John Dean, one of the white collar criminals caught up in Richard Nixon’s early 70s paranoia, at first as felon but later as informer when abandoned by his co-conspirators, has written a book, Worse Than Watergate, which goes some distance in demonstrating his rehabilitation. Halderman and Ehrlichman, the German-Americans above him in the White House hierarchy, at first used then abandoned Dean as scapecoat, hoping to end the Watergate investigation there. Once they recognized that Dean was not willing to continue the cover-up, which was ever-deepening his criminal culpability, they fired him but eventually went on themselves as lambs-to-slaughter in the house-cleaning that ended with Nixon himself. Ehrlichman’s subsequent post-prison endeavors consisted chiefly in writing crime fiction from his Arizona retreat.
Some of the other Watergate conspirators took the tried and true, if drearily predictable, trod path of publicly embracing the Jesus con. Before leaving the Watergate subject proper it should be pointed out that the hounds were turned loose on Nixon not because he conducted an illegal war, violated the rights of citizens nor even for breaking the laws that brought him down. That was mere pretense. Nixon was brought to heel as lesson of what happens to someone, even someone as powerful as the president, especially someone as powerful as a president, who steps on the wrong toes.
Normally, as these things go, a few underlings might be punished. There it would stop (witness the serious crimes of Bush-Cheney or as Chomsky has stated, “No president in the 20th century would have escaped hanging if the Nuremberg Principles were truly in force” – the statement might be applied to the current century also, without error). No, Nixon made enemies of powerful people, of the wrong class. He is quoted in Oliver Stone’s film Nixon, replying to one of his funders who is complaining about the EPA, “If you think the EPA is tough, try the IRS.” And Nixon did turn the IRS on his long enemies list, people who in one way or another slighted his fragile ego, some of whom, as just stated, were powerful members of the ruling elite.
Dean’s book states in the opening section that its intent was to raise awareness about and hopefully take the air out of the obsessive secrecy of the Bush-Cheney administration that otherwise threatened to take the air out of our democracy. The book, published in 2004, prior to the second term elections, though it failed to impact that election and also failed in its basic goal, remains relevant since that democracy we are taught to value is hardly completely safe in the hands of the Obama administration and certainly would fare even worse under the, shudder, current opposition candidate. We are offered an insight into power politics, up close, lest we succumb to the hypnotic drone of patriotism.
Nixon’s team was particularly ruthless, specializing in what came to be called dirty tricks which they used to advance their political rise, which success was not lost on subsequent politicians. Karl Rove came to the attention of the first Bush when complaints from fellow republicans about his electoral shenanigans reached his office. Calling him in for what was supposed to be a reprimand Rove ended up with a new job, hit man, his creative “shenanigans” being just what was needed in the Bush quest for power. Rove’s predecessor, Lee Atwater, had devised the shamefully racist Willie Horton ads. His credentials thus established, Rove became indispensable confidant to the younger Bush. Bag of dirty tricks in hand he helped W dispense with one of his chief rivals in the South Carolina primaries. In successive attacks the Bush camp accused McCain of being gay, adopting a “dark skinned” daughter (true but in SC apparently a dishonor), being a philanderer and of having a drug-addicted spouse. This all worked to the desired effect so why wouldn’t they continue waving the hatchet? Narrowly escaping prison Rove is presently promoting corporate speech across the country, helping to take the air out of democracy, as ever. In the contested Florida elections in 2000, Brownshirts were flown in to disrupt the vote count in Miami, intimidating and successfully preventing a re-count. They apparently will stop at nothing and they will keep a straight face as they call it Democracy. Cheney is quoted to wit: “Principle is okay, up to a certain point but principles don’t do you any good if you lose.”
When Bush left the governorship of Texas he had his papers transferred to his father’s Presidential Library, thus circumventing Texas law and protecting the papers from public scrutiny, presumably his intent. Could there be something in there he wants hidden? As President, W performed one of those magic tricks called “signings” which changed the law around Presidential papers, making his and his father’s papers inaccessible to the public for the time that it would matter in terms of prosecution and embarrassment. Signings are equivalent to decrees put out by Royalty, given legitimacy by the failure of anyone with clout to challenge them. This obsession with hiding things was a top priority even when the stakes were trivial. A secret-for-secret’s sake, Imperial Presidency as Dean would say. When Cheney appointed an energy committee the names of the members and the minutes of their deliberations were kept secret, to the extent of going to court to protect something that surely could be found out by any enterprising reporter. Dean concludes that the over-arching purpose was to weaken the congress and resuscitate and expand the “Imperial Presidency” of Richard Nixon.
