What If Nixon Hadn’t Been Ruined By Watergate?
Richard Nixon's political career was ruined after the Watergate Scandal. If you are unfamiliar with Watergate, it is a business complex in Washington, D.C. In 1972, five men broke into the Democratic National Headquarters there in an effort to wiretap the Democrats. That's illegal. What's worse is that President Nixon knew about it and tried to cover it up. Over the next two years, it was revealed by writers Bernstein and Woodward how involved the inner circle of Washington was involved. With impeachment imminent, Nixon resigned the Presidency and went down in disgrace. But what would have happened if he wasn't caught? How would America be different if Nixon got away scot-free? Would America be in the trouble going on today if Nixon had got away with it? Here is another look in our series on Alternate Realities and What Ifs...
Nixon had already won a second term when he was forced to resign from office. Upon his resignation, Gerald Ford, the Vice President, became the new Commander-In-Chief. In a normal situation, this would have been fine, but what was an uproar in the nation was that Ford was never elected. Nixon appointed him as his Vice President after his first choice, Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew, was kicked out of office for tax fraud, extortion, and bribery, during Nixon's fifth year in the White House.
Nixon was probably the last true Republican President. By this, I mean, he followed the "old style" Republican ideals of Eisenhower, Hoover, and Calvin Coolidge. Those presidents would not recognize the Republican Party of today. They made attempts to "cross the aisle" to get policy done. They believed in building projects to support the American economy and they were open to social reforms. Fundamentalists - and I am not talking about religious fundamentalists - would never have gained any control under the likes of Nixon. He would have crushed them had they tried to take over control of the government, such as the Tea Party has been trying to do. Nixon's fall from power brought on a new outlook to the Republican Party as they tried to get away from the stain of disgrace of Watergate. Because of this, Ronald Reagan was brought in - a weaker Conservative by today's standards - and the right just leapfrogged into the fanaticism we have today.
It might be hard to imagine today that a Republican would be pushing for a nationwide healthcare plan, but Nixon did just that in February of 1974 in his address to Congress on The Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan. In it, he told Congress that every American should have an equal opportunity to lead a full and productive life. He had originally proposed such a plan to Congress in 1971, but Congress didn't move forward on it. By 1974, at the height of the Watergate scandal, healthcare would again be pushed to a back burner. His reasoning? Healthcare costs were already out of control for those people that had them and would continue to spiral in cost to the American people. Additionally, too many Americans were unable for financial or physical reasons to obtain health care. Something had to be done. Of course, deregulation in the following years made what Nixon suggested a reality. Even though the times change, they stay the same. Here is a transcript of that speech to Congress. (http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2009/September/03/nixon-proposal.aspx)
On the face, Nixon was trying to get us out of the Vietnam war. It wasn't popular on the homefront and the Vietnamese were trying to get out of it, as well. Nixon agreed to removing American troops out of Vietnam while replacing them with South Vietnamese regulars. This appeased the country, but at the same time, Nixon expanded the war into Laos and Cambodia through bombings and some covert missions. In his mind, he was stopping the supply lines of the North Vietnamese. Once Watergate broke out - along with the Pentagon Papers that Nixon initially tried to conceal, the truth came out about the covert fighting that was taking place. After Watergate and the resignation, Gerald Ford continued with the removal of troops from Vietnam and in 1975, South Vietnam fell to the Communists. Had Nixon continued with his illegal efforts into Cambodia and Laos, it is suspected that the North Vietnamese would have ended the war in a stalemate.
Nixon didn't agree with Ronald Reagan's political policies. He wrote about his concern in the first volume of his memoirs in 1978. He even states that he would have been willing to form a new political party to oppose the neo-Conservative movement being spearheaded by Reagan. If it hadn't been for the Watergate scandal, Nixon wouldn't have lost his political strength and the nation might not have followed the path in which it did. This would mean that Gerald Ford wouldn't have assumed the office marring the attitude towards the Republicans when he pardoned Richard Nixon. In this case, would Jimmy Carter have been elected in 1976? If so, would Ronald Reagan had the power to change the outlook of the Republican landscape? No one could be certain, but had Watergate not happened, there is a good chance that Republican politics would not have changed from that of previous GOP presidents. Even if it had, Nixon was willing to make a stance and create a new political party that wasn't so big business-centric. Ask yourself: Would there be "Occupy Wall Street" protests today if Nixon hadn't been caught?