The most obvious scandal that comes to my mind regarding Eisenhower’s administration was Joe McCarthy’s Un-American Activities Committee hearings (he didn’t actually create the Committee, but he came to dominate it), wherein his methods of investigation and rabid zeal became a farce and led to the writing of the 5th Amendment.
For Kennedy it seems the major scandal was the Bay of Pigs invasion; an ideologically driven, misguided and impractical covert “regime change” scheme concocted and cocked-up by rabid CIA executives, but nonetheless “green-lighted” by Kennedy. Kennedy’s infidelity didn’t really come to light until sometime after his assignation.
Johnson’s most obvious political crisis revolved around the blatant lying of his Defense Secretary Robert McNamara regarding progress in Vietnam (there was none) and draft-avoidance by the rich and well connected.
Nixon inherited the shambles of Vietnam and escalated US involvement to include chemical warfare and secret incursions into Cambodia, to no clear effect. Continued draft-dodging and especially inadequate care of veterans also made headlines, as did the shootings of student protesters at Kent State. But the biggest scandal was of course “Watergate” when, charged with lying to Congress, obstructing justice, subverting the Constitution, money-laundering and being complicit in a burglary Nixon resigned as he was about to be impeached.
As an interim president Gerald Ford didn’t have the time or the personality to get into much trouble but his pardon for Nixon was met with howls of discontent—not least because he was pardoned Nixon for his presumed (and very evident) guilt, even though he wasn’t actually convicted.
Carter’s inability to stem the increasing cost of gasoline due to actions by OPEC made him unpopular, and the antics of his boozy brother Billy were an embarrassment but it seems the disastrous attempt to rescue the American hostages of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard brought him down.
Reagan’s claim to fame was of course the Iran-Contra affair. In an attempt to release American hostages held by pro-Iranian forces in Lebanon, Reagan’s administration sold weapons to Iran even though any such trade had been made illegal. Worse still the money from those sales was then used to provide weapons to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels to help them overthrow the popular Sandinista government--which had seized control after the US had stopped subsidizing the previous president, Somoza, due to American public disgust with the US supporting a brutal “anti-communist” dictator. Obstruction of justice demonstrably occurred when Fawn Hall was found to have shredded pertinent documents.
Reagan first lied about the existence of the program, then blamed it all on subordinates and then in an address to the nation admitted to some kind of brain-fart about the scheme, basically claiming that somehow he didn’t know what he was doing! But the powers that be decided not to impeach to avoid “another Watergate”.
By that decision a new standard of accountability and scandal was now set.
Ex-chairman of the RNC, vigorous defender of Nixon and Reagan’s Vice President swore he was “out of the loop” regarding Iran Contra and so with an apparently clean record succeeded Reagan as the 41st President. He managed to avoid any major scandals s until the end of his Presidency when he pardoned half a dozen people involved in Iran-Contra most notably Caspar Weinberger whose indictment stated that he had records of Bush’s active participation in Iran-Contra after all. As Weinberger was indicted but still awaiting trial, Bush pardoned him for crimes he hadn’t yet been proven to have committed—ergo Bush’s pre-emptive pardon made Weinberger both guilty and innocent at the same time (and therefore Bush implicated himself in lying to Congress about his own involvement too). But before that can of worms could be opened Bush Sr. failed to get re-elected because of the recession he’d inherited from Reagan’s “voodoo economics” (Bush’s own critical description of Reagan’s “supply-side economics”) about which he had done nothing. Once again the powers that be decided to ignore the whole matter to spare the public any further disillusionment about politics and the Presidency.
When Bill Clinton took office in 1993 the Republicans had already begun to label him “slick Willie”—an allusion to his charm and salesmanship that would take-on a different meaning in the popular consciousness later-on.
In the 1994 midterm elections the Republicans won majorities in the House and the Senate and beginning in 1995 began an aggressive examination of Clinton’s present and past, following an impressive list of allegations that included crooked land-deals, cronyism, rape, drug dealing and even murder, all of which were intensely investigated and dismissed for lack of evidence or found to be utterly false. Nonetheless one line of investigation did bear fruit and after two years and almost fifty-million dollars of public expense it was discovered that Bill Clinton had been receiving extra-marital blowjobs during office hours from Monica Lewinsky. Clinton lied under oath about the sexual relations and although the House voted for impeachment he was acquitted by the Senate, a decision most likely influenced by public opinion which presented the majority view that Clinton’s personal peccadillo hadn’t affected his performance in office and that all the investigations—especially the Lewinsky case---had been a waste of time and money.
Despite being faced with opposition majorities in both House and Senate for over half of his tenure he averaged approval ratings between 50 to 60 percent and left the office with a 68% approval rating—beating the much vaunted Ronald Reagan by a couple of points.
So let us review shall we?
Eisenhower apparently didn’t break any laws, but he supported McCarthy’s actions in general. A new civil-rights amendment was introduced in reaction to the abuse of political power. Eisenhower was not directly involved in McCarthy’s abuse of power.
Kennedy approved a disastrous anti-communist adventure but was basically vindicated in the Cuban missile crisis and was given a pass by the press for his infidelity and become a martyr due to his assassination.
Johnson maintained the deceits about Vietnam and added to them but was never called to account.
Nixon broke several laws and subverted the Constitution. He resigned before being impeached, delaying conviction.
Ford secured Nixon from ever being brought to trial by preemptive pardon.
Reagan illegally sold arms to a declared terrorist state and from the proceeds illegally armed murderous opposition to a popular government, and lied about all of it. Yet despite having clearly broken several laws, Reagan was never held to account.
George Bush Sr. maintained the “pass” given Reagan for four years and then by pardoning half a dozen convicted and/or indicted Iran-Contra participants by implication pardoning Reagan and most extraordinarily himself—thereby rendering himself, his colleagues and Reagan from any possible indictment, let alone prosecution.
Clinton was charged with multiple and very serious crimes but was found guilty only of lying about his sexual conduct.
So, going by my (admittedly incomplete) summaries where does George W. Bush, the 43rd President stand?
He wasn’t elected in 2000.
He took no action against Al-Qaeda for the bombing of the USS Cole which left 17 sailors dead.
He let his VP secretly collude with the oil industry to dictate the nation’s energy policy without public review.
He ignored over 50 warnings of terrorist attacks which were realized on 9/11, breaking his oath to defend the United States of America.
He secretly ordered mass surveillance of US communications, breaking the FISA law and in contravention of the 2nd Amendment and thus lied under oath about upholding the Constitution—another illegal act.
Going to war on false pretenses, intimidation of OMB staff, planting stories in the “free press”, intimidation of science staff, intimidation of the DOJ, using uniformed military for political rallies, using the Secretary of State as a campaign aide, leaking a covert CIA agent’s name, not keeping records, torturing civilians, incarceration without charge trial or representation, suspending Habeas Corpus, ignoring international treaties (illegal)---I could go on, and on and on and on and on and on and on…
Nixon was investigated over Watergate and faced impeachment.
Reagan was investigated over Iran Contra and got off scott-free.
George H.W. Bush was never investigated over Iran Contra and basically pardoned himself, just in case.
Clinton was investigated over Whitewater, Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, the Travel
Office, faced impeachment only overlying about blow-jobs, and was acquitted.
And George W. Bush? Not one investigation….NOT ONE!!!
I tell you, scandals ain’t what they used to be!