Thursday, July 30, 2020

Watergate, Richard Nixon, and American Politics

Watergate, Richard Nixon, and American Politics
Peter Schultz

            To being nowhere near the beginning of this piece, I will point out that American politicians, perhaps like all politicians, are managers, meaning they want to manage issues, address them, meaning in ways meant to preserve or fortify their power. So, for example, with regard to race, the issues are handled, managed in ways meant to maintain and fortify the power of the politicians involved. Hence, at times, this would mean passing civil rights legislation; while at other times it would mean criminal justice “reforms” that lead to the mass incarceration of racial minorities. What dictates how issues are managed or handled are calculations about which means will best deal with the issue while preserving or extending the power of the politicians involved.

            For similar reasons, any election results must be managed in order to deal with the issues the elections revolved around while preserving the power of those invested in the prevailing order. Such managing is necessary because all elections are potentially disruptive, but especially those elections that occur in the midst of widespread popular unrest, dissatisfaction, anger, or even rage. So, finally coming the point of this essay, after the 1968 presidential election, the Nixon administration had to be managed even while it was attempting to manage the affairs of the nation. Politics is, in this sense, a two way street. This was especially true in 1968 given the popular unrest that then existed and given that Nixon’s politics represented his desire to change the existing alignment of political forces. Beyond this, there was the fact that Nixon had never been accepted as a member in good standing in those forces that were socially and politically dominant, forces represented by the likes of the Washington Post and the New York Times. He was, in brief, looked upon suspiciously. He knew this and it affected him repeatedly.

            From this perspective, Watergate and Nixon’s resignation from the presidency was not, as it is so often portrayed, a purification, a cleansing of the American political, an act of statesmanship that rescued American democracy. Rather, it was an illustration of the certain political forces who were seeking to protect themselves, their power, and the system that conveyed their status upon them. They were resisting Nixon, yes; but their resistance was against Nixon and his politics that would have represented significant political changes were Nixon successful. It was useful to present Nixon as a fundamentally flawed individual, driven by his insecurities to try to undermine American democracy. But actually the oligarchic forces that had prevailed prior to Nixon’s presidency were trying to protect themselves and their power. If they happened to protect American democracy as a result that was not their primary objective. They weren’t trying to protect American democracy; they were trying to protect themselves.

            This doesn’t mean that Nixon was seeking democratic changes to offset the oligarchic forces that were opposed to him. Nixon was no more a democrat than were his opponents. But his politics represented a threat to a broad swath of the existing powers that controlled or tried to control US politics, forces like those in the mainstream media like the Washington Post and the NY Times, the military, corporate elites, and “the Club” in Washington, D.C. Nixon’s “New Majority,” which was said to appear in full force in the 1972 presidential election, had to be handled, be managed by these powers because otherwise they were facing displacement by Nixon’s “New Majority.”

            Because Nixon knew that his policies, which he claimed were underwritten by that New Majority, were a threat to the existing order, he also knew that he had to proceed secretly or covertly if he were to be successful. He knew, for example, that he wouldn’t be able to leave Vietnam outright or early in his first term because he knew that the south would then fall and he would be blamed for “losing South Vietnam” and probably not be re-elected. So he had to extend the war, continue it until he as re-elected or almost re-elected, after which he would be immune from the consequences of a Communist reunification of Vietnam. Of course, he could not pursue such a strategy openly, given the intense opposition that had arisen against the war, and so he pursued it secretly, keeping it a secret even from the military, parts of which were still committed to victory in Vietnam.  

            Similarly, Nixon knew that his “opening” to Communist China would be opposed, intensely opposed, and were he to make his strategy public, his opponents would do all they could to undermine it. He had to present it as an accomplished fact and this required the utmost secrecy. His opponents were spread across the political spectrum, as they included both right-wing Republicans and anti-Communist Democrats like Henry Jackson, not to mention anti-Communists in the military like Admiral Zumwalt and Admiral Moorer. Thus, secrecy was of paramount importance to Nixon’s China policy and had to be maintained even against the likes of Nixon’s own Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird.

            Nixon’s Soviet policy of “détente” was represented most importantly by his search for mutually agreeable limitations on strategic arms, hence, the SALT agreements he negotiated with the Soviets. But the strategic arms limitations policies could not be hidden because they necessarily involved treaties and treaties have to be ratified by the Senate and, hence, publicly debated. But Nixon knew he would again be opposed by both right-wing Republicans and anti-Communist Democrats and, hence, he would have to try to outflank these forces, which he managed to do for a little while. That is, he did so until his “Watergate troubles” began and were eventually placed front and center by Nixon’s opponents, some of them who were like Alexander Haig pretending to be in Nixon’s camp. To think that Nixon’s “Watergate troubles” had nothing to do with opposition to his policies would be, in a word, naïve.

