The comparison between Richard Nixon and Barack Obama are beginning to fester. A drib here, a drab there. Of course, for the rabid leftist Democrat partisans, no scandal –leastways, no Democrat scandal– can ever be as bad as Watergate.
Of course, this is merely emblematic of the social-political landscape today, just more intellectually lazy historical Cliffs Notes: Used-Car Salesman Richard Nixon, with his Five O’Clock shadow, and darting-eyes paranoia, is the poster-boy for Presidential Criminality.
Any reasonably sober analysis of Watergate, though, –if performed away from the official Ben Bradley Washington Post “User’s Manual for Presidential Scandal”– will lead to a couple of inevitable conclusions: One, Richard Nixon (despite being a bit of an odd duck) desperately wanted to do what he thought was best for his country, even in spite of himself. And, two, not even Watergate was Watergate.
Most folks today don’t really remember that meat of Watergate: Nixon surreptitiously taped his conversations in the Oval Office (a measure employed by both of his predecessors to one degree or another), and swore a blue streak while doing it. During these conversations, he was heard threatening to audit his political enemies –threats, by the way, which were never carried out. He also was heard instructing his staff to blame the Watergate burglary of the Democrat National Committee offices on Anti-Castro Cubans
This is the nub of Watergate. It is the so-called “smoking gun”. Compare it in your minds-eye to the current institutional corruption at the IRS that specifically targeted Conservative Activists and suppressed the 2012 vote. Compare it to an Attorney General who assaults a news organization at the behest of his boss with threats of prosecution under the 1917 Espionage Act and perjures himself before congress doing it. Compare it to a Commander In Chief that is derelict in his duty for over 24 hours while his Ambassador is murdered, and the military command structure is frozen.
Watergate looks like a Sweet Sixteen birthday party compared to what can only be termed “Obamagate”. Especially when you take a peek back to the times in which the Nixon scandals emerged.
The roots of Watergate go back to the election of 1960.
Richard Nixon remained convinced, until his dying breath, that the Presidential Election which pitted him against John Kennedy had been stolen from him in the wards of Richard Daley’s Chicago, and the hinterlands of Lyndon Johnson’s trans-Pecos. History has largely come round to his way of thinking, and there is abundant evidence that, had Nixon chosen to contest the election of 1960, he likely would have prevailed. After all, the margin of victory was less than 100,000 votes out of some 70,000,000 cast.
It was a victory margin of less than one-tenth of one percent.
Nixon also remained convinced that John Kennedy, while a compatriot and friend in the US Senate throughout the 1950’s, had a thin resume and was a notorious playboy and, at only 44 years of age at the time, with almost no accomplishments to date in his barely six-year Senate career, was fully unqualified for the presidency. But, Nixon (unlike Al Gore in 2000) had the class and humility to admit defeat, however reedy, and concede the election.
Still, it rankled him. Further, it smarted that JFK was bolstered by a seemingly endless bankroll (and the famous self-promotion industry of the Kennedy Brand from Old Joe) and that Kennedy’s allure seemed based mostly on his televised performances. Nixon knew Kennedy was a social-climber, and his family money had always paid for the ladder; meanwhile, Nixon had to scratch and claw his way, with his own resources, experience and Quaker work-ethic.
Nixon, in fact, had been offered a scholarship to attend Harvard, but passed it up because his family couldn’t afford the train fare for his interview.
Meanwhile, the world had been watching the Kennedy clan and it’s endless money for a generation. And, when it finally came time for JFK to settle into his Presidential candidacy, it seemed that Kennedy was forever being given a pass by the elite Coastal Media, not reporting on (as Nixon called it) JFK’s “girling”, or his hanging out with Las Vegas mobsters, and his family’s thinly-veiled connection to bootlegging and anti-Semitism.
So, when JFK refused additional air cover for Cuban freedom-fighters during the botched raid on the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1961 during the early days of the administration, and caused the death, torture and imprisonment of hundred of these heroes, Nixon knew JFK had “gone soft” in a moment of decision that was clearly over the head of the young and green President. Nixon knew America had made a mistake in electing Kennedy, but felt sure the truth would soon come out.
