At the end of this post I am reposting a June 2005 piece entitled “Finishing the Job:A Watergate Reflection”. My central thesis at the time–a contrarian one then and now re Watergate–was that Nixon’s scandals were payback for his attacks on the left during the anti-communist 1950’s, and that the left, with the golden opportunity to marginalise their opponents, squandered it with Jimmy Carter and paved the way for Ronald Reagan and a quarter century of, in general, Republican success.
Well, now we know that the current regime has employed the IRS to stonewall Tea Party and other conservative groups; that it has dug into journalists’ files to intimidate them, both journalists they like (AP) and ones they don’t (Fox). We also know that they have constructed an elaborate charade to hide their failures re the Benghazi attack, and did so for a variety of reasons: to sustain a meme that right-wing fanatics are the reason the Islāmic world hates us, to avoid a messy affair during a presidential campaign, and above all to avoid exposing the reality that we have supported and trained al-Qaeda terrorists to further our ill-thought out agenda in the Middle East, first in Libya and then in Syria.
With this and more coming forth, we have reached the moment of truth. If these scandals cannot be dealt with in the way they deserve, then two things are true. The first is that the left has in fact “finished the job” and controls our political life to the extent that they cannot be called to account in a meaningful way. The second–and this is not well understood by many who are not products of this system–is that this country is no longer the United States of America but the artificial legal construct of an élite whose chief aim is its own perpetuation. That latter point would be the end of any pretense of American exceptionalism, and would also make a cruel farce out of any attempt on our part to export democratic process anywhere else on the planet.
The key to bringing accountability to pass in our polarised society is for enough people on the left to understand that, if this regime can pull off what they have, then some of them will be next. Or let me put it into three words: remember Leon Trotsky. The reason Nixon resigned is because his own party in the Senate was ready to vote him out. Will our counterparts on the other side see their way clear to do the same? That’s the key question.
It’s not an easy thing to oppose this kind of power expansion, and it’s something most Americans aren’t used to. And it’s hard to get anything done with an electorate which basically doesn’t know right from wrong and what works from what doesn’t. And finally, for Christians at least, failure is not the end; as I observed last fall during the campaign, we only have one true country.
The moment of truth has come for these United States. As Lenin asked his own people, what is to be done? That’s the question that’s in front of us too.
Finishing the Job: A Watergate Reflection
Originally posted 2 June 2005.
Now that Mark Felt has been revealed as “Deep Throat,” it’s a good time to take a look at what Watergate really was and what it means for us today.
Watergate was the scandal par excellence for the last part of the twentieth century in the U.S. As I mention elsewhere, it was a defining moment for me and many of my contemporaries. I spent the summer after graduating from prep school listening to the Senate’s select committee grilling the likes of Bob Haldeman and John Erlichmann while I was drafting commercially for the first time at our family business’ Florida plant. At the time, a relatively new NPR chose to fill breaks in the testimony with excerpts from the McCarthy-Army hearings. This was suitable, became the immediate genesis of Watergate and Nixon himself as a politician dates from the 1950’s.
The Cold War turned the communist dalliance of much of America’s élite class into a serious liability, leading to ostracism, prison (Alger Hiss) and death (the Rosenbergs.) Nixon was a central anti-communist protagonist; this infuriated the left, which has hated him ever since. Even though he had timed the withdrawal from Vietnam, the left still relished the thought of getting him permanently. The feeling was mutual; he had his “enemies list” drawn up and the “dirty tricks” to take care of them. The wiretapping of the DNC was only a small part of that. Had Nixon succeeded in trashing his enemies, it would have dealt a serious blow to the radical left in the U.S.; it may have made the right the enduring power holders in the U.S., although Nixon’s conservatism left a great deal to be desired, especially on the domestic front. It would have at least spared us a quarter century of domination by the “mainstream media.”
Watergate destroyed all that. The damage to conservatism and to the Republican party cannot be overstated; it looked like the fatal blow to many of us. There were some on the left who saw the full potential of the situation. One of those was Bernard Nussbaum, counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, which oversaw the initial stages of Nixon’s impeachment. He and his staff, which included Hillary Rodham (later Clinton,) drew up rules of procedure that not only crippled proper due process for the accused, but essentially lifted the task of impeachment from the Committee itself! The impeachment of course went through, but Nixon resigned before the Senate could finish that job, depriving the left of another several months or so of Nixon and Republican bashing in the press.
As for “finishing the job” and completing their dominance of American life and politics, the left squandered the aftermath of Watergate with complacency, overconfidence and ineffectual leadership, mainly that of Jimmy Carter. (Had Ted Kennedy not driven his woman into the drink off of Martha’s Vineyard, that might have changed too.) Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 stopped whatever momentum the left had remaining to make their rule permanent until the 1990’s.
The right has had its chances to “finish the job:” probably the best was after 9/11, when George Bush had the golden opportunity to use a national crisis to put away a wide variety of enemies. But George Bush, along with Reagan himself, had too high of a view of the rule of law to do this.
The left’s best chance was just after Clinton’s election in 1992, a choice due to the combination of the power of the media and the lackluster performance of the elder Bush. With a majority in both houses, the Clintons stood to nationalise health care and many other things, but once again overconfidence and sheer political bungling sqandered yet another chance to make their dominance permanent. This led to the triumph of the Republicans in 1994 and a Democrat president going along with such conservative causes as welfare reform and the Defence of Marriage Act.
Today our media whines about how partisan things are in Washington. But American politics have been polarised since the late 1960’s. Things have only gotten worse since the boomers took charge, with their penchant for control and idealism uninstructed by reality. It was my conclusion in the wake of Watergate that it only remained for one side or the other–and more likely the left–would take the necessary steps to “finish the job” and insure their long-term control of the Republic. That conclusion hasn’t changed; the most likely candidate to try this is Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was as the centre of the first attempt so long ago. Her ideological formation is to use the law and whatever other means be at her disposal to achieve her political ends. Will the right forget their respect for the law to stop her? Only time will tell.
Today we like to talk about “living on the edge.” We have been there for a long time, just closer at some points than others. Until the boomers pass and our country is led by those who understand that the beneficial exercise of power has its limits, the edge will be our home.