            And, generally, to think of Watergate as having little or nothing to do with Nixon’s politics would be just as naïve. Given the threat that Nixon posed to some of the most powerful forces in D.C., a threat enhanced by Nixon’s landslide victory in the 1972 presidential election, Nixon had to be managed, handled, including even forcing him out of the presidency and sending him disgraced into a kind of exile in San Clemente. Nixon, of course, did much to help his opponents dispose of him as president, most importantly by obstructing justice while trying to cover up Republican participation if the Watergate burglaries. But beyond that Nixon had a good deal of help, for example, from his chief of staff, Alexander Haig and even some from Henry Kissinger, not to mention John Dean, in helping his opponents remove him from office. Yes, a time would come when Nixon could be rehabilitated as an “elder statesman,” but only when he was old and had no real political power. And even then, Nixon’s rehabilitation did not include real acceptance. President Clinton tried to do that but if he succeeded, he only did so at Nixon’s funeral. Dead presidents, here Nixon, can be safely praised.

            So far was Watergate from being a cleansing, a purification of a political order that had been corrupted by Nixon, who sought to impose his will on America by secret and covert means, it was in reality an illustration of some powerful political forces protecting themselves, their power, and the system which made them what they were. During Watergate and after, the media, for example, was presented as helping to save democracy, when in fact the likes of Woodward and Bernstein, for example, were fed by the likes of Mark Felt, an FBI bigwig, and more importantly by Alexander Haig, a four-star general whom Woodward had briefed when both worked at the Pentagon. Woodward and Bernstein and others, even many others, were working for and with those forces that were most threatened by Nixon and his politics.

            Just by the by, as it were, during the Iran Contra scandal, when the media seemed to go out of its way to protect the Reagan administration from any thoughts of impeachment or resignation, the media had only changed its tactics, not its goal, which was to protect those powerful forces supporting the Reagan administration and its politics. So, while it looked like the “muck-raking” media of the Watergate years had changed, becoming accommodationists in the 80s, these looks were deceiving insofar as the media’s goal was the same in the 70s and the 80s, to protect some of the most powerful political forces in D.C. The goal was the same; only the means had changed.  

            Today, the question should be asked: Will ridding ourselves of Trump represent a cleansing, a purification of the American political order or just another protective – and reactionary – oligarchic operation? No doubt, should Biden prevail in the 2020 presidential election, the media will tout it as a cleansing, a purification of that order. But given Biden’s status as a penultimate insider, no more controversial than Gerry Ford was when he was appointed Nixon’s vice president, it seems doubtful that there is or will be much cleansing going on. The prevailing but floundering oligarchy will be restored, just as other powerful forces were restored when, as Gerry Ford put it after Nixon’s resignation, “Our long national nightmare has ended.’ But then there are nightmares and there are nightmares. For me, the most frightening nightmare is one in which those powerful forces are celebrated as democratic forces and the oligarchy rolls on and on and on.  

Monday, July 27, 2020

How John Dean "Nixoned" Nixon

How John Dean “Nixoned” Nixon
Peter Schultz

            I am reading a very interesting book entitled Haig’s Coup: How Richard Nixon’s Closest Aide Forced Him From Office, by Ray Locker. It is an account, drawn from the Nixon tapes, from memoirs, and from interviews of how Alexander Haig, who had become Nixon’s chief of staff after the resignation of H.R. Haldeman, manipulated Nixon and events to get Nixon to resign the presidency. And it seems to me that Locker makes his case, that indeed Haig, in large part to protect himself and some others, did successfully drive Richard Nixon from office.

            I wish to focus on just one part of the book, that dealing with John Dean’s testimony to the Watergate Committee and Nixon’s response thereto. It is fair to say that Dean did to Nixon what Nixon had done to Alger Hiss, when Nixon managed to discredit Hiss and eventually get him convicted of perjury when Nixon was a representative and a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1948.

            Dean testified, essentially, that Nixon had been involved in the cover up of the Watergate burglary and that he, Dean, had warned Nixon that there was “a cancer on the presidency,” a cancer that would unless dealt with unseat Nixon and harm the presidency itself. But, as Locker points out, “The context in the actual conversation [between Dean and Nixon], which would not be seen for months, was different [than as described by Dean]. Nixon and Dean met with Haldeman, not alone, and Dean’s warning to Nixon was not one of aggrieved conscience but one of concern that the cover up would not hold.” [106-107] And there were in Dean’s testimony other “exaggerations, distortions, [and] discrepancies,” as was pointed out in what is known as the “Golden Boy” memo put out by the White House after Dean’s testimony.

            Later, though, Nixon came to realize that he “was worried about the wrong problem. I went off on a tangent, concentrating all our attention and resources on trying to refute Dean by pointing out his exaggerations, distortions, discrepancies. [But] it no longer made any difference that not all of Dean’s testimony was accurate. It only mattered if any of his testimony was accurate.” [added]

            While Nixon doesn’t seem to realize it, Dean had done to him what he had done to Alger Hiss in 1948. That is, Nixon then accused Hiss of being a communist, of what might be called a “status crime,” rather than an actual criminal act. Once Nixon could show, as he did, that any part of Hiss’s testimony wasn’t true or that any part of Whittaker Chambers, a former communist party member, was true, then Hiss would be deemed guilty as charged.

