(10 of 10)
The overriding question, of course, is how the whole Watergate scandal will affect Richard Nixon's ability to govern. Even before the latest disclosures, a Gallup poll showed that 84% of Americans had heard about Watergate and that 41% believed that Nixon knew about plans for the bugging operation before it was carried out. Future revelations—and any indictments—will further unsettle the public and, in turn, upset Republican Congressmen. The impact of Watergate may well make it harder for Nixon to keep fellow Republicans in Congress behind him on critical votes over the budget. The federal bureaucracy, which Nixon has been trying to manage through second-level officials dispatched from the White House, may now prove restless and untameable. These White House agents have lost much of their clout. Many Republican politicians throughout the nation may move to dissociate themselves further from the dark and billowing cloud.
The Nixon Administration has lost a more intangible element of national leadership: the ability to mediate, persuade and inspire. Without such fragile qualities as trust, credibility and integrity, that ability is seriously impaired. The ramifications of Watergate have badly diminished the Administration's capacity to exert moral authority.
Despair. In this new crisis Nixon seemed to be turning inward. He asked an old and trusted friend, Secretary of State William Rogers, to join him on a moonlight cruise on the Potomac last Monday night. On Thursday he cruised almost alone, except for his Sequoia crew. Over the weekend he flew to Key Biscayne and left Haldeman and Ehrlichman, who almost always travel with him, in Washington.
Before he departed, Nixon held one of his rare meetings with the full Cabinet. Perhaps he felt that its members deserved a report or some reassurance from him. The mood, said one participant, was one of "concern bordering on despair." Watergate was clearly the dominant subject of conversation. "We're going to clear it up," Nixon told the Cabinet. Later, almost with an air of "this too shall pass," he said that "things go on."
It would be tragic if Richard Nixon's considerable achievements as President were coupled in history with the sordid business of Watergate—as now seems likely. Yet for a while, at least, one of his most cherished words, "honor," will have a hollow ring.
*Ervin said that his committee's hearing guidelines, accepted by White House officials, reserve to his committee the power to decide by majority vote whether the refusal of a witness to answer a specific question is proper. If the committee decides it is not, Ervin said, he will seek to have the witness arrested for contempt unless he answers.