Though Bush-Cheney flagrantly attacked their campaign enemies, even making stuff up as with McCain and Gore, they would insist on “privacy” to evade questions on their own history. Bush referred to everything in his life before 1988 as his “childhood” and so irrelevant. His resume has only one item between college graduation 1975 and 1988. One writer created a timeline to show W’s rise coinciding exactly with his father’s political rise. His business creation, Arbusto, not on his resume, went through millions, going bust in 1984. His next venture, CEO of Spectrum 7, also went bust. Harkan Oil was next, an oil exploration company, bankrupt. George Soros, also with that company, stated that W’s presence on the board was soley for access to the presidential influence of his father. For this same reason W was invited to head a group to buy the Texas Rangers. He failed to round up enough investors so the baseball commissioner intervened, using his influence to snag investors for the hapless son. Once the team was bought the next step was to scam the team’s home town citizenry, bilking them for the cost of the stadium in a scheme full of falsehood that left the stadium in the hands of the owners though the town had put up most of the funding. The team owners ended up paying $60 million for a $189 million dollar stadium. W later sold his share for $14 million, on an investment of a borrowed $500,000. Mayor Green ramrodded the stadium deal through the Arlington city government and deceptive referendum, later being appointed by W to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Who says crime doesn’t pay?
In June 1990 W sold his Harken stock, which he had used to collateralize the Texas Ranger loan, for $800,000. Eight days later the stock fell to half its value. An insider trading SEC investigation was headed by W’s former attorney with predictable results. The obvious conflict of interest was not raised by politico nor press. Both W and Cheney were under investigation for insider trading on 9/11/2001. Of course that little inquiry drifted away with the World Trade Center smoke. Some folks see public office as a means to get their manicured fingers on the treasury and to assure that the proper class keeps its hand on the national rudder. An obsession with secrecy is a useful habit in avoiding the rare prosecutor who might be so crass as to investigate the exalted class. It helps also to be able to appoint the Attorney General. And what AG, FBI head or Police Chief wouldn’t enjoy the authority to enter any premises, take whatever they want and never have to acknowledge it? Something the Patriot Act grants the ironically named Department of Homeland Security. The next best thing to getting your hands on the treasury is bestowing that privilege on your friends and associates with the understanding that they will scratch your back one day in return and advance your agenda at every opportunity.
Throughout his narrative Dean draws parallels between the administration he worked for and W’s. Nixon was known to have “cowboys” (thugs) assault and/or remove demonstrators from his sight when the police or secret service wouldn’t or couldn’t. W was sued by the ACLU in 2003 for forcing demonstrators into so-called “free speech zones” so as not to have to experience dissent and, more importantly, keep them out of the news. These incidents are a measure of the anti-democratic values of these “leaders”. Even after making promises to the court restrictions continued under W. A manual guiding preparations for presidential motorcades and appearances was obtained in court proceedings which clearly revealed the unconstitutional restrictions. One couple settled with the government for $80,000, a nice chunk of change for them but it comes from the taxpayer not the violator so does little to curtail the behavior.
Another incident is also revealing. An Atlanta-based employee of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), frustrated by the department’s failure to pursue certain well-placed criminals, leaked the information that Michael Ashcroft, a British ‘Lord’, one of the richest men in the United Kingdom, was involved in drug money laundering. The whistleblower was identified and sentenced to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Instead of going after the criminal the justice (!) department went after the messenger. Wrong class again.
Nixon illegally invaded Cambodia and mislead the public into believing he had a plan to end the Vietnam War, which ended after he left office in disgrace, under terms that could have been had many years and lives earlier. W & Company committed truly impeachable offenses when they lied about WMDs to get us into Iraq, another illegal war and pursued a military solution in Afghanistan to a police problem of terrorism. To a them/us football mentality of course there was little recourse which simply meant the public was not difficult to manipulate by unscrupulous, dare I say, sociopaths? I do dare. Unfortunately Obama, apparently a football fan also, like Johnson before him, bought into the lesser of Bush’s illegal wars. Some claim he resisted the Iraq exit, dragging his feet meeting obligations forced on W by the Iraq government.
When the perfectly reasonable congressional inquiry into 911 began to be discussed W & Co. attempted to block it. When that proved not feasible the next best step was to stack it with cronies in key positions, which they did, making for a final commission report that lacked credibility. The likely reason for opposing an investigation was to hide ineptness. A bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission had after all submitted a report, prior to 911, calling for a laundry list of anti-terrorist action that was ignored by the administration which seemed to rather prefer to hang out awaiting an incident they could exploit for their own agenda. That agenda can be found in the writings of the neo-con group, Project for the New American Century, which essentially called for U.S. world hegemony, benevolent of course to “democracy” and free markets – the latter the real value, the former thrown in for window dressing. The writers of this document, which originated with Cheney when he was Secretary of Defense in the early 90s, were populating the administration when the incident their writings cited as being necessary for their plan to gain acceptance came to be… 911 was thus exploited with a vengeance. The alternative “conspiracy theories” around 911 cannot be laid to rest without a credible investigation.
Dean’s book contains many more horrendous and surprising details about government malfeasance when it is taken over by ideologues. Who was it said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”… Jefferson I think, but the documentation of contempt for democracy brought to light in Dean’s book is a good argument in support of that contention. We would be wise to follow it and not allow jingoist rhetoric and patriotic display to distract us from the task.