            Dean was accusing Nixon in a similar way, as being involved in an obstruction of justice, being involved in the cover up of the Watergate burglary. Once it was demonstrated that Nixon was involved in any way in the cover up, then Nixon would be deemed guilty as charged, no matter how inaccurate Dean’s testimony might have been in places. As Nixon realized later, it served no purpose to argue, as he tried to do immediately in response to Dean’s testimony, “I was not as involved in the cover up as Dean claims I was.” Such a claim, while true, was irrelevant. The only testimony that could’ve saved Nixon would be if he could have testified that when he met with Dean to discuss the White House response to the burglary, he had said: “We have only one option: We must come clean about the burglary and let the chips fall where they may.” And, of course, he would have had to mean it and act on it.

            Although Nixon didn’t know this at the time, nor did anyone else beside Dean, had Nixon come clean, Dean would have been hung out to dry because the burglary itself as well as the cover up were his ideas. Dean sent Liddy and Hunt back  – they had been in there once before – into the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate because he was concerned that his then girlfriend might be implicated in a call girl ring that used the DNC phones to set up assignations or “dates.” And when the burglars were caught and arrested, Dean started the cover up by claiming, falsely, to Haldeman that John Mitchell, Nixon’s attorney general for awhile, had recommended asking the FBI to back off its investigation because of a secret CIA operation the agency did not want revealed. Haldeman took this recommendation to Nixon, who thought it was a good idea, as it would use national security to shield the Watergate burglars from prosecution. Nixon and Haldeman even praised Dean for this suggestion based on Dean’s meeting with the acting head of the FBI, Patrick Gray. Little did they know they were being or were going to be set up by Dean when the cover up came undone.

            There is an old expression that what goes around, comes around. Well, it would seem that this is what happened to Richard Nixon. Or as other expressions have it: “Just a little old fashioned justice going round, just a little old fashioned karma coming down. It really ain’t hard to understand: If you’re gonna dance, you gotta pay the band.” And it is safe to say, Nixon paid the band. His cunning ultimately led to his downfall. Sometimes, honesty is the best policy.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Trump's Time Is Up

Trump’s Time Is Up
Peter Schultz

            If I am not mistaken, Trump’s time is up. That is, it’s time for the Donald to go. Why? Because he has served his purpose: Re-legitimizing the reigning but floundering oligarchy.

            And he has served that purpose well. In fact, he has served that purpose better than a Hillary presidency ever could have. Why? First, because he is almost a caricature of himself and, second, because Hillary had too much “baggage.”

            So, expect that Republicans will begin, subtly but definitely, to allow the Donald to “swing in the wind” as it were, especially congressional Republicans, as they try to hold onto power and avoid the kind of electoral results that will cost them not only the White House – that’s OK with them given Biden is the Democratic nominee – but also the Senate.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Cunning Shits Seeking Power: US Politics

Cunning Shits Seeking Power: US Politics
Peter Schultz

            Pat Buchanan’s account of the presidential campaigns of 1972 illustrates that a good description of our politicians and their advisers is cunning shits seeking power.

            In response to the charge that a passage in his memo to the president entitled “Dividing the Democrats” was “the quintessence of Nixonian cynicism and a morality,” Buchanan wrote:

“In 1971 and 1972, we drove wedges through the ideological, cultural-moral, economic, and sectional fissures of America’s majority party. And . . . we shattered the Roosevelt Coalition and created a New Majority that would give the Republican Party forty-state victories in four of the five subsequent presidential elections, two of them forty-nine-state victories.” [260]

            So, Buchanan’s response to the charge that his was a politics of cynicism and amorality was “It worked! Cynicism and amorality work!” And to think that Buchanan sees himself and the Republican Party as the sources of a “moral mission in the world,” the representatives of “a moral people [who] believed we were ‘on God’s side.’” If confirmation were needed for the fact that Buchanan’s principles, his appeal for a moral politics were merely covers to disguise what was nothing more than a conspiratorial politics that seeks power, his own words provide such confirmation.

            More importantly, Buchanan never raises the question: How did his cynical and amoral electoral activities affect the “New Majority” he helped to create? He seemed to think that engaging in cynical and amoral political activity would not affect the character of that “New Majority.” For Buchanan, the means employed would not affect the ends achieved. Cynical and amoral electoral activities did not render Nixon’s New Majority cynical and amoral.

            Clearly, however, Buchanan was wrong. Part of his strategy of driving “wedges” into the “fissures” of the Democratic Party required that he do all he could do to fortify George Wallace’s power and popularity. In fact, supporting Wallace while dissing Muskie became a key link in Buchanan’s wedge strategy in order to have Wallace defeat Muskie in the Florida primary. Wallace’s victory in Florida left Muskie “bleeding badly,” but it also fortified the hateful politics that Wallace represented. Buchanan and Nixon were rooting for the racist Wallace to win in Florida, apparently unconcerned how such a victory affected the nation’s commitment to racial justice. Shattering “the Roosevelt Coalition,” as Buchanan claimed he had done, carries with it implications for the kind of politics the nation would embrace. The means employed affect the ends that appear, and cynical and amoral means guarantee cynical and amoral ends, as reflected by the fact that soon after the Florida primary “the President asked Congress to enact a ‘moratorium’ on court-ordered busing of school children.” [265]

