Something Happened: A Political and Cultural Overview of the Seventies

By Edward D. Berkowitz | Go to book overview

I
Nixon. Watergate, and Presidential Scandal

During the serenlies, America devoured its presidents in what journalist Max Lerner described as fits of “tribal cannibalism.”1 Richard Nixon, the first of the era's presidents, sent the institution on a downward spiral. The Watergate scandal that resulted from his misuse of power became one of the era's signature events. It altered the course of electoral politics after 1973, enabled the legislative branch of government to gain power at the expense of the executive branch, increased the level of scrutiny of a president's private behavior, and made Americans more cynical about the government's ability to improve their well-being. Watergate also changed the career paths of politicians who aspired to the presidency. Beginning in 1976, governors, rather than senators, became president.


THE LIFE OF RICHARD NIXON

Richard Nixon, an intensely private man, lived one of the most public lives in American history. He was perhaps the last of the twentieth century politicians whose life spooled like a newsreel across the public imagination. Born in 1913, he spent his entire political career in the postwar, rather than the New Deal, era. The southern California of his youth resembled the pages of a John Steinbeck novel more than it reflected the glamour of nearby Hollywood. Still, Nixon found the means to attend college, a fact that set him apart from most people his age. Graduating in 1934 from Whittier College, a Quaker school located near his hometown, he earned a scholarship to the newly established Duke Law School, finishing third in his class in 1937. At

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