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Abuse of Power

In the political landscape, the abuse of power in government comes in a large variety of guises, each with their own implications. No matter what the definition is, or indeed the result, scholars are unanimous that the abuse of power is very dangerous. Since the reign of John F. Kennedy it can be argued that the liberty of each citizen of the US has been put under threat, right down to the core of American democracy. This paper will argue certain apparent abuses of power from the era of Kennedy to the end of George Bush’s presidency.

John F. Kennedy is remembered fondly by the vast majority of US citizens, and he is rarely attributed to the abuse of political power. What he is known for however is standing against communism in the pivotal battle against Cuba and the Cuban missile crisis. He might have been against totalitarian regimes, but from his presidency there has been a long road towards complete corruption and the abuse of power within US administration and government.

The Garrison Case is the case that investigated the assassination of John F Kennedy, and this case can be closely connected to the abuse of power high up within the US government. Jim Garrison, a Louisiana district attorney, spearheaded the investigation into the assassination. There is much speculation over Garrison’s character and motives, but there is plenty to suggest that he was a corrupt man, with ties to the local mafia.

Many say this is the primary reason why justice was never delivered for the murder of President Kennedy. Critics state that Garrison’s abuse of power served to cover up the fact that Kennedy’s assassination was planned by his closest ally; Vice President Lyndon Johnson, and other high ranking members of government such as Rusk, Bundy and McNamara. All of these supposed culprits may have used their power to hide the truth. If correct, this clearly presents a watershed moment in the abuse of power within US government.

While the truth may never be uncovered about the assassination of Kennedy, and we may never know whether it really was down to corrupt US officials, we have much more concrete evidence to show the abuse of power elsewhere. Richard Nixon was at the centre of one of the most prolific cases of political corruption ever known during his presidency, known as Watergate, which caused him to resign from office. The scandal revolved around Nixon ordering a few subordinates to break into the Watergate Hotel Complex in Washington DC and steal documents which incriminated the president. These documents revealed a diverse and extensive range of the abuse of political power, including bribery, extortion, coercion, phone tapping, tax fraud, and illegal use of state money. He stated that he was not a crook but even then he was lying through his teeth; if such gargantuan acts of corruption like this can occur, is there any wonder that we question our officials? The modern consensus is that both Nixon and Lyndon abused their power to the highest degree, though the main problem is that while it is easy to make judgements in hindsight, it is not easy to make judgements on the spot.

Smith (1996, p 21) eloquently summarises the situation over Nixon and Lyndon, and the consequences it has had for the government institution. He states that Nixon’s anger over the conduct of the Vietnam War cause him to use US agencies for his own political and personal gain, and after Watergate Congress retaliated by challenging not only Nixon’s presidency, but the very notion of presidency itself.

Obviously after Watergate in the era of Gerald Ford many sanctions were put in place to reduce government corruption. Ford’s presidency was benign with little of note, but Jimmy Carter did not prove to be popular with the voters, and was not trusted very well.

Ronald Reagan is the next real candidate for political corruption. Smith (1996, p448) reveals that Reagan’s duplicity with Iran was disclosed to devastating effect in the US at a time when the wounds of Watergate were still healing. The same (albeit less severe) political coercion, cover-ups, and overall abuse of power was again revealed, and the personal lies by Reagan to the American public was the worst thing of all. G.W.H Bush also abused his power for his own advantage, expanding the American military and security agencies, including the invasion of Kuwait.

To summarise this paper, several major conclusions are necessary. Firstly is the strong link between abuse of power and the increasing strength of the US military. Secondly, it is obvious that there has never been a single moment in US history where political events are completely transparent- even when ‘all’ the evidence is presented to prove against political corruption it is not a hard stretch of the imagination to see that any amount of evidence can be withheld for corrupt reasons. All in all, the fact that only the most high profile cases of political abuse seem to come to the surface suggests that there is so much more corruption that we will never realize, and as such, the decline of true democracy since Kennedy is more than apparent.


Smith, H., Power Game, Ballantine Books, 1996, ISBN: 0345410483