            Buchanan is cunning and proud of that fact, celebrating dirty tricks and appeals to racist forces to help Nixon win the presidency. He is oblivious to the impact that his cynicism and amorality have on the nation’s politics. He even seems untroubled by Hunter Thompson’s repudiation of Muskie in the following words: “Sending Muskie against Nixon . . . was stone madness from the start [because it was] exposing Muskie to the kind of bloodthirsty thugs that Nixon and John Mitchell would sic on him.” [266] Apparently, Buchanan had no objection to being called a “bloodthirsty thug.” At least he registered none

            No wonder that the title of Buchanan’s chapter on these events is “Turn the Dogs Loose.” But sadly for Richard Nixon, those “dogs” eventually undermined his presidency when he was forced to resign the presidency disgraced.

Buchanan, China, and US Politics

Buchanan, China, and US Politics
Peter Schultz

            Buchanan’s responses to Nixon’s decision to visit and thereby recognize Communist China as China makes for interesting reading, as those responses underline how his principles do not affect his politics. That is, ultimately his principles provided little guidance or limits to his political activities.

            On the one hand, Buchanan was appalled by Nixon’s opening to China because it meant consorting with and even praising the Chinese Communists who had “played the leading role in killing 33,000 Americans in Korea [as well as] brainwashing our POWs.” And in China itself, the communists proved themselves to be mass murderers because “After the triumph of their revolution in 1949, they had slaughtered millions.” [241] And given what Buchanan calls the sellout of the Shanghai Communiqué that was jointly issued at the end of Nixon’s trip to China, Buchanan was “angry, disgusted, and ashamed.” [241] In the end, Buchanan had “made up [his] mind . . . to resign.” [245]

            On other hand, Buchanan began “to have second thoughts , , , because [he] wanted to see [Nixon] reelected. . . .” [246] As Haldeman reported in his diary after talking with Buchanan that he, Buchanan, “now realized . . . that there was no need . . . to express [his dissent] any more publicly . . . and that he could do more good by being on the inside . . . and therefore he decided to stay on.” [247] In Buchanan’s own words, he had decided that had he resigned “I would have made a great mistake.” [247]

            So, despite asking, “When all is said and done, what did we gain from the China trip?” and answering in essence not much, Buchanan did not resign. Apparently, despite principles that made Buchanan feel “angry, disgusted, and ashamed,” those principles did not guide Buchanan’s actions. Rather, what guided his actions were calculations about the need to go public or about the advantages of being on the inside rather than the outside. In brief, Buchanan chose power over principle, illustrating how his principles provided no guidance, no limits to his pursuit of power. Politically, his principles were empty and were overridden by Buchanan’s desire to retain his power, much as Nixon had frequently decided to compromise his principles in order to fortify his power as president. As Buchanan wrote: “I wanted to see [Nixon] reelected and had been working toward that goal for a year.” [246]

            Power, successfully pursuing and acquiring power, is what US politics is all about. And this means, even for Buchanan, that power is to be sought, acquired, and preserve by any means necessary. As in the case of Nixon’s China trip, this meant betraying “flag-waving, God-and-Country patriots.” So despite Buchanan’s criticisms of the “liberal intellectuals [who] sneer at denunciations of ‘godless communists’ and ‘atheistic communists’,” he was prepared to betray those who believed “we were on God’s side” and who believed that the US had “a moral mission in the world.” [246]

            For Buchanan, as for Nixon and other “pragmatists,” calculations about power trump principles. So when push comes to shove, as it always does, politics is nothing more than cunningly seeking, fortifying, and maintaining power, personally as well as nationally. Principles serve to disguise this reality, that is, disguise what are “cunning shits” struggling for power. Should more than this be expected, disappointment is guaranteed.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Buchanan and Republican Politics: Part 2

Buchanan and Republican Politics: Part 2
Peter Schultz

            In chapter 10 of Nixon’s White House Wars, Buchanan takes up the question whether Nixon had any political principles. He cites Arthur Burns, who asked in 1969 “Does [Nixon] have any real convictions?” To this answer, Buchanan responds by citing that Nixon wrote, because of his upbringing, he had “a strong commitment toward individual responsibility and individual dignity.” [206] Nixon developed or embraced these principles as a result of his parents’ refusal of any governmental aid as Nixon’s younger brother was dying of tuberculosis. But then Buchanan asks: “But were such values consistent with the Great Society programs, of the Family Assistance Plan [Nixon proposed], or the affirmative action programs [Nixon] was imposing . . . based on race?”

            Buchanan was trying to fill in the emptiness that he sensed was reflected by Nixon’s “pragmatism,” which led him to compromise his principles, his commitment to “individual responsibility and individual dignity.” But Buchanan’s attempt fails because the principles he repairs to are as empty politically as Nixon’s pragmatism. What do, politically, individual responsibility and dignity mean? Is seeking help from a government run sanitarium to help with a dying son inconsistent with individual responsibility and dignity? Is support of the programs of the Great Society inconsistent with those principles? Is support of the Family Assistant Plan inconsistent as well, along with affirmative action programs?

