Scandals

Is the Benghazi Scandal Like Watergate? We Should Be So Lucky


Bob Woodward at the “All the President’s Men Revisited” screening at the Newseum in Washington on April 18

Photograph by Kris Connor/Getty Images

Bob Woodward at the “All the President’s Men Revisited” screening at the Newseum in Washington on April 18

And so it has come to pass. Sir Bob of Watergate pronounced this morning that Benghazi reminds him of a certain thing he uncovered as a metro reporter for the Washington Post lo these 40 years ago. This is not an accident. May 17, 1973, was the first day of the Senate Watergate hearings.

Dame Peggy of Pointe du Hoc says no, to her the IRS scandal is more like the time of Watergate. Lindsey Graham, Republican senator from South Carolina, has been comparing Benghazi to Watergate since last year. A relief to us all, that we keep these people around. How might we remember the past, without them to spin it out for us?

When they say “this is like Watergate,” they’re not actually talking about the events of Watergate—the missing minutes of tape, the purse found after a plane crash, the profanity in the Oval Office. Bad things happen frequently in the White House. Tacit permission is given to secretly trade with Iran. Sex is lied about. Torture permitted. But the word “Watergate” is not about the president doing something illegal. It’s a shorthand for everything that happened afterward.

The Watergate scandal didn’t just send a president home to California. It opened up Congress to a freshman class of Democrats that stayed for decades. Graham, up for reelection, could use another wave right now. Watergate inspired a fit of legislation about government and privacy. It discredited a whole wing of the Republican Party, shifting power to that other Californian who won in 1980. It turned Robert Woodward into Robert Redford. It made Peggy Noonan a speechwriter at the White House. Woodward and Noonan just miss the old days. It’s a little like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson saying “this is just like the ’80s.”

I had a boss once who told me the sexual revolution was a lot of fun, and I should be sorry I missed it. Sounds like Watergate was a lot of fun, too. Someday I’ll be a mentor myself, I hope. I’m certain I will say something like, “You know what was a real financial crisis? 2008. Hoo boy. Thought the world was gonna end. We really gave it to the banks after that, though.” We did, right?

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Greeley is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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