But, it didn’t.
Then, as now, the ideological bent of the so-called “fourth estate” was stridently leftist, and the debacle was quickly down-played as a military blunder in which Kennedy had only a passing knowledge and middling interest: President Kennedy didn’t want to start a third world-war, he didn’t want to lose Berlin, and so on, and on.
Like Obama, the charismatic President –with all the New Frontiersmen in his Braintrust– was only trying his best, you see.
Nixon, though, was livid that the public was not being given all the facts about the Bay of Pigs, nor the scope of the disaster, nor of Kennedy’s complicity in the debacle.
The times, though, they were a changin’.
We all know the follow-on chapters of the story: Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Lydon Johnson’s ramping-up of the Vietnam War as a substrate to billboard his own massive ego, and Nixon’s unlikely political comeback that resulted in his own election to the Presidency in 1968.
As all of this history has receded into the misty chapters of the long-ago (it will, after all, be 50 years in November that JFK was shot), we forget the zeitgeist of the times, the flavor of the period, the cultural tremors of those days that rumble right though to the present. Chief among these ingredients is the flammability of the era, that America was at war at home and abroad (some 500 people were killed in urban and campus riots between 1965 and 1972), and Vietnam was the lead story on the nightly newscasts for nearly a decade.
Vietnam divided the nation, it divided families. And, in the very midst of this, the New York Times, at the very height of US Involvement in South East Asia published a secret RAND Corporation study that detailed most of our Vietnam policy and it’s historical traces. It was a damning indictment of President Johnson’s White House, and was also a large bucket of cold water on an America that had been lead to believe it was fighting in Vietnam –losing their sons and their nation’s treasure– for a “friend”, to shore up alliances, and stop the spread of Godless Communism.
The New York Times publishing of these so-called “Pentagon Papers” detailed that the entire imbroglio was likely a sham of political strip-tease from the moment Harry Truman entered the White House.
After the first leaks of the study were published (the Papers were classified as “sensitive”), Nixon felt the worst of the claims from the study fell on the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. But, when it was leaked that the Nixon White House had ordered secret military missions and bombings in Cambodia and Laos, the public soon had soured on the whole lot of Presidential leadership vis-a-vis Vietnam. The American people weren’t in the loop, it seemed, and, when they were, they were openly lied to. Barry Goldwater, who had suffered a humiliating defeat in 1964 to Lydon Johnson because he had been successfully tarred as some sort of a blood-soaked war-monger, later said:
During the campaign, President Johnson kept reiterating that he would never send American boys to fight in Vietnam. As I say, he knew at the time that American boys were going to be sent. In fact, I knew about ten days before the Republican Convention. You see I was being called trigger-happy, warmonger, bomb happy, and all the time Johnson was saying, he would never send American boys, I knew damn well he would.
Thus, the apple-cart of American public opinion had definitely been up-ended. And Nixon became furious in his own turn that a former RAND researchers named Daniel Ellsberg had purloined the documents, and leaked them in the first place. From that point, Nixon became rather fixated on “leaks”.
Rather like the current occupant of the White House.
In fact, Nixon was so determined to fix the problem of classified leaks that he tasked his Attorney General John Mitchell with stopping them. Mitchell, determined to please the boss, set up the “White House Plumbers Union”, which came to include those names that came to dominate the headlines: E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, Charles Colson, as well as other men from the CIA and other defense intelligence offices.
Now, as I say: Remember the times. Unlike today, with all of the spooking and eavesdropping going on in the Obama Administration: America was aflame. Tens of thousands of young men were coming home from Vietnam in body-bags, soldiers were being spit on at airports, families torn apart as one son went off for induction, and another fled to Toronto. A college campus in the late 60’s and very early 70’s was as frightening and dangerous a place as an urban ghetto.