            Buchanan opposed the Great Society, the Family Assistance Plan, and affirmative action but he never explains how these programs necessarily undermine individual responsibility and dignity. And he never considers the question: How could such programs be structured to be consistent with those principles? Buchanan is like those who say, “Life is unfair” as if that were the end of the matter, rather than seeing that expression as the beginning of a debate about how to make life fairer. Buchanan’s politics are formulaic and, hence, essentially empty. That is, they neither provide guidance or limits to the pursuit of and the use of power.

            Buchanan’s conservatism does not fill in the emptiness that results from Nixon’s pragmatism; it merely covers it over with meaningless formulas or slogans like “individual responsibility and individual dignity.” And because they are merely empty slogans, Buchanan and others like Agnew have to cover that emptiness over by way of vitriolic rhetoric that actually does not attempt to refute the alternatives, but just to ridicule them and their supporters. And when such rhetoric fails, becomes repetitious, it is replaced by appeals to symbols like “the trappings” of the presidency or an undefined patriotism.

            Buchanan is aware of the emptiness of US politics, for example, when he asks: “Can anybody credibly say the presidencies of Ford and Carter, of Reagan and Bush, and the first term of Bill Clinton, represented the disappearance of moderate [pragmatic] politics in America?” [202] That is, even Reagan ended up being reactionary, responding to “crises” erratically, sometimes condemning terrorists and other times working with them. Reagan, like Nixon, did not always honor his principles because, like Nixon’s, they were merely slogans covering over the pursuit of power, both for Reagan himself and for the United States. Whenever his principles got in the way of that pursuit, they would be compromised or even jettisoned.

            But while Buchanan is aware and critical of this phenomenon, he offers no alternative because his principles are also empty. That is, they don’t direct or limit the pursuit and use of power. Is affirmative action consistent with individual dignity? Buchanan says “No,” but one could say “Yes” insofar as it helps individuals offset the indignities imposed by systemic racism. Are family assistance plans consistent with individual responsibility? Buchanan says “No,” but such plans could offer needed support to responsible but struggling parents trying to keep their families together. And, conversely, tough “law and order” policies could actually undermine families and successful individual responsibility by means of disruptions caused by arrests, convictions, and incarceration.

            Buchanan’s principles are then little more than slogans used to justify policies he supports and to dismiss policies he opposes. Politically, these slogans are, like all slogans, empty and, as such, cannot guide or limit the pursuit of power. Inadvertently, Nixon, in his critique of Buchanan’s “Neither Fish Nor Fowl” memo, offers a glimpse of a principle that could direct and limit the pursuit of power when he cites favorably “[Buchanan’s] recommendation that we find occasions to demonstrate humanity and heart. . . .” [197] A humane politics could lead to “a kinder, gentler nation;” that is, a nation much different than the kind of nation that apparently Buchanan seems to desire, and a nation characterized by a rhetoric much different than that offered by Agnew and other conservatives. Taken as more than occasional actions meant to soften an otherwise harsh politics, to be used as electoral props, a humane politics could revolutionize US politics. Getting and using power would be replaced by getting and using power humanely. An “Agnew strategy” would have no place in such a political setting.

            But in the US, the pursuit of power, as Buchanan illustrates over and over, is all. Power, both for politicians and for the nation, is to be acquired and maintained by any means necessary, including dirty tricks, covert operations against political opponents, impeachments, misleading voters, and endless wars. This is why our presidents are pragmatic rather them principled, why they govern as if they had no principles, ala’ Nixon and even Reagan, according to Buchanan. But while Buchanan sees and despises this feature of US politics, he offers no alternative to it. The emptiness of US politics remains, covered over by empty slogans and symbols as well as vitriolic rhetoric. Meaning that Nixon’s White House wars were essentially and no more than power struggles, and the fact that Nixon was removed changed nothing of significance politically.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Buchanan and Republican Politics: There Is No There There

Buchanan and Republican Politics: There Is No There There
Peter Schultz

            More reflections on Patrick Buchanan’s book Nixon’s White House Wars.”

            What’s revealed by Buchanan, inadvertently, in Nixon’s White House Wars is the emptiness of the Republican Party’s politics during the Nixon years – and beyond. After the 1970 mid-term elections, where the Republicans followed what might be called the “Agnew strategy” of using intense rhetoric to excoriate the Democrats as “radical liberals,” and did not succeed as they thought they might, the party, including the likes of Buchanan, realized that it was time to pull back. However, Buchanan did challenge those who were critical of the Agnew campaign strategy in the following way: “The legitimate question to ask the Mortons and others [critical of the Agnew strategy] is what issues they would have had us run on….Had we devoted our campaign to the economic issue – those final statistics about a seven-billion deficit for the first quarter . . . would have been crippling blows.” [194]

            This is, although Buchanan doesn’t present it this way, an admission that the Republican strategy reflected an essentially empty politics. This emptiness is also revealed by some events, like Nixon delaying his departure from a speech in San Jose so he could “taunt demonstrators.” From Haldeman’s diary:

“We wanted some confrontation and there were no hecklers in the hall, so we stalled our departure . . . so they could zero in outside . . . .Before [leaving], the P[resident] stood up and gave the V sign, which made them mad. They threw rocks, flags, and candles as we drove out . . . .” [194]

            Now the same can be said of the decision to campaign against the Democrats by labeling them “radical liberals.” This is an alternative to actually debating the Democrats, debating the issues, revealing once again the emptiness of the Republican Party’s politics.

