Friday, June 17, 2011

This Day In History

I don't give a shit what happens. I want you all to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover up or anything else, if it'll save it, save this plan. That's the whole point. We're going to protect our people if we can.
Richard Nixon

Somewhere in a drawer or box at my parents' house is a piece of paper, an in-class assignment, from when I was in second grade. The assignment was simple enough - construct a sentence with a plural subject. One of the sentences I wrote puzzled my second grade teacher, Mrs. Anderson, no end. She had been my father's student a bit over a decade previous, so she contacted him, and - according to an account my mother gave me years later - the two of them laughed their fool heads off, not at poor Mrs. Anderson who was overworked, underpaid, and definitely underappreciated by the school administration.

The sentence: "Mitchell and Stans are guilty."

The question Mrs. Anderson wanted answered? Who were "Mitchell and Stans"?

John Mitchell was the former Attorney General of the United States and head of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, known without any irony as CREEP. Stans was Maurice Stans, one of those mid-level floaters between public service and private business that continue to plague us. As recently as 1972 he had been Richard Nixon's Commerce Secretary, when he left to be CREEP's finance chair.

How I knew who these men were, and how I understood they were guilty - indeed how I understood the whole concept of "guilt" - is a tale in and of itself that should await another day. I recall this because on the evening of June 17, 1972 a group of men was arrested in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, at the time located in the Watergate Apartment Complex along the Potomac River. The men were discovered because on this, their second such entry, they had taped the lock on a door leading to the stairs to the garage exit. Sitting across the street with a pair of binoculars and a walkie-talkie, former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy sat and watched as the men tried to hide as a pair of plain-clothed DC police officers entered the office. Unfortunately, the initial ineptitude the burglars displayed continued. They left their walkies on and the officers heard the crackle of static and they were arrested.

Arraigned the next day, the group included self-professed former CIA field officer Bernard Barker. From this interesting tidbit of information, that made struggling Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward mutter, "Holy shit," under his breath, began the long process of untangling the many cords of what many thought was the successful and competent Presidency of Richard Millhouse Nixon, revealing it to be nothing more than a vast criminal conspiracy, poorly imagined and even more poorly executed. Whether it was "milkmen" and "plumbers", ITT or Kent State, secret tapes or tossing a whole series of loyal underlings to the dogs, the entire structure of the Nixon White House was a bureaucratic recreation of the basic structure of Nixon's mind - petty, paranoid, uncomfortable in settings that called for relaxation (there's a famous photo of Nixon, supposedly strolling on the beach in California, supposedly looking relaxed, perhaps pensive; he's dressed in a suit and tie), and little concerned over matters of policy, preferring not to be bothered even by Cabinet officials, including long-time friends (like his old law partner William Rogers, whom Nixon named as Secretary of State, and consistently end-ran with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger on matters of important policy).

While other Presidents, before and since, have sidestepped the law, the Constitution, and common sense, none have rivaled Nixon for the sheer audacity of creating, within the Executive Office of the President of the United States, an organization that for all intents and purposes looked and acted like organized crime.

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