Monday, May 20, 2013

It's Not The Cover-Up, It's Definitely The Crime

The attempt to create an air of controversy around the White House last week, which appears to be as successful as Mitt Romney's Presidential campaign, had some folks bleating, as if on cue: WATERGATE!

This would be funny if it weren't for the fact that "Watergate" became shorthand for the wrong idea that the crime in question was not nearly as bad as the years-long effort to prevent a full legal and public accounting not only for it but for all the crimes of the Nixon Administration.  In fact, the original crime was a dreadful piece of offal that, once removed from the damn, released not water but the lake of sewage that was the criminal enterprise some people called the Nixon Presidency.

The best account I've read isn't Woodstein's All The President's Men, which has the singular virtue of making the reporters look clueless.  Far better is the book written by a group of journalists working for a British newspaper (and, no, I can't find it because it is packed with the rest of my books and Google is being singularly unhelpful on this matter).  They don't begin with the break-in.  Instead, they begin with the Nixon campaign in 1968, then move through the creation of the plumbers unit after the Pentagon Papers leak; they include the burgling of the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office; the plan to bomb the Brookings Institution; the near-miss when Jack Anderson nearly got targeted for murder because G. Gordon Liddy wasn't bright enough to understand Nixon didn't mean "kill" when he said he wanted to "get" Anderson for leaking classified sources in a story Anderson wrote about the Soviet Ambassador to the US; the failed first attempt to bug DNC headquarters; the money-laundering scheme set up to provide clean money for dirty work through the Committee to Re-Elect The President; the direct bribing, or at least attempted bribe, by ITT; planting an individual in the IRS to direct audits at a list of "enemies" that someone at the White House was stupid enough to commit to paper; the white-washing of the Kent State massacre to support a narrative that placed blame on the protestors; all this as context, of course, doesn't include the multiple crimes of Vice President Spiro Agnew, who left office for prison because he took bribes while governor of Maryland; lest we forget, Nixon was so desperate to hang on to office he managed to create an atmosphere where those most involved in the dirty business - aides H R Haldeman and John Ehrlichman - scurried after deals that would save their butts while making sure as many other people fried as possible.

So, (a) no, even if there was some kind of "scandal" here, none of them, even in some fantastical combination, come close to what the word "Watergate" represents; and (b) the cover-up is never as bad as the crime; after all, if they're covering it up, it must be pretty horrible.

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