            In sum, Agnew’s rhetoric, Buchanan’s rhetoric belie an emptiness, a hollowness beyond or beneath it. “The social issue,” as Buchanan calls it, disguises this emptiness and eventually people catch on which is why it became necessary for the Republicans to back off such rhetoric. But the alternative, as Buchanan presents it, is just as empty. To quote Buchanan:

            “If I were to make a shotgun judgment now as to the kind of campaign the president should run in 1972 – I would recommend he wrap himself in the trappings of his office . . . .” [195, emphasis added]

            So, either the Republicans would launch attacks on their “enemies,” or they would wrap themselves and the president in “the flag,” as it were. But both strategies belie an empty, hollow politics. There is no there there.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Nixon, Buchanan, and the Status Quo

Nixon, Buchanan, and the Status Quo
Peter Schultz

            So much of the divisiveness in US politics is a cover that serves, surprisingly, the status quo, a phenomenon I have been reminded of while reading Pat Buchanan’s book, Nixon’s White House Wars,” and especially chapter four, “Agnew’s Hour.”

            Agnew’s hour came when Buchanan proposed and Nixon accepted that the Vice President should launch attacks on the media. First, Agnew would attack the TV networks and then he would attack the NY Times and the Washington Post for “arrogance, bias, and elitism.” [78] Buchanan saw these attacks as changing the rules governing the media’s approach to politics and claimed that they had succeeded. “The networks never recovered from the Des Moines attacks. . . .” And “the networks and newspapers show[ed] they had been affected” because “Op-ed pages blossomed” and “CBS and other networks began to bring forward conservatives to do commentary.” [78]

            There are, however, several interesting aspects to these events that should be noted. First, to Buchanan’s surprise the TV networks, aware that Agnew was going to attack them, decided to air his Des Moines speech live. As Buchanan says: “I was stunned. This was going to be huge.  . .  . The Vice President would be given an audience of 50 million for a sustained polemic indicting the networks for biased and irresponsible stewardship . . . over American public opinion.” [72]

            Why would the networks do that? Buchanan argued they miscalculated, thinking the people would rally to their cause, not the president’s. But it was already clear from the people’s reaction to Nixon’s earlier speech on Vietnam that this was unlikely to happen as the popular reaction to that speech and the reaction of the network analysts were opposed. So why give Agnew such an audience? Perhaps because the networks were not as worried about the backlash as Buchanan thought they were. Perhaps like Nixon, et. al., the networks thought the dissonance created by Agnew would work to their advantage insofar as the media liked and profited from such conflict. So, while Nixon profited popularly, so too did the media, at least financially.

            Moreover, there was no real danger to the media, no real threat despite some innuendoes from Agnew. As Buchanan pointed out, the networks and the newspapers simply co-opted Buchanan by incorporating the conservative point of view into their programming. And parts of the media, like Time magazine which even put Agnew on its cover, seemed to almost celebrate his attacks. It might not even be wrong to say that media and the Nixon administration colluded in a way that obscured how each was preserving and fortifying the status quo.

            Buchanan reported that at this time the My Lai massacre in Vietnam was revealed and 375,000 people descended on D.C. to protest that war. Operating as “balanced” institutions, the media was not forced to do anything more than “report” these events as “news.” And in this way, these events would not threaten the status quo, as there would be “liberal” and “conservative” perspectives offered up by the media, thereby undermining attempts to use these events as indicators of a corrupt political order, an order of which the media was a central part. In the end, both the Nixon administration and the media maintained their legitimacy, the Nixon administration by attacking “arrogance, bias, and elitism,” and the media by demonstrating its openness to a “variety” of opinions.

            Buchanan notes over and over that the Nixon administration was not the conservative nirvana he hoped it would be. What is odd though is that he never seems to grasp how even his recommendations merely served to fortify the status quo. And this is so because Buchanan failed to recognize that the labels “liberal” and “conservative” are attached to “movements” legitimated by a political order that comprehends them both. Despite Buchanan’s revolutionary desires, there can no more be a conservative “revolution” than there can be a “liberal” revolution because these phenomena only make sense, only come to light as reflections of a more comprehensive political order. A revolution would require a critique, a break with that more comprehensive political order.

            That political order maintains itself by making us think that the political world is divided between “left” and “right,” between “liberals” and “conservatives.” But actually the political world is divided between “the top” and “the rest,” between the wealthy and the not wealthy, between the few and the many. Nixon’s “war” against the media was a war among the wealthy, among the few, between this few and that few. As such, it couldn’t and, of course, didn’t change American politics, as evidenced by Nixon’s fall from grace during Watergate, thanks in large part to the media. “Agnew’s hour” was just that, an ephemeral event that changed nothing permanently in the American political order. And even Nixon’s fall changed nothing permanently because it too was the result of a conflict among the few. In fact, Nixon’s fall also fortified the status quo as illustrated by the fact that Gerry Ford became president. What could be more status quo than a Ford presidency? Which of course even the Ford people recognized as they took pride in their election year mantra: “A Ford, Not a Lincoln.”