Nixon, despite his unctuous and sweaty countenance, was earnestly trying to do what was right for his country. He was, after all, a combat veteran of the South Pacific in the Navy during World War Two. He well knew the military milieu. He felt the leaking of military secrets was leading to a drop in fighting morale, which ultimately killed young men on the battlefield. His “Plumbers” were deployed to, well, stop all these leaks. Stopping leaks was a primary military objective.
Not the objective of winning a political season.
The times make all the difference when comparing the scandals, Obamagate and Watergate, one to the other. Nixon was motivated in part by love of country, quite simply, and the desire to be an effective Commander-in-Chief. Obama is motivated (to the extent that anything motivates him) by simple lust for power, and an animating principle to destroy traditional conservatism.
Nixon, though, was motivated by darker forces, too, that share common threads with Obama. But, again, Nixon’s motivations had a strand of humanity and the experience of political reality behind them that Obama does not.
Remember Nixon’s reaction to the Bay of Pigs, and that it seemed the press had given the affair short-shrift? Nixon knew, and now the public, in large measure did, too, that the Presidency was no longer the Golden Throne of Lincoln and Washington in the minds of the voting public. The Pentagon Papers were proving what a sham much of post-war leadership could be at times. He wanted the truth to get out about the Bay of Pigs, just as the truth was now out about Cambodia and Laos. The secret war in the border nations of Vietnam could at least, in Nixon’s world-view, have the patina of American projection of power. The debacle at the Bay of Pigs was a prime example, he thought, of American obsequiousness and weakness. And yet, JFK had taken on God-like qualities since his martyrdom.
This was the darker side of Nixon. The campaign of 1960 haunted him. He allowed the defeat to burn him personally, to infect his personality that already was a bit brittle. It rankled his basic sense of right and wrong, that an election could be purchased– and for no other reason than a patriarch’s self-aggrandizement. And the results, to Nixon, were catastrophically illustrated by the disaster at the Bay of Pigs.
On June 16, 1972, Nixon saw a small article in the back of the New York Times while he vacationed in Key Biscayne: “What the hell’s this bullshit story about the DNC, Bob”” he asked his Chief of Staff. He honestly didn’t know anything about the Break-In at Larry O’Brien’s office at the Democrat National Committe, about Liddy’s “Operation Gemstone”, or about any his White House Counsel’s Office sending spooks into the Watergate Complex.
When Nixon heard that the burglars were Cubans (and when it became clear to him that the idea-germ of the break-in could be traced to his White House), Nixon sought to blame the whole break-in at the Watergate complex in June of 1972 on CIA operatives trying to get the goods on anti-Castro Cubans– who were obviously attempting to get the truth out about the Bay of Pigs. On the so-called “smoking gun” tape, Nixon is heard warming up to the ruse: “That’s how we’ll play it”, he is heard telling his staff. Blame it on the Bay of Pigs. Blame it on JFK by extension.
James McCord (one of the Plumber Liddy’s cohorts) had actually chosen Cuban operatives for the break-in in the hope that such plots would incubate in his boss’s mind. That the Bay of Pigs festered in the mind of the Commander-In-Chief was well known, and The Plumber’s knew well what lurked in the heart of the Boss.
Rather like Lois Lerner of Obama’s IRS today. No actual communications ever took place between Lerner and Obama, but everybody knows how he feels about the Tea Party, right?
On the night of Nixon’s reelection, he pulled out his over-used phonograph record of Richard Roger’s score to Victory at Sea. He was, at heart, an American Patriot who cared deeply and fundamentally about the lives of the men and women he commanded in the Armed Forces. His politics, and his public policy, were another matter. He was a bit of an obsequious squish for my tastes, wanting to forever please the Tish Baldridge set in their East-Coast salons. But, he knew the lives of these (drafted) servicemen were in his hands, and he knew that the very future of America depended upon the honorable projection of American power.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, has other priorities. Namely, political victory for his world-view. And he will stop at nothing –nothing: Not the obtrusive death of one of his Ambassadors, not the illegal thug tactics of most of his Administrative department, nothing– will stop him. And, this is why Obamagate is worse –much worse– than Watergate.