From Watergate to Occupy Wall Street

The men who brought down one of the most toxic administrations in American history were lamenting the toxic state of today’s political environment. That’s pretty terrible.

This column appears in the March 22nd, 2012 edition of the Long Island Press

“It’s a mess.” This was the sentiment offered by Bob Woodward at a Hofstra University luncheon on Tuesday when asked to describe the current political environment. After his flight was delayed by fog in New York for the better part of the morning, Woodward was late in joining the other half of the famous Woodward and Bernstein duo at the podium in the University Club. The hour prior to his arrival was the Carl Bernstein show as he regaled the packed room of attendees with stories of their travails in journalism during a road show marking the 40th anniversary of the Watergate affair.

The luncheon was part of a series of high-profile political events Hofstra is hosting for the student body, as well as the greater Long Island community, culminating in the second presidential debate to be held there this fall. For his part, Bernstein was also chagrined at the state of politics today and his anecdotes were didactic in this regard. He broke through the haze of mythology that over time has shrouded the Watergate story and boiled it down to the simple premise that no one is above the law and the entire system of democracy must function properly in order for this notion to be upheld. It was the latter sentiment that hung in the air like the fog that had held Woodward at bay on the tarmac for hours.

Time has benefitted both men by allowing them to evaluate Watergate through the backward lens of history. Stepping away from their youthful selves (they were in their late twenties when they broke the story that catapulted them to the top of their newspaper careers), they even reevaluated some of their own beliefs such as the pardoning of Richard Nixon by his VP/successor Gerald Ford, a move that arguably cost him the election to Jimmy Carter. Bernstein recalled telephoning Woodward early that morning in 1974, saying “the son of a bitch pardoned the son of a bitch.” What he once viewed as ignominious Bernstein now considers magnanimous as Ford believed this was the best way to heal the nation from its “long nightmare,” no matter the consequences to his presidency.

Subtle reflections and anecdotes aside, the afternoon offered a glimpse into the thoughts of two devout Washington insiders who have witnessed a sea change in American politics. To be clear, these are not two old curmudgeons touting the “things ain’t what they used to be” line. They deftly fielded questions about new media and the surge of information as well as our ability to process the constant onslaught of news and commentary today. And while they were genuinely hopeful that their efforts four decades ago could be replicated by today’s reporters, they were less sanguine about whether the political climate existed to allow journalism to flourish and find its natural audience.

The men who brought down one of the most toxic administrations in American history were lamenting the toxic state of today’s political environment. That’s pretty terrible.

Bernstein spoke eloquently about the support their reporting received from The Washington Post but was careful to point out that the entire democratic machine had to function properly at every stage of the investigation in order to yield the historic results that it did. From the judicial system that forced President Nixon to hand over his personal tapes to the legislative branch that carried the articles of impeachment against the president, to the protection afforded the journalists in shielding their sources, democracy in all of its glory won the day. But Bernstein argued that it was the people who ultimately played the most critical role in judging the Nixon presidency as even staunch supporters of Nixon and the Republican Party were open enough to review the facts before them and draw their own conclusions.

Ultimately, partisanship among the elected and the electorate was cast aside for the greater good.

Bernstein went on to argue that money has corrupted the political system beyond recognition. He excoriated the Citizen’s United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which allows unlimited contributions from corporations and wealthy individuals in campaigns. Furthermore, he believes the glut and immediacy of information has had the unintended consequence of allowing people to reinforce existing beliefs rather than exposing them to new ideas or multiple sides of a story.
The rancor that exists in Washington is a reflection of this phenomenon, and it has created a vicious cycle of partisanship with politicians pandering to the most extreme elements of our society. It’s mob rule. As to how the system could be fixed, no solutions were offered by either man. Perhaps this is because there are none.

