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How can one summarize the Watergate scandal to a kid?
Once upon a time, there was a president called Dick.
No, that really was his name.
Why are you laughing?
Dick was very clever, and worked very hard. But he was also very angry. He was very angry, because he was sad that people didn’t think he was cool. Like the other president, Jack. People thought he was cool.
Dick did not like people telling him what to do. He wanted to be in charge. Because he was angry and wanted to be in charge, he would hide things he was doing, even if he didn’t have to.
Because he was scared, he recorded every time anyone talked to him on tape. He was scared people would lie about what they talked about.
Because he was scared, and because people didn’t think he was cool, he was convinced that people were out to get him. And he wanted to get them before they’d get him.
When Dick would get angry, he would throw tantrums. He would yell a lot, and swear a lot, and demand that people should be fired and spied on and blown up.
Dick had a special friend called Bob. Bob liked Dick, and thought he was doing a good job. Bob passed on most of Dick’s messages to the other people that worked for Dick, so they could do things. Dick didn’t like talking to people.
But Bob also knew that Dick didn’t mean it when he’d yell and swear, and he’d try to make sure that people didn’t hear the things he didn’t mean.
But the tapes heard him.
Dick got some people who worked for him to spy on people he thought were bad. Or people that his other friend Henry thought were bad. Presidents aren’t allowed to do that. A judge has to work out if that’s legal, and if the people really are not just bad, but dangerous.
When the elections came, Dick put his friend John in charge of getting him to be president again. John took the things Dick said when he yelled more seriously than Bob did.
Some crazy people worked for John. There was this crazy guy called Gordon, and this crazy guy called Howard, and this other crazy guy called Jeb. And they had some crazy ideas on how to get Dick to be president again. But you’re too young to hear about them.
Most of the time, the people who worked for Dick kept control of these crazy people. John thought they were crazy too. But John wasn’t very good at keeping control of them, and John took Dick too seriously.
So someone got the idea that the crazy people should spy on the phone of Larry, the guy who was doing the same job as John, but for the other party. We don’t know who got the idea. It probably wasn’t Dick, because it was a silly idea. But Dick got people to spy before, so John thought it was OK.
It was not OK.
The crazy people got caught when they tried to break into Larry’s office, and the FBI tried to work out why they were trying to snoop on Larry.
When Dick found out that the crazy people got caught, he wanted to cover it up, because that would make him look bad. He yelled a lot at Bob.
The tapes didn’t hear him, because someone (maybe Dick) wiped out that bit of the tape.
Lots of people think crazy things about what was on the tape. But Bob kept a diary as well, and we don’t think that there was anything more than we already know now on the tape.
Then Dick told the FBI boss not to try to work out what the crazy people were doing, because they were from the CIA, and they were just trying to do good work for the government against the commies. That’s not OK, because the crazy guys weren’t doing anything about the commies, and even if they did, the president can’t tell the cops not to do their job. Especially when it’s just so he wouldn’t get in trouble.
Oh, the tapes heard that bit.
The crazy people kind of said they were working for the president, and the journalists started trying to work out what happen. The FBI boss’s deputy, Mr D. Throat, hated his boss, because he thought he was doing a bad job, not like the boss before him. So he started talking to the journalists in secret about what was going on. And the journalists worked out what was going on, and they got a movie made about them.
And between the judges and the journalists, people worked out that bad things were going on, and Dick was somehow mixed up with it. Many people already did not like a lot of things that Dick did, but many people still did. But this was serious, so Congress started investigating what had happened. If the president is involved, you can’t get a judge to decide: the president is supposed to be the boss of the judges, so its the Congress’ job to look at it.
Dick panicked, and he was very very very angry. He fired lots of people, like Bob and John, so people wouldn’t blame him.
But then, people found out about the tapes.
And then Dick panicked even more, and tried to make sure they wouldn’t hear the tapes, because they were his tapes, and there was secret stuff on them. But the big judges worked out, that even though the president is allowed to have secrets, he can’t have secrets about doing bad things.
Dick didn’t burn the tapes, though he thought about it. They were his tapes, and he wanted to keep them. But in the end, he handed the tapes over, because all the judges said he had to. And that was one law he couldn’t break.
And then people heard that he was trying to stop the FBI from doing their job. Even the people in Congress that liked Dick agreed that what he did was very bad. And they were about to fire Dick, because they get to do that when the president has been really bad.
So Dick quit before they could fire him. And Bob and John and the crazy people all went to jail.
The next president was a nice man called Gerry. Gerry liked chewing gum.
Gerry could have let Dick go to jail, but he decided not to. If he did, then people would respect the job of the president even less than they did already.
But ever since then, noone really respects the president’s job as much as they used to.
And that’s why your mummy and daddy are watching House of Cards.
And the lessons are:
- Just because you’re the president, you don’t get to do whatever you feel like. You can’t break the law.
- Even though Dick didn’t tell those crazy people to break the law, he had already told other people to break the law, and he was trying to stop the cops from doing their job. Dick was covering up the bad things other people did. That’s really bad as well, because part of the president’s job is to make sure people follow the law. And respect the law.
- Being president is not all about getting back at meanies. You have to think about what is going to be good for everybody. Even if it isn’t good for you. Being a president is a hard job.
- Make sure you don’t tape things that could be embarrassing to you later.