Boomers Remember the First “…Gate” — Watergate

There are seminal moments in the life of boomers that conjure vivid memories: John Kennedy’s assassination; Neil Armstrong taking his first step on the moon; and the Watergate hearings, to name a few. Fifty years ago this week, on June 17, 1972, burglars were arrested while breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate hotel and office complex in Washington, DC. The story of corruption, abuse of power and ultimately, the cover-up, unfolded before the eyes of the country in a series of televised Senate hearings examining the Watergate scandal.

Every boomer recognizes the names involved: John Dean, John Ehrlichman, E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, and of course, Richard Nixon, immediately come to mind. There has been much written through the years about Watergate, not to mention movies and TV interviews. Now at the fiftieth anniversary, there is another avalanche of recollections emerging about the original crime and subsequent cover-up that resulted in the resignation of the President of the United States. Mister Boomer writes about boomers and their way of life in the three decades of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, and makes no claim to being a historian. What is important to Mister B at this auspicious anniversary is how boomers absorbed the historical happenings then, and whether their mindset was in any way influenced by these events in the years that followed.

Mister Boomer was a college student when the Watergate hearings were aired. He did watch some of them on TV, but mostly got his information from the daily newspaper. A running account in an ongoing series of articles summarized each of the hearings and latest revelations. Of course, there was also the evening news with Harry Reasoner, John Chancellor or Walter Cronkite.

People sometimes forget that the time span from the arrest of the Watergate burglars to Nixon’s resignation was just over two years. Many months passed to digest the information that exploded in the public realm from the White House, the Senate hearings and reporters, most notably Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein from the Washington Post.

To a young Mister B, the parade of names involved in Watergate was difficult to keep track of, but it was evident as individual criminal trials went on that the whole thing was a conspiracy, not merely an office break-in. Most of the boomer males in Mister B’s circle were opposed to every U.S. president since the beginning of the Vietnam war on principal, for the simple reason that they feared getting drafted. Nonetheless, many particularly relished the resignation of Richard Nixon as the culmination of events that began fifty years ago.

What did Watergate mean to your mindset then and now, boomers? Did it shatter your trust in government — as President Gerald Ford attempted to address in the aftermath — and reinforce suspicions that the President of the United States was, despite his pronouncement to the contrary, a crook? Or did it restore your faith in the ability of the government’s watchdogs to hold people in our highest offices accountable?

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