Flowers: Jan. 6 hearings aren’t Watergate
Published 10:45 am Friday, July 22, 2022
I was 11 during the summer of 1973 when the Watergate hearings were televised. The memory is still very clear in my mind, and it was a watershed moment for a young girl who thought her country was perfect. It clearly wasn’t.
Now, almost 50 years later, I am even more cognizant of the flaws in our nation, even though I spend most of my waking hours helping other people become American citizens. The flaws pale in comparison to the problems people face in other countries, mass shootings and “women stripped of their rights” included.
But I am not convinced that these hearings are a legitimate exercise in facing up to those flaws because unlike Watergate, it is an utterly partisan process. And that is not entirely the fault of the GOP.
During Watergate, many of the primary players in the investigation were Republicans, including “All the President’s Men” like John Dean, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, as well as committee members like Senators Howard Baker from Tennessee, Edward Gurney from Florida and Lowell Weiker from Connecticut. These were not just figurehead Republicans empowered to do the work of their Democrat colleagues. They were co-equals on a committee that had the best interests of the country at heart. The Committee chair, Sam Ervin of North Carolina, was fair and balanced and put his party behind his citizenship.
I wish I could say the same about the Jan. 6 Committee. The Speaker of the House denied the House minority leader his choice of members, and hand-picked Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. That’s fine as far as it goes because both of them are legitimate members of the GOP, but unlike their counterparts at the Watergate Hearings, they seem more intent on channeling Democrats’ grievance than providing a well-rounded view of the events.
Some will argue that it’s the GOP’s fault that they aren’t more involved in the proceedings, since they’ve stonewalled and created a bizarre legion of loyalty to the former president. That is true, and I also happen to think that it’s much less loyalty to the president and much more a “save my own skin” mentality that is motivating those who push back against the work of the committee.
But having seen the way the hearings are being presented on CNN and MSNBC with the almost gleeful replaying of every compromising moment and the “gotcha” attitude of the hosts, I fully understand why a large portion of Americans reject the legitimacy of this committee and these hearings. The hearings are being used to tar, by proxy, anyone who voted for Donald Trump, anyone who refused to disavow his actions as president, anyone who dared question the fairness of the election process and anyone who thinks the Democrats’ social agenda is excessive and extreme.
There are those Republicans who have decided to jump ship in a fairly dramatic fashion, people like the former Trump administration officials who had no problem basking in the glory early on but who distanced themselves when it became clear that public opinion had turned against the president. I have no respect for the women who have snagged high-profile commentator gigs on CNN, people like Alyssa Farah, Olivia Troya and Stephanie Grisham. They are the new generation of Republican ship jumpers like Nicolle Williams and Ana Navarro, who have now made their respective careers in bashing their former colleagues.
Personally, I think Trump acted despicably on Jan. 6. There is nothing honorable in his actions on that day, and after I saw the Capitol breached, I wanted hearings and clarity. Every American who respects the rule of law wanted the same.
But these hearings are unworthy of us, and of our history. The members are acting like prosecutors in front of a grand jury, and their presentations are one-sided and colored by their own personal animus. Jamie Raskin has a particular amount of hostility for this president, a man he desperately tried to get impeached. When he speaks, we should all turn down the volume.
Some will try and place this hearing alongside Watergate in the pantheon of American profiles in courage. Ultimately, though, I think it will fall somewhere in that indefinable space between the Stalin-like show trials of the McCarthy era, the Iran-Contra debacle, and the sincere attempt to honor our founding principles back in 1973. This one doesn’t come close.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.