The system is broken and I believe it to be irreparable. And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s easier to build anew than to salvage a diseased and crumbling infrastructure. I’m not being pessimistic here, either. To the contrary, I’m fairly optimistic about our chances because I believe the foundation and principles that have guided us to this point are strong enough to endure the collapse and rebirth of a functioning and more equitable system no matter how painful the process may be. This hope derives from the fact that the older generations are the ones who are fixed in their ways and reinforce their existing belief systems no matter how dangerous or antiquated they are. And quite frankly, the answer to this is rather simple math: They have far less time left on the planet than we do.

It’s true that they have hoarded the world’s money and resources and polluted the Earth. It’s also true that they have left those in my generation and younger to foot the bill for their greed and consumption. They have “engineered” our food and contaminated our water and established a culture of pharmaceutical addiction. They’ve started wars around the globe in the pursuit of oil by blaming bogeymen while selling themselves as false prophets.

Now they have a credibility problem because we no longer believe. And as sure as these are the truths they bequeath to us, so too is the truth that they will all soon be dead. Even the good ones like Woodward and Bernstein cannot escape the inevitable. We can take solace, however, that although we must someday lose them, so too will we rid ourselves of people like the Koch Brothers. Death is funny that way; forever indiscriminate.

The youth of today, such as those in the Occupy movement, are wide awake and watching. Six months ago I didn’t believe this to be the case, but it’s real. So to you, Mr. Bernstein, I offer my thanks and some comfort as you and your venerable collaborator enter the winter of your lives. Your wisdom and work have better prepared us for the long, difficult task ahead.

Author: Jed Morey

Jed Morey is the publisher of the Long Island Press, LI's Cultural Arts and Investigative News Journal. The Press has a monthly circulation of 100,000, and, welcomes more than 500,000 unique visitors every month. He serves on the board of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Nassau County, as well as the President's Council of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Long Island. In addition to the contributions on this blog, Morey authors a column for the Long Island Press titled "Off The Reservation" and is a staunch advocate for Indian rights. The column was voted Best Column in New York by the NY Press Association in 2010 and third overall in the nation among alternative publications by the Association of Alternative Weeklies in 2012. Morey lives in Glen Cove with his wife, Eden White, and their two daughters.

9 thoughts on “From Watergate to Occupy Wall Street”

  1. Close your eyes and this generational lament and triumphalism comes right out of the insurgent youth of Woodstein’s sub-thirty salad days.

    Hope springs eternal – it is tempting breakfast but an empty supper.

  2. Mr. Morey,
    I find your horrific column “From Watergate to Occupy” very frightening in its callous disregard for the “older generations” around the world. The dreadful idea that you will “take solice” in the fantasy that the so-called “older generations” will “all soon be dead” is outrageous, brutally dehumanizing and totally unacceptable. Please tell me, how old do one have to be to be a member of the expendable “older generations?” 45,55,65,75? Would you “rid ourselves” of the “older generations” and speed up their deaths by transfering wealth to the younger generations by reducing or eliminating Social Security,Medicare, Medicaid, funding for nursing homes or just by liquidating them? You foolishly brand all the “older generations” as eveil and totally disregard all the wonderful things the earlier generations have done to improve our world and extend our lives. By the way, how old are you? Your oversimplifications and tragic “Us versus Them” mentality leads me to conclude that you belong to a tiny minority (shall I say 2%ers)who are sadly so alienated, so angry and so lacking in historical perspective who believe as you do that our government, society and economy are “broken and irrparable.” I am in the “winter” of my life but I believe that peaceful, orderly democratic and inclusive political and economic reform is not only possible but highly probable.Our nation saw a tiny minority of destructive nilhists in the 1930s and again in the 1960s but in both decades the sensible and rational masses of the nation rose up and worked for a freer, more equalitiarian and more just society. Your column, as you would famously say, is way,way “Off Target. You should immediately retract it and apoligise to those you have offended. If this is some kind or April Fool column, it is beneath you; if it is intended as a Swiftian “Modest Proposal,” it has missed the mark.I’d love to read Bob Woodward’s reaction to your column. In closing, I wish you and yours a long, healthy and productive life. May you see the winter of your life.