Friday, July 10, 2020

Who Killed Kennedy?

Who Killed Kennedy?
Peter Schultz

            The Bay of Pigs invasion was a set up to force Kennedy to send “in the Marines” to rescue what was going to be and what was intended to be a failed invasion. From David Talbot’s book The Devil’s Chessboard:

            “But, as usual, there was method to [Allen] Dulles’ seeming carelessness. It is now clear that the CIA’s Bay of Pigs expedition was not simply doomed to fail, it was meant to fail. And its failure was designed to trigger the real action – in all-out, US military invasion of the island. Dulles plunged ahead with his hopeless, paramilitary mission. . . .because he was serenely confident that in the heat of battle, Kennedy would be forced to send the Marines crashing ashore. Dulles was banking on the young, untested commander in chief to cave to pressure from the Washington war machine, just as other presidents had bent to the spymaster’s will.” [p. 400]

            There were two investigations of the debacle in the Bay of Pigs, one chaired by General Maxwell Taylor and the other by Lyman Kirkpatrick, a CIA official. Both investigations laid the blame on the CIA and not the White House, although Dulles had been attempting through the media to lay blame on Kennedy. Again, from Talbot:

            “Dulles succeeded in suppressing the Kirkpatrick Report; it would remain locked away until the CIA was finally compelled to release it in 1998. But as word spread in Washington circles about the harsh report, it added to the anti-Kennedy passions flaring within the CIA.
            “The Bay of Pigs debacle produced ‘stuttering rage’ among CIA officers aligned with Dulles, according to CIA veteran Joseph B. Smith. . . .’I had the feeling all those [agents] there felt almost that the world had ended. . . .’ In August months after the failed venture, when Ralph McGehee returned from Vietnam, he too found the CIA in turmoil. Rumors spread that Kennedy was going to exact his revenge by slashing the CIA workforce through a massive ‘reduction in force,’ code-named the ‘701 program’ by the agency.
            “When Kennedy’s ax did fall, McGehee was stunned by the carnage. ‘About one of every five was fired. The tension became too much for some. On several occasions, one of my former office mates came to the office howling drunk and worked his way onto the 701 list.’
            “The Anti-Kennedy rage inside the CIA headquarters also reverberated at the Pentagon. ‘Pulling the rug  [on the Bay of Pigs invaders],’ fumed Joint Chiefs chairman Lemnitzer, was ‘absolutely reprehensible, almost criminal.’ [p. 411]

            And around the same time, an attempted coup against de Gaulle in France, a coup that involved some support from some officers in the CIA, led to Kennedy once again challenging the CIA. The attempted coup involved officers in the French military who were opposed to de Gaulle’s policies to end the war in Algeria and to grant Algeria its independence. “The savage passions of the war in Algeria had deeply affected [Maurice] Challe and left him vulnerable to the persuasion of more zealous French officers. . . .In his radio broadcast to the people of France, the coup leader explained that he was taking his stand against de Gaulle’s ‘government of capitulation. . . so that our dead shall not have died for nothing.”

            De Gaulle was convinced that Challe had the support of US intelligence because “Challe and American security officials shared a deep disaffection with de Gaulle” who was obstructing US ambitions regarding NATO and was insisting on an independent nuclear force for France. “In panic gripped Paris, report of US involvement in the coup filled newspapers across the political spectrum,” while Richard Bissell, the second in command in the CIA, had a luncheon meeting with the “Secret Army Organization (Organisation de l’Armee Secrete, or OAS) . . . a notorious anti-de Gaulle terrorist group….” [p. 414]

            The CIA and Dulles of course denied any involvement, a denial supported by some in the American media like some writing for the NY Times. But “JFK took pains to assure Paris that he strongly supported de Gaulle’s presidency. . . .” Kennedy told the French ambassador he disavowed US involvement but also said that “’the CIA is such a vast and poorly controlled machine that the most unlikely maneuvers might be attempted.’” [p. 418] As Talbot puts it: This “was a startling moment in US foreign relations,” as “Kennedy underlined how deeply estranged he was from his own security machinery by taking the extraordinary step of asking [ambassador] Alphand for the French government’s help to track down the US officials behind the coup. . . .” [418] Kennedy also instructed the US ambassador James Gavin to offer de Gaulle any support he might need, including preventing rebel forces from Algeria from landing at US air bases in France, an offer de Gaulle prudently refused.

