The Great Ethics Crusade
Scholars, journalists and political commentators have written countless books and articles examining the impact of the Watergate scandal on the nation's political system.1 Richard Nixon, of all the major political figures of his era, entered the White House most prepared to withstand the brutality of the public integrity wars. In his later writings, Nixon characterized his political career as a series of victories, defeats and renewals.2 It is said that Nixon viewed the world as filled with enemies intent upon destroying him, politically and personally. According to this vision, if he didn't get them, his enemies would surely find a way to get him. Nixon's preoccupation with these real or imagined enemies ultimately led to his downfall: the Nixon White House lost the ability to distinguish between political hardball and criminal conduct.3 Nixon provided his critics with the evidence they needed to drive him from office in disgrace.
Critics of Richard Nixon seriously misjudged the long-term political significance of Watergate, however. Badly disillusioned by his 1968 election victory, new progressives saw Watergate as an opportunity to reshape the American political system and restore the administrative state to its rightful place overarching American society. Movement conservatives came to see Watergate as further evidence that the defenders of the administrative state would do anything to prevent the dismantling of big government.
Political commentator Kevin Phillips, in his 1994 book Arrogant Capital, described a Washington unchanged by the Watergate scandal. If anything, Washington had moved even further from understanding the hopes and concerns of the majority of Americans: