OpinionOpinion L.A.

Watergate is worth it, honest

U.S. CongressRichard Nixon

One of the commenters on the post "Watergate's Saturday Night Massacre gets more interesting with age" asked: "Why is the liberal/progressive LATs [sic] replaying 40-year-old history?"

Here's the answer.

First, illustrator Steve Brodner came to The Times with a cartoon about the events of Oct. 20, 1973. He was inspired by a friend who is in his 20s and whose reaction to Watergate is "What's the big deal?"

To Brodner, that represented insufficient knowledge of the serious issues raised by the "long national nightmare" that began with the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters, tipped toward constitutional crisis as President Nixon tried to derail a criminal investigation by firing Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre, and ended only when Nixon resigned rather than be impeached by the full House and tried — almost certainly to lose — in the Senate.

Brodner thought a history lesson was in order. We on the Op-Ed page agreed.

In the editing process, I came across a firsthand account of the Saturday Night Massacre, a 2009 speech by William Ruckelshaus, who held the job of deputy attorney general for just 23 days in 1973. Along with his boss, Atty. Gen. Elliot Richardson, Ruckelshaus quit rather than follow Nixon's "fire Cox" order. He didn't play a lead role that Saturday, but his is a good story nonetheless, told matter-of-factly, even wryly.

That self-effacing tone does nothing to hide the inherent drama in the events. This is a real person, a person you can relate to, who with history breathing down his neck decided what was right and acted on it. Ruckelshaus said it wasn't difficult, but it doesn't exactly read that way. His speech added nuance to Brodner's cartoon, so I blogged about it.

Of course, there are bigger reasons than a well-told tale and a history lesson to replay Watergate. Archibald Cox explained what was at stake in the Saturday Night Massacre: "Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people," he said shortly after he was fired.

We passed the test but, in Ruckelshaus' words, only after "incalculable harm."


Preserving the Affordable Care Act

Heartburn's a symptom, not a disease

Leave the Nevada school shooter's parents alone

Follow Susan Brenneman on Twitter @susanbrenneman

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
U.S. CongressRichard Nixon
  • L.A.'s missed chance to count the homeless
    L.A.'s missed chance to count the homeless

    Counting the homeless in Los Angeles County may not be as difficult as housing them all, but it is a daunting challenge nonetheless. In early 2013, an army of 5,000 volunteers, under the direction of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority — a joint agency of the county and city — fanned...

  • Runoff runaround at the L.A. Community College District

    Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a peculiarly anti-democratic bill into law, ending the requirement that the Los Angeles Community College District hold runoff elections for the board of trustees. In late June, the board voted 4 to 2, with one abstention, to take advantage of that new...

  • Why should unions negotiate for workers who don't pay their fair share?
    Why should unions negotiate for workers who don't pay their fair share?

    Last week in Harris vs. Quinn, the U.S. Supreme Court put unions in a bind when it ruled that unionized home-care workers cannot be required to pay for the representation that unions are required by law to provide to them. In cases across the country, including at least one in California...

  • What do the Hobby Lobby backers want women to be?
    What do the Hobby Lobby backers want women to be?

    In the fallout surrounding last week's Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, a lot of people have been wondering exactly what role the Christian right thinks women should play in society and how birth control detracts from it.

  • How cop cams can help ordinary citizens
    How cop cams can help ordinary citizens

    When Amarildo de Souza, an unemployed bricklayer who lived in Rio de Janeiro's largest favela, left home one evening last July, his intention was simply to pick up a few things at the market. Instead, he was caught up in a drug sweep and taken to the neighborhood police headquarters.

  • City Council may get pulled into fight over secretive DWP nonprofits
    City Council may get pulled into fight over secretive DWP nonprofits

    For months now the Los Angeles City Council has been able to sit on the sidelines while Mayor Eric Garcetti, Controller Ron Galperin and City Atty. Mike Feuer have engaged in an increasingly nasty fight with union leaders over revealing how two secretive nonprofits spent $40 million from...