Corruption and politics have always gone hand in hand. The old quote “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men,” by Lord John Acton seems to really be true. Over the course of human history, the men (as it has almost always been men at the reigns of power, at least until relatively recently) who have power are often easily led astray by the power and the money that usually comes with that power.
If one were to take a cynical point of view, it seems that it is exceedingly rare to find a politician who is honest and good. As with all things, it is likely less raunchy than we seem to expect, but worse that is probably good for us as a race. Whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, no one can deny that there is corruption in politics, and there always has been. Today we’re going to look at the most corrupt politicians in US History.
Richard Nixon, President of the United States (R)
We start with the man who actually had to leave office in order to prevent himself from going to jail. He remains the only US President to ever resign from office, and his name has become synonymous with corruption in the White House.
The year 1972 was not a good year to be Richard Nixon. Prior to that, his presidency was shaping up to be one for the history books. If the President of the United States is to be given credit for the things that happen during his term in office, then Nixon ended the war in Vietnam, enforced desegregation in the South, signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the USSR, established the EPA, and oversaw the moon landing in 1969. For any president to have those things happen while he’s in office would almost make a sterling legacy a sure thing. It’s no wonder that he was re-elected in 1972 in one of the most lopsided victories in US Presidential history.
But 1973 changed everything for Nixon. The economy sank, mostly due to an Arab oil embargo and gasoline rationing, and then there was the scandal. The Watergate scandal may be the most well-known scandal in the history of American politics.
So what is Watergate? Basically is surrounds a plot by the Nixon Administration and leading Republicans to spy on and discredit their Democratic rivals. They did this through so-called “dirty tricks,” like planting listening devices in the offices of their opponents, the harassment of activist groups that did not align with their political point of view, and other illicit activities.
The whole thing came down in June of 1972, when five men were caught breaking into the Watergate office complex where the Democrats had their party headquarters. By July of the next year, it was plainly obvious that not only did Nixon know about the things that were going on, but he was actively trying to cover them up. Through a series of leaks and incredible journalism, Nixon’s entire house of cards came crashing down around him. 48 people were eventually convicted of wrongdoing surrounding the Watergate scandal.
Nixon was forced to resign from the Presidency on August 9, 1974, after two years of constant investigation. In his resignation speech he said: “In all the decisions I have made in my public life, I have always tried to do what was best for the Nation. Throughout the long and difficult period of Watergate, I have felt it was my duty to persevere, to make every possible effort to complete the term of office to which you elected me. In the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base in Congress to justify continuing that effort…Therefore, I shall resign from the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.”
Nixon will likely only ever be remembered for how he left office and the two years preceding his resignation.