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In a recent essay reflecting on John Marini’s excellent new book, Unmasking the Administrative State, Ken Masugi wrote that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report amounted to a rerun from the Nixon era. It is certainly a repeat performance of sorts, but it looks like it will not conclude in the same satisfying way for the Left. Now, the tables are being turned on them. For the first time since the 1970s, we have a president and an attorney general, William Barr, who will not cave to injustice.
Barr has made clear he will look at spying regardless of party affiliation. The Democrats naturally are howling at the prospect, for it well may wrap up their grand ruse that is a political scandal bigger than anything Nixon could ever have imagined.
What we have witnessed the last two-plus years with the Russia hoax, is a variation of the Watergate scandal playbook replayed by the same Democrat party that once sacrificed the political health of the country in order to protect their self-interested pursuit of power. Marini and Masugi’s work has made this clear to me in ways that it was not until now.
Let’s begin with a little background.
On June 17, 1972, members of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CRP) broke into the office of the Democratic National Committee. They were caught and arrested. Eventually, the FBI found that the burglars were on the Nixon campaign’s payroll. Congress soon investigated the matter, and Nixon, reacting defensively, resisted inquiries thus contributing the claim he covered up the break-in after the fact.
Nixon knew, however, that the political desire to oust him was so great that even if he cooperated, there would be trouble. Nixon had just trounced the radical Democrat, George McGovern by an overwhelming 520-17 electoral votes. He knew the level of rage against him coming from the Left. But he also knew that the Left had a powerful ally in the administrative state. So he resisted.
When the House Judiciary Committee drew up articles of impeachment against Nixon, one of the first items they considered was his impoundment of funds, which is withholding congressionally appropriated monies from the bureaucracy. This fact lends evidence to the suggestion that the real reason Nixon was targeted was that he dared to challenge the administrative state’s authority. Nixon’s desire to reassert executive authority over the administrative state as its rightful and legal constitutional head explained why he was so hated in Washington. Since the committee determined this was not an impeachable offense, the committee generalized his “crimes” to matters that had nothing really to do with the Watergate break-in. These amounted to not doing what the Congress demanded when they demanded it. It is also worth noting that two other articles—the bombing of Cambodia, and an alleged failure to pay taxes—were added to the impeachment list, but failed in committee.
The media of the 1970s was a monolith. There was no other entity to challenge its narrative. There was no competition as presently exists today with multiple news outlets. Therefore, as Nixon noted in his book, In the Arena, the false allegations that he conducted a campaign of spying on multiple targets without discretion were never questioned. Henry Kissinger even stated in Years of Upheaval that Watergate was a “political coup” by Nixon’s opponents. In fact, most Europeans viewed it that way at the time.
The lazy and unintelligent journalist class in America—including the Washington Post’s famed Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein—never pursued the motives of those making allegations against Nixon, nor did they put Watergate into any context. They did not have to because there was no media outlet that might contradict or test the veracity of their claims. The “truth” was dispensed without questioning from the public or competing media outlets which, let’s face it, were all basically the same.
Of course much has been forgotten about our politics and Watergate. For example, the Democrats defeated a resolution to look into the political sabotage of the 1964 and 1968 elections, as well in the Watergate break-in. We now know that Lyndon Johnson used the CIA and the FBI to spy on Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
And when it comes to the Watergate break-in, nobody seems to remember that there was no phone bugging equipment found, that there is no direct connection between Nixon and the order for the break-in, that witnesses were pressured into giving preferred testimony, nor that Woodward and Bernstein never once interviewed Nixon nor met their famed source, Mark Felt.
There was no due diligence on the part of the press. They made their target, and it was the man who challenged those who provided them conveniently with anonymous leaks, true or not. The mission of the press then as now was to take down the president on behalf of the permanent and unelected state.
