Don’t Call It -gate

Here’s Bruce Schulman, in his book The Seventies, decrying the proliferation of “-gate”s in American political culture (p. 43):

Watergate would leave a tangled legacy. Most obviously, it triggered the “gating” of American life. Every subsequent scandal—no matter how petty—has received the suffix “-gate.” … From this misleading practice, millions drew the unfortunate conclusion that these scandals somehow resembled each other—that they all revealed the same corrupt, sleazy political underworld.

But the “-gate” suffix confused old-fashioned graft with true constitutional crises. Worst of all, the practice led Americans to conflate Watergate with all the other “-gates” it seemed to generate. Watergate was unique; it forever altered the way Americans understood politics and the presidency, the way they reported and discussed national politics, the way they conceived, investigated, and understood wrongdoing by government officials.

Watergate was much more than a bungled attempt to break into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate apartment and office complex … Nixon’s abuse of power preceded the burglary and extended far beyond it. In the course of unraveling the Watergate story, investigators uncovered a wide range of sordid and illegal activities—a rogue government.

Leave a Reply