Saturday, October 20, 2018

An October Saturday 45 Years Ago

45 years ago, on Saturday, October 20, 1973. I and my three grad school suitemates hosted a party in our quarters in Princeton University's Graduate College. It was not something we did often. Then as now, graduate students tended on the whole to a much more serious and sober lifestyle than undergraduates. But living in the Graduate College was intended to foster a kind of academic community life, and such social gatherings were positively encouraged.

As we gathered, the came the shocking news of the "Saturday Night Massacre," President Nixon's firing of the Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. (It was so named because both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his Deputy William Ruckelshaus refused to fire Cox, which caused them both to resign. Cox was finally fired by the infamous Robert Bork, who was then Solicitor General, and later almost made it to the Supreme Court!) When one of our guests arrived, she angrily declared, "He [Nixon] is going to get away with it!" And we - all political scientists, historians, and economists - all nodded our heads in learned agreement. So much for our predictive skills! As everyone knows, in the end Nixon did not get away with it, thanks to the surprising resilience of our constitutional institutions and of a still surprisingly strong civic culture. 

A lot has changed since 1973, including our capacity to be shocked by almost any type of political misbehavior. Our civic culture has changed too, but not for the better And, of course, one very big and important difference between 1973 and now is the character and culture of our political parties and in particular the Republican party.

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