A TALE OF TWO CORRUPT PRESIDENTS
During the summer of 1973, I was a graduate student living in New York City. I remember at the time that I was attempting to recover from a debilitating case of strep throat. I had no energy to read, to write, or to do much of anything else. But the Watergate Committee, chaired by Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC), was in full swing. I decided to tune in, and became terribly interested. I was transfixed in front of the television screen every day as the hearings unfolded. If I missed an hour of testimony, then I would watch the recording of it that night.
The Nixon administration privately regarded Ervin as something of an absurdity, but the old man was an American original – politically savvy, intelligent, irrepressible, colorful, charismatic in his role as a country lawyer, and a genuine patriot. During intense questioning, when it became obvious that a witness was lying or had acted irresponsibly, unethically, even criminally, the old man would suddenly become Jonathan Edwards and bristle with righteous indignation, quoting from the Bible and bringing down “the wrath of God” upon the corrupt President and his obsequious minions. At one moment, I remember Senator Ervin proclaiming to a witness that “God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap.” The late Rev. Ernest T. Campbell, while senior minister of New York’s Riverside Church, publicly offered a prayer of thanks for those words of Scripture that had reverberated throughout the halls of Congress. I loved Sam Ervin and still do. He has my unwavering respect to this day, not only for his leadership on the Senate Watergate Committee, but also for his razor sharp arguments in opposition to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 Immigration Reform Act. What Herman Melville wrote of Andrew Jackson was in a way applicable also to this North Carolinian: the raging political storms of the time “didst pick [him] up from the pebbles” and “thunder him higher than a throne.”
I remember two heart-stopping moments during the Watergate hearings. The first was when John Dean read his book-length statement to the Committee and to the American people. He seemed to drone on for hours, although I saw no one yawning during his testimony. Every sentence possessed the force of a claw hammer driving a tenpenny nail into the brain of the body politic. Dean described having had a personal meeting with Nixon in the Oval Office and informing him that “a cancer was growing on the presidency.” The witness stated, during one unusually pregnant moment of testimony, that the President responded to him as if their conversation were being taped.
As I listened to Dean and studied his demeanor, there was no doubt that he was telling the truth. Yet it boiled down to his word against that of the man who occupied the big office, and that was for Dean a contest he could not win without a lot of help.
The second shattering moment during the hearings was when Alexander Butterfield, a deputy assistant to the President, revealed a fact that sent a wave of high-voltage shock through the nation. The deputy was asked about there possibly being tapes. He responded that “everything was taped ... as long as the President was in attendance. There was not so much as a hint that something should not be taped." That was a bombshell dropped on America.
After a period of legal wrangling that led to a unanimous decision by the United States Supreme Court, the Committee finally got its hands on the tapes. Richard M. Nixon was established then and for all time to come as a sullen paranoid, vile in word and deed, awash in a sea of hypocrisy and lies. The American people’s confidence in their government, specifically in the institution of the presidency, was severely diminished.
Gerald Ford, whom LBJ once remarked had “played football too long without a helmet” and “couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time,” became President. He declared to the American people that their “long national nightmare” was over and that the system had worked. (Never mind the fact that he subsequently pardoned Nixon, thereby doing what he assured Congress and the American people he would never do.)
So had the system worked? Give me a break. Did John Dean’s power-packed testimony work? Not really. It was the tapes that worked. If Nixon had destroyed them as John Connally counseled him to do, the President would have completed his second term of office, scathed though unvanquished.
Fast forward to the man who currently occupies the big office. If the media and Congress turn over enough rocks, they will, I predict, discover that he too, like Slick Rick, is a glib, thin-skinned, lying, paranoid thug. Both men viciously used the IRS against their political opponents. It is naïve for one to think, even for a nanosecond, that IRS agents acted on their own in their treatment of conservative political groups seeking tax exempt status. Every simpleton knows that bureaucrats do what they are told and never venture far from their appointed script. Being creative with a bureaucrat is an exercise in futility, akin to trying to explain Aristotle’s metaphysics to a lobotomized rat. An IRS commissioner, especially one serving on an interim basis, would not dare initiate such a ruthless and lawless policy on his own. Yet, remember, it was an “acting” commissioner whom our noble president placed on the sacrificial altar a few days ago in an attempt to engender the perception that he is outraged by roguish behavior and has committed himself to punishing it. Stop the charade, I say! Anyone who happens to believe Obama's line should have the letters “D.A.” tattooed on his or her forehead (and they don’t stand for “District Attorney” either).
The same observation holds for the appalling events in Benghazi. Obama publicly committed himself over six months ago to getting to the bottom of this too. The American people, to this day, have not been informed who made the decision that our armed forces should sit on their hands while American citizens were under attack or who instructed Ambassador Susan Rice to lie about what happened. Obama continues, without a hint of shame or embarrassment, to reiterate the ludicrous falsehood that he characterized the event as an act of terror from the jump. Bull! He explicitly blamed the killings on a video and caused the videographer to be arrested on a pretextual charge. Obama along with Secretary Clinton consummated this reprehensible ruse by broadcasting a statement of apology to the Arab world. Yes, an apology! Think about the effect that had upon the victims’ families. It personally strikes me as treasonous.
Heaped upon these two scandals is yet another. The President secretively breached the rights of Associated Press reporters in an effort to identify a source of leaks from his administration. His wooden-headed attorney general now disclaims any knowledge of the matter and is deferring questions about it to a subordinate. Although an operation like this may well be necessary at times, seeking materials that breach journalistic privilege should be pursuant to prior reasonable notice and hearing. The government should not merely show up demanding documents.
Nixon’s White House was the breeding ground for countless constitutional horrors. I have no reason to believe that Obama’s reign is much different. Yet, keep in mind, that Nixon would not have been compelled to resign had it not been for the facts revealed in the Watergate tapes.
Obama has continued to insulate himself from close public scrutiny by pleading ignorance. With a tyrant’s mentality, he wields power ruthlessly behind the scenes and then, when the mouth of hell opens and threatens to consume him, he proves to be the liar and coward, offering not a shred of information to share with the public. The man brings to the Oval Office all the skills of a street hustler. Even when utilizing his underhanded tactics he may yet complete a second term of office if ironclad evidence fails to surface demonstrating the truth.
In the meantime, I would suggest an extra-legal response to this narcissistic President who conceals, obfuscates, equivocates, and double-deals. It is to turn a deaf ear and a cold shoulder to him. The author James Michener urged this strategy against Nixon. It is a kind of nonviolent protest with Asian roots, emphasizing the refusal to listen, to follow, or even to take seriously one who has betrayed the public trust. Act as if no one occupies the office, because no one does! This strategy ideally suits a President who constantly casts himself as outside the informational loop. If he doesn’t know or is the last to know, then he’s not really functioning as a President in the first place, is he? Why should he be treated as one? When he approaches the microphone, I for one turn off my television, or change channels.
How I miss Sam Ervin.
May 19, 2013