While there can be no doubt that there was a break-in at the Watergate building, and it is at least plausible that Nixon may have covered it up after the fact, the event pales in comparison to the things FDR, LBJ, and JFK did to their political opponents while in office. The details of the alleged “crime” serve to cloud memory that the preeminent motive behind the targeting of Nixon was shielding the administrative state, not protecting the privacy of political actors.
The tell is that there was no such concern for the actions of previous presidents who committed far worse acts. The lesson we learned from the Watergate scandal was that while one party may use the administrative state for their selfish and partisan ends, those who oppose the deep state cannot.
We can surmise that if Nixon had not been out to rebalance our constitutional republic by scaling back the rule of experts, he might have been allowed to remain in office. But, Nixon was gunning for the heart and soul of their political livelihood. He meant to return political rule to the people, who are its legitimate heirs.
So what gives? Why did the country fall for the ruse that Nixon was responsible for everything surrounding the break-in? Historian Stephen Ambrose in his seminal biography of Nixon concluded he knew nothing of the attempted skullduggery even to the point of anger, throwing an ashtray across the room when he was told about it, so incensed he was at the stupidity of those acting on behalf of his re-election.
Marini noted that the reason the break-in became a political issue was that those defending the administrative state saw in Nixon someone who would challenge their unelected authority and follow through with dismantling the extra-governmental administrative leviathan that had been built up over the decades: “the president claimed the legitimacy of a partisan presidential election as justification for the use of power that could have resulted in fundamental changes in direction and control of the federal bureaucracy.”
The defenders of the deep state denied that the 1972 election was a mandate, and we might add, they denied that the enlightened consent of the people should govern politics in the United States.
The people, Marini continues, represent a challenge to the unchecked rule of the administrative state. Nixon was winning on that issue so he had to be stopped by any means necessary. The real crime is that Nixon was ousted on behalf of the government, not the people, who in this new understanding of our regime are considered its subjects.
Nixon’s mistake was in reacting so defensively. He had a perfect opportunity not only to turn the tables on his enemies, especially those in the deep state, by being proactive, gathering information for an investigation into the extra-constitutional activities of the government, and at the same time condemning those who foolishly organized the break-in. But his first instinct was to circle the wagons. That reaction served his enemies.
It is probably anathema to utter such words, but “Conservative, Inc.” failed us all as far back as Watergate. The only major conservative organ at the time, National Review, imprudently argued that Nixon should resign for the good of the country, whatever that means. The failure to understand the political stakes amounted to capitulation.
This was not lost on Nixon, who said himself that liberals want to win, while conservatives have no problem with losing. The so-called Right rolled over for the Democrats and persecuted their own president for daring to scale back the administrative state. They never pressed the fact that the Democrats got away with dirty tricks that far exceeded breaking-and-entering. They could have pressed for a national discussion on a graver and grander political scandal of the distant rule of a swamp of “experts” who disdain the people they allegedly serve.
What we are witnessing with the Trump presidency is not only a reckoning for “conservatism,” but a defense of American republicanism which has been under assault since the 1930s. Trump, unlike Nixon, is not being abandoned by his party (though there are elements who still persist in their fantasies). Trump has the added benefit of being entirely innocent of the charges against him. Empowered by the idea that they are faced only by a feeble Republican establishment opposition that stretches as back as Nixon, the Democrats sought to frame yet another fellow citizen.
Everyone now understands that if they are successful in framing one innocent, they can and will do that to anybody; there is no doubt now that the mask is off and Americans are realizing that Democrats are engaged in these operations not to protect the country but to protect their positions and the status quo in the administrative state. The Congress and media in the Russia hoax have been complicit in all this. Democrats have been spying on their political enemies for the last 80 years without consequence. One can hardly blame them for trying to do it again and remove the most serious challenge to their largess since Nixon. They have never been held to account.
We now know that the media was just as complicit in 1972-1973, and that’s why the reckoning is coming for them in the name of the people.
Photo Credit: Don Carl Steffen/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images