Opinion | Three Critical Lessons of the Watergate Hearings That the Jan. 6 Committee Should Learn

 

The third lesson from the Ervin committee underscores the huge gulf politically between 1973 and 2022: The Republicans on the committee — and in Congress extra usually — have been good-faith members in the hearings. Despite their partisan affiliation, they got here into the course of with open minds. Even the rating Republican, Senator Howard Baker, discovered his opinion altering as the proof of wrongdoing amassed via the summer season. He said, years after the hearings, that at the beginning he believed that they have been “a political ploy of the Democrats, that it might come to nothing,” however as they proceeded, “it started to daybreak on me that there was extra to it than I believed, and extra to it than I appreciated.”

Baker’s Republican committee colleague, Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, was horrified by what he heard from John Dean’s testimony. He informed the Ervin committee: “Republicans don’t cowl up. Republicans don’t go forward and threaten. Republicans don’t go forward and commit unlawful acts. And, God is aware of, Republicans don’t view their fellow Americans as enemies to be harassed.”

It’s this remaining level that the majority clearly factors to the chasm between politics then and now; all through Watergate, Republicans in each the House and Senate understood that they’d an necessary function as members of the coequal legislative department to carry the govt department to account.

Watergate is finally a narrative of the American system working — the delicate ballet of constitutional checks-and-balances working to convey a corrupt and felony president to justice. But the story was solely potential as a result of Republicans, each management and rank-and-file, acted as members of Congress first and partisans second.

Today, of course, there’s a really completely different political dynamic on Capitol Hill. The braveness — and political isolation — of the Jan. 6 committee’s two Republican members, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and the lopsided Republican votes on each of Mr. Trump’s impeachments demonstrates how laborious it is going to be to power the occasion to confront actions its members clearly need to ignore.

Garrett M. Graff is a journalist, historian, and writer, most lately, of “Watergate: A New History.”


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