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Richard Nixon's involvement in the Watergate scandal brought an end to his presidency in August 1974, leading to the passing of several pieces of legislation limiting presidential power. On Friday, a distinguished panel gathered at AEI to examine the state of four post-Watergate reforms 40 years after Nixon's resignation.
Campaign finance was a major focus of post-Watergate reforms, which AEI's Norm Ornstein said have been wrongly gutted. John R. Bolton, who worked for AEI's Ralph Winter during the US Senate Watergate Committee hearings, maintained that the ability to raise campaign funds was and is an important component of dissent, and limiting it disproportionately favors incumbents. AEI's Michael Barone explained how after Watergate, efforts to control the president's budgetary power increased transparency through the creation of the Congressional Budget Office.
Former Senator Fred Thompson, who was minority counsel to the Watergate Committee, asserted that the fact that presidents ignore the War Powers Resolution, another major post-Watergate reform, is a sign of Congress abdicating its responsibility. Bolton went further, asserting that the War Powers Act should be repealed. Ornstein and Barone agreed that the act is ineffective because it is an attempt to structurally solve issues that ought to be a matter of less-formalized discussions.
Barone concluded the discussion by remarking that the Watergate era marked the point at which the "criminalization of political differences" became a normal way of thinking in America. Ornstein elaborated that polarization has turned into entrenched "tribalism," with Bolton adding that party devotion has made political discourse especially vitriolic.
Forty years ago on August 8, President Richard Nixon resigned after revelations of wrongdoing stemming from the 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate. In mid–November 1973, the US Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (the Watergate Committee) asked AEI to assess the implications of the evidence presented at the Watergate hearings. Committee Chairman Sam Ervin and Vice Chairman Howard Baker said that “the judgments of [AEI] will help us focus on the major issues, particularly since they will come from a nonpartisan group whose interest lies in improvement in our government.” AEI scholars and adjuncts served on the AEI advisory committee.
At this event, four of Washington’s most distinguished political observers will revisit the Watergate hearings and discuss reforms that followed, including the War Powers Resolution (1973), Federal Election Campaign Act amendments (1974), Budget Control and Impoundment Act (1974), Independent Counsel statute (1978), and changes in Congress after the election of the Watergate class in 1974.
If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.
Karlyn Bowman, AEI
Michael Barone, AEI
John R. Bolton, AEI
Norman J. Ornstein, AEI
Fred Thompson, Minority Counsel, US Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, and Former US Senator (R-TN)
For more information, please contact Heather Sims at [email protected], 202.862.5917.
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Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner and a resident fellow at AEI. He is a contributor to Fox News Channel, author of “Shaping Our Nation: How Surges of Migration Transformed America and Its Politics” (Crown Forum, October 2013), and coauthor of “The Almanac of American Politics.” Over the years, he has written for many publications in the United States and several other countries, including The Economist, the Times Literary Supplement, the Daily Telegraph, and the Sunday Times of London. Barone received the Bradley Prize from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in 2010, the Barbara Olsen Award from The American Spectator in 2006, and the Carey McWilliams Award from the American Political Science Association in 1992. Barone lives in Washington, DC. He has traveled to all 50 states and all 435 congressional districts. He has also traveled to 54 foreign countries and has reported on recent elections in Great Britain, Italy, Russia, and Mexico.
John R. Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. From August 2005 to December 2006, he served as the US permanent representative to the United Nations. During his tenure at the United Nations, Ambassador Bolton was a tenacious and outspoken advocate of US efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, to push Syria out of Lebanon, and to bring African peacekeepers into shaky Somalia. He worked vigorously against North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs. From 2001 to 2005, he worked under the secretary of state for arms control and international security. At AEI, Ambassador Bolton's area of research is US foreign and national security policy.
Karlyn Bowman compiles and analyzes American public opinion using available polling data on a variety of subjects, including the economy, taxes, the state of workers in America, environment and global warming, attitudes about homosexuality and gay marriage, the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and free trade, the war in Iraq, and women's attitudes. In addition, she has studied and spoken about the evolution of American politics because of key demographic and geographic changes. She has often lectured on the role of think tanks in the United States.
Norman J. Ornstein is a long-time observer of the US Congress and politics. He writes a weekly column for Roll Call called “Congress Inside Out” and is an election evening analyst for CBS News. He also served as codirector of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project and served as a senior counselor to the Continuity of Government Commission. Ornstein led a working group of scholars and practitioners that helped shape the law known as McCain-Feingold, which reformed the campaign financing system. He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. His many books include “The Permanent Campaign and Its Future” (AEI Press, 2000), “The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track” (with Thomas Mann, Oxford University Press, 2006) and, most recently, The New York Times bestseller “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism” (with Thomas Mann, Basic Books, May 2012).
Fred Thompson is a lawyer, actor, and former US senator from Tennessee. Thompson served as chairman of the International Security Advisory Board for the US Department of State and member of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He detailed his Watergate experience in his memoir, “At That Point in Time: The Inside Story of the Senate Watergate Committee” (Quadrangle, 1975). In his recent book “Teaching the Pig to Dance: A Memoir of Growing Up and Second Chances” (Crown Forum, 2010), he humorously recounts growing up in a small Tennessee town. He has appeared in numerous movies, including “In the Line of Fire,” “Die Hard II,” “Days of Thunder,” and “The Hunt for Red October.” He was also in the NBC television drama “Law & Order” and made a recent appearance on Broadway in “A Time to Kill.”