Robert Ehlert: Those after Obama would do well to recall real misdeeds

July 10, 2014 

Robert Ehlert

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Reading David Adler's piece today on the troubles of President Richard Nixon that culminated in his resignation in 1974 took me on a trip back to Watergate lane.

I was paying very close attention to the presidential election pitting Republican incumbent Nixon against Democratic Sen. George McGovern because - thanks to the passage of the 26th Amendment in 1971 granting the vote to 18-year-olds - it was to be my first opportunity to do so.

The unfolding of the scandal was not even on my or the country's radar for the 1972 presidential election, but as the months turned, it was intriguing to harvest the Watergate details that sputtered out and were regurgitated by some of my professors at the University of Iowa.

Though Iowa City was no Berkeley when it came to Vietnam War and political protests, a few projectiles and anti-war slurs had been lobbed across campus.

By the fall of 1973, I was about to undergo a change in major and the course of my life. I had begun to second-guess the job prospects of my English major, which had a focus on 18th and early 19th century English literature: Fielding, Richardson, Swift, Defoe and Austen, just to name a few.

Like a lot of students at the time, I was paying attention to two contemporary authors: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters.

With the exception of my mother, a staunch Democrat who had been raised in an orphanage by nuns who even sent her to college in the 1930s, I was otherwise surrounded by mostly Republicans with conservative views on the "power grab" the press was making of the Nixon scandal.

Frankly, I was a skeptic about the slants around Nixon and the press, but that didn't stop me from adding journalism as a second major in my coursework.

Watergate and the deceit of a government had the effect of awakening a sense of purpose in a generation of would-be journalists. Universities across the country were flooded with baby boomer J-school applicants ready to investigate and scrutinize societal platitudes.

Now me, I was about as apolitical as one could be in the journalism track at Iowa. I fancied journalism as "contemporary history," a way to make a living writing and maybe "make a difference." I still see myself reporting on life, its meanings, mysteries and occasional betrayals.

For better or worse (your call), I am but one of thousands of journalists whose inquisitive natures were piqued by the investigative prowess that came out of the Watergate era.

Some, me included, did not fully appreciate at the time the profound nature of what was happening in 1972-1974. Hindsight has provided perspective to the times between the July 1972 Watergate break-in until the release of "All The President's Men," starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, in 1976.

My new, time-enhanced perspective is cautious about the hair-trigger penchant for unseating presidents. I chuckle at the "impeachment" cries against Presidents Bush, Clinton and now Obama.

It's natural to have regrets and dislikes for certain presidents, but lofting impeachment charges and getting carried away with the hot-air balloon of people like Sarah Palin defies the gravity of reality.

The I-word "offenses" against contemporary presidents may indicate a degree of dereliction, but they aren't even in the same league as the deeds and depths of denial surrounding Nixon.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437.

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