Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, February 17, 1999


Difference in Nixon,
Clinton scandals

WHY were Watergate and the resignation of President Richard Nixon such a riveting affair, and the impeachment and acquittal of President Bill Clinton such a demeaning exercise?

We learned with Nixon the term "unindicted co-conspirator," which is what a 1974 grand jury called the president.

Nixon was implicated in covering up the Watergate burglary, a tacky bit of political espionage. But it uncovered Nixon's deep-seated hostility toward those he considered partisan enemies. Watergate showed how a man with tremendous political power could use it to spy on and harass those who opposed his politics.

He approved a White House intelligence unit, "the Plumbers," that would have involved illegal acts.

When the cover-up had collapsed, Nixon's associates found guilty of illegal acts included his chief of staff, his chief domestic adviser, two attorneys general, three White House counsels, his personal attorney, his campaign finance chairman, his deputy campaign manager and his appointments secretary.

On Aug. 8, 1974, Nixon announced he would resign.

The nation learned a sad lesson about the rule of law, a flawed personal character and the desperate viciousness of personal politics.

Now with President Clinton the nation learned to turn down the national news when 6-year-olds were listening.

America started the President's Day weekend with the announcement from the chief justice of the Supreme Court that Clinton had been found "not guilty."

So Clinton remains in office, pledging to keep his administration and the nation on track. But just last week, public opinion polls show that 66 percent of the country feels he does not have "high personal moral and ethical standards."

Another national poll in January found only 37 percent willing to call Clinton "a leader you can trust."

In case you are wondering, the Wall Street Journal reports that as of May 1974, 40 percent of those surveyed called Nixon a man of integrity and, two weeks before he resigned, 35 percent still said he had high integrity, a greater proportion than Clinton commands today.

After Watergate, we elected a Democratic president Jimmy Carter, who ran partially on the campaign promise to never lie to us.

Ethics reform swept the country. The much-abused federal special prosecutor law was enacted, and campaign spending limits and reporting requirements were established.

In Hawaii, the state Legislature put in mandatory spending limits, which were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976.

The result was a sincere effort to respond to the cynicism and expediency of Nixon's Washington.

TODAY we are a nation that is, except for Hawaii, flush with money. The stock market is everyone's favorite hobby. That economic exuberance wasn't there for Nixon.

What now for Clinton's legacy? Will public disgust at his unfaithfulness lead to more marriage renewal ceremonies? Will schools list "honesty is the best policy" as a mission statement?

More likely, however, will be a permanence that lasts only as long as last week's National Enquirer headline.



Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at rborreca@pixi.com




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