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Saturday, June 09, 2012

Nixon and Watergate forty years on

Over at the Washington Post site, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward reflect on the Watergate scandal, forty years after they first broke the story and how at that time they had only scraped at the tip of an iceberg of illegality at the heart of the Nixon administration.

They say that 'at its most virulent, Watergate was a brazen and daring assault, led by Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law' and that 'In the course of his five-and-a-half-year presidency, beginning in 1969, Nixon launched and managed five successive and overlapping wars — against the anti-Vietnam War movement, the news media, the Democrats, the justice system and, finally, against history itself. All reflected a mind-set and a pattern of behavior that were uniquely and pervasively Nixon’s: a willingness to disregard the law for political advantage, and a quest for dirt and secrets about his opponents as an organizing principle of his presidency.'

They argue that Nixon’s first war was against the anti-Vietnam War movement. He considered it subversive and thought it constrained his ability to prosecute the war in Southeast Asia on his terms: In 1970, he approved the top-secret Huston Plan, authorizing the CIA, the FBI and military intelligence units to intensify electronic surveillance of individuals identified as “domestic security threats.” The plan called for, among other things, intercepting mail and lifting restrictions on “surreptitious entry” — that is, break-ins or “black bag jobs.”

NIxon also prosecuted a war against the news media using burglary as a means to get information on those he classed as his enemy. Woodward and Bernstein relate that Nixon often flew into rants and rages, recorded on his tapes, about selected enemies, the antiwar movement, the press, Jews, the American left and liberals in Congress, all of whom he conflated:

Nixon’s anti-Semitic rages were well-known to those who worked most closely with him, including some aides who were Jewish. As we reported in our 1976 book, “The Final Days,” he would tell his deputies, including Kissinger, that “the Jewish cabal is out to get me.” In a July 3, 1971, conversation with Haldeman, he said: “The government is full of Jews. Second, most Jews are disloyal. You know what I mean? You have a Garment [White House counsel Leonard Garment] and a Kissinger and, frankly, a Safire [presidential speechwriter William Safire], and, by God, they’re exceptions. But Bob, generally speaking, you can’t trust the bastards. They turn on you.”

The war against the Democrats of course sits at the heart of the Watergate break-in but it went beyond that basic act:

According to the Senate Watergate report and Liddy’s 1980 autobiography, he used multicolored charts prepared by the CIA to describe elements of the plan. Operation Diamond would neutralize antiwar protesters with mugging squads and kidnapping teams; Operation Coal would funnel cash to Rep. Shirley Chisholm, a black congresswoman from Brooklyn seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, in an effort to sow racial and gender discord in the party; Operation Opal would use electronic surveillance against various targets, including the headquarters of Democratic presidential candidates Edmund Muskie and George McGovern; Operation Sapphire would station prostitutes on a yacht, wired for sound, off Miami Beach during the Democratic National Convention.

I was quite taken by some of the other dirty tricks and how petty they got, including bogus news releases and allegations of sexual improprieties against other Democratic candidates, produced on counterfeit Muskie stationery. One, favored dirty trick, that caused havoc at campaign stops involved sweeping up the shoes that Muskie aides left in hotel hallways to be polished, and then depositing them in a dumpster. Nixon also ordered Ehrlichman to direct the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the tax returns of all the likely Democratic presidential candidates

The two journalists say that Nixon’s final war, waged even to this day by some former aides and historical revisionists, aimed to play down the significance of Watergate and present it as a blip on the president’s record. They add that Nixon lived for 20 years after his resignation and worked tirelessly to minimize the scandal.

They conclude: The Watergate that we wrote about in The Washington Post from 1972 to 1974 is not Watergate as we know it today. It was only a glimpse into something far worse. By the time he was forced to resign, Nixon had turned his White House, to a remarkable extent, into a criminal enterprise.

On the day he left, Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon gave an emotional farewell speech in the East Room to his staff, his friends and his Cabinet. His family stood with him. Near the end of his remarks, he waved his arm, as if to highlight the most important thing he had to say.

“Always remember,” he said, “others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

His hatred had brought about his downfall. Nixon apparently grasped this insight, but it was too late. He had already destroyed himself.

biased twaddle - so much nonsense. How about a balanced approach? Did the author of this biased piece even bother to read up on Nixon's background?
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