The December, 26, 2006, passing of Jerry Ford, our last traditional Republican president, has revived memories of the single most influential president of the last 60 years – Richard Nixon. It was Mr. Ford who issued the pardon to Mr. Nixon for any crimes he may have committed.
Since World War II, Nixon’s career and presidency has dominated the politics of our nation. We saw his unmistakable influence during the first six years of the Bush-Cheney co-presidency. Nixon’s disciples, with their dream of an imperial presidency, possessed near absolute control of the executive and legislative branches of our government.
It was Watergate that ultimately defined the Nixon presidency and shaped the philosophy of the future Nixonian-Republican presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. So what was Watergate all about?
Senator Sam Ervin was the Democratic chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee. Speaking at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville after Nixon’s resignation, he insisted that the Watergate scandals would never have occurred had Richard Nixon worked within the Republican National Committee (RNC) instead of forming his own Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP). However, Nixon never seemed to be a true Republican – he was a Nixonian. He used the Republican Party as a vehicle to achieve power and then went his own way. Sadly, his extremist followers have since transformed the so-called Grand Old Party into a Nixonian party.
What was involved in the Watergate scandals? Initially, as chairman of CREEP during the 1972 presidential campaign, Attorney General John Mitchell approved G. Gordon Liddy’s plan to burglarize the Democratic Party’s headquarters, which was in the Watergate Complex. Liddy’s team was caught in the act. But it was not this “second-rate burglary” that brought down the Nixon presidency.
Rather than face certain impeachment and conviction, Nixon resigned because of his cover-up of the crime – which included hush money. The cover-up was to prevent anyone from learning who had hired the burglars and to protect the covert (secret) illegal operations the Nixon White House had been involved in for nearly four years! Unreported money was provided to CREEP by Nixon supporters, and part of it was used to hire the burglars. If the secret cash funds were made public, this would lead to investigations into other activities that had been similarly financed.
There was the “Plumbers Unit,” a secret “police” to prevent White House leaks – that’s the bunch that broke into a psychiatrist’s office to find info that might discredit Daniel Ellsberg, the man who released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and the Washington Post. The Bush-Cheney co-presidency was quick to denounce reporters who exposed the secret prisons in Eastern Europe and the warrant-less domestic wire-tapping, and it suggested investigations to find who leaked the stories.
There was Donald Segretti’s campaign dirty-tricks operation. He helped destroy competitive candidates like Sen. Edmund Muskie so Nixon could run against Sen. George McGovern. CREEP easily distorted McGovern’s record and even made the WWII bomber pilot hero appear to be a wimp. One is easily reminded of the “swift boat” ploy that misrepresented John Kerry’s record in Vietnam during the 2004 campaigns.
Because of Nixon’s chronic abuse of office, the Democratic Congress passed numerous laws to prevent future Presidents from establishing imperial powers that violated the Constitution’s separation of powers. One such law was FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which created a special court to approve domestic electronic surveillance or physical searches of suspected agents of a foreign power. Nixon had used warrant-less wire tapping against those he claimed were threatening the nation during the anti-war and civil rights riots and protests. The Nixonians claimed we were in a state of war here at home and believed they should be able to do anything to protect our safety. The renegade Bush-Cheney regime violated FISA for 5 years during its “war on terror;” however, in mid-Jan. 2007, Att. Gen. Gonzales said it would begin obeying the law!
Another law attempted to curb Nixon’s and future presidential wars – the War Powers Act. Nixon had carried on a secret war in Cambodia for quite some time before he publicly ordered an invasion of that country. It was true that North Vietnam used Cambodian trails to infiltrate South Vietnam. However, Nixon’s invasion destabilized Prince Sihanouk’s government, forced him into exile, and led to the takeover of Cambodia by the bloodthirsty dictator Pol Pot. The result was the enslavement of the population and the death of two million Cambodians in what became known as “The Killing Fields.” Hopefully our inevitable withdrawal from Iraq will not result in a similar catastrophe.
Nixon won the 1968 election largely because he got enough voters to believe he had a “secret plan to end the war in Vietnam,” which he never actually said – he just never gave any details as to how he was going to do it. Once he was in office, his policy became “I won’t be the first president to lose a war.” He then dragged the war out for four more years and used it to get reelected. Nixon routinely lied about how successfully we were training South Vietnamese troops so that he could periodically bring some of our troops home. He called it Vietnamization. It didn’t work.
President George W. Bush claimed that our troops will stand down when Iraqi troops stand up. Nevertheless, President Obama pulled the U.S. out of Iraq honoring a Bush-Iraqi timetable that George W. Bush established late in his presidency. As we know, the Iraqi troops have not been up the challenge.
The Enemies List was one of the most disturbing aspects of the Nixon schemes. Once reelected, Nixon planned to use all the agencies of the federal government to destroy his political enemies. The FBI, the CIA, the IRS, and others were to be utilized by the Nixonians to secure their power. Once this list was exposed during the Watergate hearings, it became a status symbol for anyone included on the list. Actor Tony Randall (of TV’s The Odd Couple) was proud to be on the list. Columnist Art Buchwald was outraged to have been excluded – he wrote that the problem with Nixon was that Nixon didn’t know who his real enemies were.
It began to look like the diabolical George W. Bush planned to use the U.S. Postal Service to get his own political enemies. On December 20, 2006, he signed into law the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which stated that first class mail could not be opened without a warrant. Bush then added one of his numerous signing statements saying the President could open our first class mail without a warrant!
For the first six years of Bush-Cheney, we had a “see no evil – hear no evil – speak no evil” Nixonian majority in Congress that chose to exert virtually no oversight over a Nixonian executive branch. It limited its own investigative powers and granted the President power to curb civil liberties with the deliberately misnamed PATRIOT Act. With the Military Commissions Act, it authorized the President to suspend habeas corpus so that someone could be arrested without ever being charged. It even allowed the President to use over 750 signing statements that alter the intent of legislation he didn’t plan to adhere to but didn’t veto. Nixon would have loved that Congress!
by David Offutt
This is a slightly revised version of an essay that was published January 31, 2007, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.