The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of America's Slimiest Politician
Republicans are soft on crime... when it's theirs.
With the revelation of Deep Throat who helped Woodward and Bernstein ask the right questions during their investigation of Watergate, right-wingers have fallen all over themselves whining about the truth. Pathetic... and a part of their continuing disinformation campaign. I think it is useful to sit back for a moment and examine just what made Nixon tick and what Watergate was about. Part I will take us through Nixon's 1968 election as president, and Part II will examine the High Crimes and Misdemeanors for which many high-level Nixon administration figures were convicted of, resigned over or pardoned for.
Nixon got his start as a mouthpiece for the "displaced Fascists" and friend to Allen Dulles:
The CIA did not know it, but Dulles was bringing them [surviving Nazis] to the United States less for intelligence purposes than for political advantage. The Nazis' job quickly became to get out the vote for the Republicans. One Israeli intelligence officer joked that when Dulles used the phrase "Never Again," he was not talking about the Holocaust but about Dewey's narrow loss to Truman. In the eyes of the Israelis, Allen Dulles was the demon who infected Western intelligence with Nazi recruits.
From the accusations against Alger Hiss (which helped Dulles avoid an investigation into the CIA) to his tirades against the Jews (who he "blamed" for Truman's defeat of Dewey), Nixon was more about power politics than protecting America. One of the most disgusting aspects of the post-war House Un-American Activities Committee was how it failed to find any important figures. It didn't investigate Karl Blessing, "former Reichsbank officer and then head of the Nazi oil cartel"; it went after Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Today, Hollywood isn't run by Jews (though that lie gets repeated) and our connection to shady oil interests has increased. Another disgraceful Nixon legacy. Despite finding (or inventing the crimes of) minor figures like Hiss (who may or may not have been a spy, but was certainly low-level at best), they completely missed Kim Philby and other important traitors. Nixon was doing exactly what Stalin wanted him to do, and the disgraceful McCarthy Era provided a propaganda boost to the Communists who could compare themselves favorably to the West. Stalin won that round; Nixon won that round.
Aside: Yes, this was the same Allen Dulles who was a friend to and fellow Skull and Bones member with Prescott Bush. The well-connected old boy network included many in the intelligence community, and later GHW & W Bush and John Kerry. During the Eisenhower/Nixon administration, Allen became director of the CIA while his brother John Foster became Secretary of State The Dulles/Nixon connection (and later with the Bush family) is made in great detail by John Loftus.
Nixon was always a liar. His Checkers Speech that saved his VP slot on the Eisenhower ticket in 1952, was a lie. He had been accused of accepting a secret slush fund to help him run his campaign. The incorrect part of the accusation was that the fund wasn't particularly a secret; they had advertised in the paper to find someone. But the fund existed and the donors expected what we would now call "access" for their money. Nixon claimed that the fund was legal and he never used it for private purposes. This same practice would be highly illegal now. Nixon didn't invent political corruption, but he invented justifying sleaze by using personal anecdotes in the media. We don't know whether he was lying about how the money was used (surprise! no investigation) but we know that he was playing fast-and-loose with the facts. He kept the money and Eisenhower, reluctantly, kept him on the ticket.
Despite slush funds and two terms as VP to the popular Ike, Tricky Dick was never very popular. He lost, decisively, to John F. Kennnedy in 1960. (Republicans today lie about that election as if their lies were gospel... but that's a whole different column). He "blamed" Kennedy, a Catholic, as he had blamed the Jews previously. Nixon apologists blame the televised debates as making him look bad, but Nixon knew the power of the media since the Checkers Speech and I don't believe he was that dumb eight years later. He lost because Kennedy was the better man for the presidency but Nixon was too paranoid and egotistical to accept defeat without rancor. Most of the rest of Nixon's career can be seen as getting back at Kennedy's legacy.
He was still unpopular in 1962 when he lost the California governor's race. In his most bitter speech, he railed against the hated truth-tellers and said, famously, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference." (Los Angeles, California, November 7, 1962)" As usual, Nixon was wrong.
Republicans nowadays try to resuscitate Nixon's reputation by saying he was really a liberal. In the sense that he believe government was the solution to most problems, this is true. But in the sense that he didn't trust anyone but himself, he is just as anal-retentive as any conservative. He believed in himself and his own power, and that's about it. He campaigned for losing Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. I suspect this had more to do with revenge over the 1960 election than actually supporting Goldwater's right-wing views, but in any event this got him back into national politics. When the Vietnam War caused LBJ to pull out of the 1968 presidential race too late for Humphrey or RFK to mount a serious campaign, Nixon stepped in and narrowly defeated Humphrey. Mostly, by lying: He claimed to have "a secret plan to end the war" and that the "silent majority" would elect him.
Predictably, Nixon apologists say he never made a claim to having a secret plan to end the war, when eye-witnesses say he did; further, if you look at all four cites, they describe different plans. And the apologists continue, to this day, to try to drive a wedge into Americans by pitting a "silent majority" against a "violent minority". I was around then: There certainly were episodes of violence, but most of the riots were race riots and the war's supporters were every bit as violent as the protesters; the war protesters were peaceable except when challenged. They didn't back down when confronted. The 1970 Kent State shootings may have been the low-water mark of the right-wing response to Vietnam protesters and the spark that led to Watergate, but the confrontation was typical: Flowers and peace symbols vs. guns and tear gas.
Further: Nixon, rather than wanting the war to end, "consciously sabotaged the Vietnam peace negotiations in Paris in the fall of 1968" (about 2/3 of the way down the book review). This horrific charge has been floating around for some time, but the conservative news media never investigated... but maybe a full Impeachment proceeding would have dug deep enough to cover this treason, and maybe that urged Nixon to resign rather than face an official inquiry.
Let's recap how Nixon won the 1968 election: 1) The assassination of JFK left America reeling and the Democrats without a uniter. LBJ wanted to be president, but having Kennedy's legacy thrust on him was not quite his plan. Johnson proved up to the task of ushering in the Great Society but failed in the task as a military commander in Vietnam. The only real winner from the assassination was Nixon. While I doubt he had anything directly to do with the events in Dallas (sorry conspiracy nuts), there's no question he was a political opportunist who leaped in when his hated enemy was out of the picture. 2) He and his associates went to Vietnam to ensure the war would continue so he could use it as a wedge issue (shades of the 1980 election!). Democrats quite rightly didn't trust LBJ, but his hasty exit meant that Democratic challengers had to start almost from square one. Meanwhile, Nixon lied and lied some more about his secret plans to end the war and promised to be the "law and order" candidate even though his administration was hopelessly corrupt. 3) By playing the race card (the "silent majority"), Nixon drove a wedge into the Democratic party. George Wallace, three-time Democratic governor of Alabama, got 13.5% of the vote. The Republican's "Southern Strategy" as promulgated by Nixon, was to steal the racist votes from the Democrats and plant them firmly in the GOP. This has been staggeringly successful and they are George W's base. 4) Running to the right to get the nomination and to the center to win the election. If a Democrat does this, it's known as "flip-flopping". When a Republican does this, it's known as "politics".
Next week: Agnew, CREEP, Watergate, those who went to jail and those who should have.