Charles Pierce:

The purported “lessons” of Watergate lasted only a little longer than the cover-up did. The theories of exalted executive power with which Nixon justified his crimes to the nation and in his own tortured mind, and which he ably described later to David Frost as “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal,” have become firmly entrenched in our government in the decades since the Watergate pageant closed and, as a self-governing citizenry, we seem to be generally fine with that. If the “lessons” of Watergate really were that “the system worked,” and that “the people” triumphed, then Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have survived Iran-Contra, George W. Bush wouldn’t have gotten away with what his campaign did in Florida, let alone what he and Dick Cheney did once they got into office, and Barack Obama would be under more heat than he’s under right now for continuing so many of the Bush-Cheney policies in the area of civil liberties, and might think more than twice about letting the drones fly under some fanciful interpretation of Article I that should have instantly melted away, if the “lessons” of Watergate had been as thoroughgoing as they were alleged to be at the time…

[ … ]

The lasting “lesson” of Watergate, it appears, is that self-government was too dangerous, that the perils of it outweigh its values, and that the obligations of citizenship, beyond those which are purely ceremonial, are too heavy for citizens to bear. Between now and 2014, there are going to be lots of 40-year anniversaries marking the various episodes in the grand pageant of Watergate, and all the usual suspects will deal in all the customary banalities…Watergate really did mean something at the time. There was a moment, pure and fleeting, where it looked as though another way really was possible.