Clinton scandal involving Monica Lewinskyand the republican’#146;s readiness to uncover it as an example of the politicaldisunity in congress.

    Teske also agreed that the Vietnam war may have added to the mistrust Americansfelt after Watergate and that the mistrust has carried over to present day.

    ‘Right after Watergate, there was a sense of ‘#145;how could this happen,’#146;’Teskesaid. ‘With the backdrop of the Vietnam war, the American public at thatpoint had had enough. There has been a long term decline in poll surveys, generaltrust in the government has gone down.’

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