            It is important to emphasize that what was in dispute here was how to deal with the independence movements that had arisen throughout the world at that time. Dulles et. al. viewed these movements as little more than Communist inspired and controlled movements, part of the Soviet Union’s crusade to impose Communism on the world. Kennedy did not see these movements as Communist inspired but as nationalist movements seeking to throw off their colonial past. Hence, by supporting de Gaulle and sabotaging the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and refusing to send in the Marines into Cuba, Kennedy was viewed by some, like Admiral Burke, as “’a very bad president’ who ‘permitted himself to jeopardize the nation.’” [411]  This is close to charging Kennedy with treason, a charge that carries with it a death sentence in courts of law.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Playing on the Devil's Chessboard: Modernity's Bargain

Playing on the Devil’s Chessboard: Modernity’s Bargain
Peter Schultz

            In the book The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, by David Talbot, there is the following passage, a quotation by an American woman, Erica Wallach who had been held captive in the Soviet Union for five years on suspicion of being a spy. This suspicion arose in part because the Field family, a family with ties to Allen Dulles, had raised Ms. Wallach.

            “’Dulles [Ms. Wallach said] had a certain arrogance in which he believed that he could work with the Devil – anybody’s Devil – and still be Allen Dulles. He could work with Noah Field and betray him. He could work with the Nazis or the Communists. He thought himself untouchable by these experiences and, of course, you cannot help but be touched, be affected, no matter how noble your cause is.’” [p. 158]

            That is, Dulles thought his actions wouldn’t corrupt him because his cause was noble, so even the “Devil” could be an ally or he could be an ally of the “Devil.” Further, he thought that even though he was playing on the devil’s chessboard, he could win. But as events in Iran and other places illustrated, when you play on the devil’s chessboard, the devil always wins and you always lose. So not only was Dulles corrupted but so too was the United States. As Talbot put it: “The Eisenhower-Dulles era was a Pax Americana enforced by terror.” [p. 241] To support its empire, which was an “empire on the cheap,” the US had to engage in terror and support allies, like Iran, that also engaged in terror.

            This, it seems to me, is modernity’s bargain: Cutting a Faustian deal with the devil, thinking we could acquire power, wealth, and a kind of immortality by joining forces with the devil. But what we didn’t realize – and still haven’t – is that we have bargained away our souls, our humanity and, hence, our chance for happiness. And when you play on the devil’s chessboard, only the devil wins. Just ask LBJ, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George Bush, Jr.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Depths of Depravity in "This Town"

The Depths of the Depravity in “This Town”
Peter Schultz

            This Town is a book written by Mark Leibovich and it is about Washington, D.C. and how it “works.” This town, that is, D.C. is essentially a town of  “shameless racket of self-promoters,” which “imposes on its actors a reflex toward devious and opportunistic behavior, and also a tendency to care more about public relations than any other aspect of their professional lives – and maybe even personal lives.” [p. 362, 369] Some of the most astounding passages in This Town are the following, dealing with David Petraeus, one of the most honored members of what Leibovich calls “the Club.”

            “David Petraeus was, at that moment, enduring something worse. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell broke the story that the decorated general would quit as head of the CIA over an affair with his ‘official biographer.’” Mitchell said: “’I don’t take any pleasure in this in the sense that it is really a personal tragedy. Having covered Gen. Petraeus myself here and overseas, I am absolutely convinced from all communications I have from people directly involved that this is a matter of honor.’” [p. 338]

            As Leibovich puts it: “Figuratively speaking, Petraeus had been in bed with the press for years.” As a result, “he was portrayed as a fearless and scholarly hero, maybe even a future president…. Not surprisingly, ‘official biographer Paula Broadwell produced a gushy tome on the studly soldier, All In…. And Petraeus left many people in the Club deeply saddened and gravely concerned for the well-being of their four star friend. What an awful way for his decorated career to end.” [p. 339]

            Nevertheless, in a short time, one week, both Petraeus and Broadwell were represented by professionals to deal with their disgrace. Petraeus had hired “super-lawyer Robert Bennett…for advice on post-governmental issues, and…. for planning this future.” Broadwell had hired other professionals who were “providing communications counsel.” [p. 339] Obviously, Petraeus and Broadwell saw their behavior as creating PR problems and just as obviously they were going to deal with them as such.

            Because Petraeus and Broadwell were members of the Club, other members of the Club sympathized with their travails, with Andrea Mitchell labeling Petraeus and Broadwell’s affair a “tragedy.” And, in fact, it is important to recognize that from the perspective of the Club’s members, the affair was a tragedy or could have become one if Washington’s cover as a place of virtuous, well-meaning, and rather selfless behavior were to be blown. So it was important for Petraeus to resign as “a matter of honor” and for both Petraeus and Broadwell to genuflect by seeking out the advice of prominent members of the Club, in the form, of course, of “professional advice.” There are cover-ups in D.C. all the time, in response to particular events that are embarrassing. But the most important cover-up is one that remains hidden in plain sight, so to speak. And that is the cover-up of that Washington is a place of shameless self-promoters, who always put their interests ahead of the nation’s interests even though doing so imperils the nation’s well-being. And it seems to me that in that way, our politics resemble the politics of monarchical and aristocratic nations like Great Britain before the monarchy and the aristocracy became empty offices, mere titles without more. What Leibovich calls the Club should perhaps be called “the Court.” But whatever it is called, its reality needs to be recognized for what it is and what it isn’t. The picture isn’t pretty, to say the least, but it needs be exposed and examined. A lot depends on it.