Balderdash, says Elizabeth Holtzman, a Democrat from New York who served on Judiciary with Railsback and was in the House from 1973 to 1981. “I know it sounds corny,” she says, “but the members of the Judiciary Committee put country above party and above their personal reelection chances to act together against criminal acts by the president. It’s ludicrous to argue that the ability of Republicans and Democrats to act together then created a schism between the parties.”
Watergate, according to Holtzman, 70, was ultimately a triumph for American voters, who realized their error in reelecting Nixon in a landslide victory in 1972 and just a year later supported Congress, the courts and the press in “an affirmation of our system of checks and balances, working together in a historic high point in our relationship with our government.”
Watergate, like so many signal moments in history, morphs over time, its meaning evolving with shifting ideologies, emerging technologies and new waves of scandal.
A tough sell
From the movies to novels, children’s books to pop hits, Watergate is ever with us, a wound that leaves a tender scar.
Watergate is Sheryl Longin’s first political memory. She remembers her family watching the hearings on TV, “seeing my parents so upset and shocked that the president lied,” she says. “It was the first thing I learned about the president, that he lies. It stuck with me. For my generation, it wasn’t like we were disillusioned — we just assumed a certain level of sleaziness.”
By the mid-1990s, Longin was a screenwriter in Hollywood with an idea about a Watergate spoof in which The Post’s inside source on the scandal, code-named Deep Throat, turns out to be two teenage girls. When Longin and director Andrew Fleming pitched their concept to studio executives, the suits worried that the public’s knowledge of Watergate had grown so thin that the movie — 1999’s “Dick” — would flop.
“Does it have to be about Nixon?” they asked.
It did, the writers insisted. And the movie worked: Even those who didn’t get its inside jokes identified with its core cynicism.
Today, “Dick” would be a total nonstarter, Longin says — public knowledge of Watergate is so marginal that no one would take a risk on such a movie.
John Simmons, creator of the Washington Scandal Tour for the comedy troupe Gross National Product, is trying to keep the memory alive.