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6/17/12 at 08:31 PM 0 Comments

Not a Nation of Kings: Lessons from Watergate

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By Ginny Dent Brant

Watergate had such a lasting impact on our country that the “gate” suffix is now attached to all political scandals by the media. It is the best known scandal due to the number of men indicted and incarcerated. The scandal itself ignited impeachment proceedings which eventually led to the first resignation of a US president in office. Watergate is a reminder to our nation that “no one is above the law” for we are not a nation of kings.

Who am I? I’m a child of Watergate with an inside view. I grew up in the halls of power in Washington, DC because my father, Harry S. Dent, Sr., served a senator and three presidents. He was one of President Nixon’s men, when the ship went down. It was devastating to see everything this administration worked for go down the tubes. This administration accomplished much good, but the good was tainted by mistakes of moral failure.

Simply put, power corrupts. When humans get into a position of power, our nature pulls us towards our own selfish desires. Yet, the beauty of our government is the checks, balances, and limited power of the federal government designed by our forefathers to restrain the sinful, selfish nature of man. We are a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” We are not a nation ruled by the selfish desires of one individual. . . or a king wannabe.

My father escaped the prison doors which closed on many during Watergate. He credits his escape to his loyalty to his Boy Scout roots in his hometown of St. Matthews, SC. He truly believed that public service was a high and noble calling. He was a man whose morals and ethics caused him to be railroaded from the White House inner circle by H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s Chief of Staff. As an insider, it was a painful demotion—one which ultimately saved him from prison. It protected him from knowing about Watergate and being faced with the temptation, “Do I tell what I know or do I cover-up and protect my loyalty to the president.” My father was never placed in that position and he was grateful.

What took down a president and his men was not the actual break-in at the Watergate Complex. It was the massive attempt to cover-up. Most of the indictments were for Obstruction of Justice. It is the natural tendency of humans to make mistakes and cover-up. We’ve been doing it since the beginning of time. Yes, it goes back to the Garden of Eden.

A good advisor is one who will tell you the truth, even when it hurts. My father was known for doing that throughout his life as a political advisor. After the media began to connect the dots of the Watergate Break-in back to the White House, he actually advised President Nixon at Camp David not to cover-up what had happened under his watch, but to be honest with the American people and ask their forgiveness. He felt with the president’s popularity following a landslide re-election in 1972, the American people would have forgiven him. Unfortunately, the President did not take his advice.

So forty years after Watergate, what have we learned? My dad and I learned that no one is above the law: no woman, no man and no president. We also learned that no one is beneath the law. My father served an administration that finally saw the end of segregation and in the future the handicapped would also gain their equal access to the law.

Within that principle of equality is that what we sow, we reap. My father grieved on January 1, 1975, when his friend John Mitchell became the first US attorney general to be incarcerated in the prison system he was sworn to oversee. Yet, another truth brought to light is that with God’s help, redemption can reach any depth. Chuck Colson’s walk through prison led him to reform the prison system through Prison Fellowship. His transformation from “White House Hatchet Man” to modern day prophet is a prime example of God’s grace and redemption.

What have we learned as a nation? Unfortunately, not much. Weekly media stories of politicians and business executives misusing and abusing their positions of power for personal gain is a never ending headline. It’s no secret that other administrations have also engaged in far more questionable behavior. Nixon tried to justify himself by pointing to the wrongdoings of previous administrations. History is a lens through which we look and gain wisdom; it’s not a moral compass. Two wrongs never make a right. What others have done never justifies the same errors today.

Currently, we have investigations going on with President Obama and his cabinet. Who leaked classified information and why? What did the Attorney General Eric Holder know about Fast and Furious and when? Why were we giving thousands of weapons to the Mexican Drug Cartel—weapons that ended up being used against our own border patrol agents?

These questions deserved credible answers. It took Eric Holder one year to retract false denials of his office’s reckless tactic in supplying guns. So now in an administration promising transparency, we have possible obstruction of justice and the House oversight Committee including some well-known Democrats will vote next week as to whether to hold Holder in contempt of Congress.

The final lesson of Watergate is that we as a nation must always hold our elected officials to high standards. We must continue to examine the actions of those in office or we can’t uphold the system of checks and balances that is the lifeline of a free society. Have we grown too weary and too complacent to demand more of these public servants?

And a final word to the media of our day. I believe we live in a day when there are Watergates all around us—in government, business and in the media. If we are to remain a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” we must have a media who holds to the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics which states:

Public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.”

Citizens must also be able to trust the media as citizens who disseminate newsworthy information with truthfulness, accuracy, impartiality and fairness. This type of reporting is critical to our democracy. Today’s media must scrutinize every administration and not play politics, lest they be guilty of creating a king.


Ginny Dent Brant is a writer, counselor, soloist, Christian speaker, and Bible teacher. Her book about her spiritual journey with her father, Finding True Freedom: From the White House to the World was released in 2010 by CLC Publications. She is a former trustee of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Ginny and her husband Alton live in Clemson/Seneca, SC. More info at www.ginnybrant.com

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