  3. Do I wish death upon the older generation? Of course not. I’m aware of how distasteful this sentiment is. But it is no more distasteful than the tens of thousands of unregistered chemicals being used in everyday products today, Hydrofracking, fluoridation of the water supply, genetically modified foods, blood for oil and the perpetual state of war against imagined foes – Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Somalia, Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan – nuclear proliferation, egregious tax loopholes for corporations, offshoring and outsourcing, climate change, bloated pension costs, broken down infrastructure, mosquito spraying that poisoned the lobster trade, sewers that leak raw sewage into the bays because the sewage treatment funds were raided to pay for retiree benefits, wonder bread, bovine growth hormones in our milk and in our meat, deregulation of the banking industry, hedge fund managers that pay 15% taxes versus the 30% paid by the plumber, an education system that lags behind the rest of the industrial world, the highest incarceration rate on planet earth, a plastic garbage island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean the size of Texas, the eradication of myriad species due to deforestation… my fingers are getting tired.

    Thanks for the memories. And pardon me if you find it distasteful that I wish the older generations a fond farewell, albeit prematurely. Some things just shouldn’t be left unsaid. Frankly I find it disheartening that you want ME to apologize for pointing this out.

    I care little about the winter of my life because I’m too busy trying to prepare a clean, wonderful and peaceful springtime for my children. As you point out, the older generations have been so busy thinking of ways to, as you say, “extend our lives” that you failed to ask “at what cost?” Well, here we are bearing the cost of generation narcissism.

    And to answer your question, I’m turning 40 this year. Just enough time on the planet to see things for what they are and just enough time left to do something about it.

    I appreciate you taking the time to read the column and express an opinion about it. I truly am – more than you know. And no, it wasn’t an April Fools joke or a Modest Proposal in the spirit of Swift. It was a challenge and you took the bait. So here we are. You with the experience. me With the vim and vigor to fight the good fight. Cast aside your feelings for a moment and think about what I wrote here in the column and in response to your message. Now that I have your attention… are you prepared to throw in with the younger generations, take responsibility for what has been done and offer guidance and wisdom? Or would you rather fade to black?

  4. Like, “why can’t we be friends?”

    Because I’m the Other who’s a bad mother(“Shut your mouth”), as far as you’re concerned, Brother.

  5. Mr. Morey,

    I appreciate your response to my e-mail and your acknowledgement that you did not literally call for the premature deaths of the “older generations” in your column “From Watergate to Occupy.” It is unfortunate that you did not include some hints or suggestions that you were not writing in the literal sense.

    I do have three problems with your reply.

    First, wishing rapid death on the “older generations” can in no way be judged equally “distasteful” as the problems and issues you list. So a view is relativism gone wild. The problems and events you mentioned are being discussed and debated by people of all ages worldwide and can be solved, ameliorated or at least learned from.Most, if not all, are not hopelessly intractable-especially if people of good will work together instead of pitting groups against each other.

    Second, the linkage of extended life and cost is extremely troubling. Science and medicine have allowed people around the world to live longer than their parents or grand-parents did. These extended years have meant more years of productive service to their families, their communities and to addressing the plethora of problems you listed. You surely know that there are people today who believe that too much money is being spent on the elderly for medical services and that those expenditures should be drastically cut to pay for other societal needs. This is why I was so concerned about your off-handed remark “they will all soon be dead.” The elderly, who have done so much for our society should not be sacrificed by the cost-conscious, the hard-hearted or by demagogues who wish to rise to power by appealing to the fears and needs of the younger generations.

    Third, you should not be so caught up in the furies of the moment as not to care for youself so you will reach the late winter of your life and enjoy the achievements of your children and grand-children and also see some of the problems you are battling solved.

    All my adult life I have worked with all generations to do my small part to improve our Islands, our nation and our world. With the assistance of my family and my doctors, I hope to continue doing so for some time to come.

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