June 20, 2002
Watergate: The Unexcised CancerAs reported in a Reuters story at Yahoo, former senator George McGovern spoke in New York at a forum about Watergate and said it was only a part of a "whole pattern of wrongdoing,"
In a way Nixon was right when he called Watergate "a third rate burglary." Seen in perspective of the whole pattern of illegal activities and abuse of power that became routine with the Nixon administration, the break-in at the Watergate complex was relatively insignificant.
Compare that small felony with Nixon's secret bombing campaign against the neutral country of Cambodia while keeping it secret from Congress, the American people and the press for 14 months.
What was surely in his twisted mind was the irony: after a pattern of lawlessness on a massive, unprecedented scale, to get tripped up by such a petty crime. But that's the way it goes.
There was also an underlying candor in his statement "I am not a crook." Nixon was an archcriminal. (see "How Nixon Actually Got Into Power" by Mae Brussel)
In Anthony Summer's Nixon biography The Arrogance of Power, there is a solidly supported report on how Nixon actually derailed President Johnson's peace talks by getting word to the "president" dictator of South Vietnam: If you hold out, you'll get a better deal when we get in. And boy did they.
Nixon wanted to make sure the democrats did not get an October surprise with a peace agreement in South Vietnam. That would without a doubt cost him the election. Johnson had been beaten in the New Hampshire primary by a nobody whose one identifying feature was that he wanted to end Johnson's war. Nixon pulled a great heist by telling the naively trusting American public that he had "a secret plan to end the war." But because security would be compromised if he told his plan, he kept it a secret. At least that's the crock he tried to sell the American people. And the public, desperate for a way out of the war, bought Nixon's pitch.
Nixon's real secret plan -- the one he did carry out -- was to flummox Johnnon's desperate attempt to end the war and save his legacy, which had be destroyed by Vietnam. Outside of the war, it was a time of great prosperity, and civil rights laws were pushed through Congress by him. But the war tore the nation apart. And even the Democrats turned against him.
If Johnson had not escalated the war, had not let the military railroad him, he would have been returned to office by a landslide. But though his presidency, his legacy, his hopes for his Greate Society were destroyed by the war, he wanted at the last minute to leave the legacy of having ended the war.
He was close too, and had considerable leverage with the South Vietnam president Thieu. The U.S. was all that propped the dictator up. But Nixon got word to Thieu, Thieu backed out of the talks, and Nixon won.
Humphrey was in an impossible situation. Nixon, as a senator and later as vice president, had been one of the first to push for U.S. engagement in Vietnam. Many who knew Humphrey was a much better man that Nixon, still withheld their votes from him because of all of the bitterness. The Democrats had suppressed the peace movement within it, ignored the voice of the people and put Vice President Humphrey up. Humphrey could not run against his own administration. He could not repudiate Johnson, which was explicitly what the public wanted.
When Robert Kennedy was killed, he had just won the California primary and was well on his way to sewing up the Democratic nomination. And Kennedy was running on a peace platform. When Senator Eugene McCarthy beat Johnson in the first primary, Kennedy saw his opportunity. He grabbed the banner out of Senator Eugene McCarthy's hand, and with his advantages of money, fame, charisma, etc buried McCarthy. He had set up a clear trend of victory in the primaries, and would have been irresistible with the Kennedy machine behind him at the convention.
But Kennedy was shot and put out of the way. The old guard of the Democratic party put up Humphrey, clearly spurning the majority that wanted a peace candidate. The party was split, destroyed. It was Nixon's opportunity and he clinched it by throwing off the peace talks.
Humphrey at his very worst could never have been as bloodthirsty a warmonger as Nixon. While Nixon was telling the people he had a secret plan to end the war, his real secret plan was to derail the peace process to guarantee his victory. And when he became president, he immediately stepped up the bombing, escalated the war brutally and kept it up for four more years. When his next election came up, it sill wasn't over and he still expected people to believe he was going to end it.
And it worked. With the help of the media, he trashed McGovern and won in a landslide. The Watergate burglary had already happened and been reported in the press. And Nixon still won.
For me, Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon was an outrage not because I wanted to see the old codger in jail -- though he deserved if far more than many of the people who waste their lives there -- but because it stole our history from us.
Nixon was saved from further embarassment; the status quo government was not shaken up too much; the American people were spared the awful truth about the utter lack of respect of the law of the Nixon administration. But we were robbed of our history and the opportunity to evaluate it in all of its sordidness so as to help avoid recurrences of the same problem.
Ford was promoted from his lowly career as congessman from Michigan to vice president by Nixon when talk of impeachment was already in the air. In a sense, he was hand-picked to be president by the criminal that was being pushed out of the office because too many crimes had come to light to keep under cover any more.
Ford did the right thing by his benefactor. He used his presidential power to pardon Nixon, even though Nixon had not yet been convicted of any crimes. No trial ever took place because of Ford's unprecedented pre-emptive pardon. Because of Ford's blanket pardon of all crimes, there was never a trial, and Nixon and the fascists that built and maintained him were able to hide the full depth of their crimes.
There was something deeply flawed about letting Nixon choose his successor. When the third-rate congressman from Michigan put the final lid on Watergate, he didn't "heal up the nation's wounds." Not by a long shot. He stopped the process by which the cancer could be removed. And it wasn't only -- as John Dean had called it -- a cancer on the presidency. It was a cancer on the whole rotten system. By not removing it, the corrupt structure stayed intact and provided the infrastructure for the crimes of the Reagan-Bush regime, who conducted their own secret war in Nicaragua, Nixon style.
Those crimes are now being covered up by the Bush II regime, which has elevated many of the criminals of the Iran Contra affair and restored them to positions of power at the top of the U.S. hierarchy.
If Nixon hadn't given up when he did, the revelations that would have come out would have been horrendous. Nixon heavily guarded his place in history. He tried to keep the White House tapes out of public hands, even after they had been subpoenaed for his crimes, for which he went free. He did an amazing job, with the help of the corporate media, of reviving his reputation and molding a public image of an elder statesman.
Because the judicial process was cut off, the depth and extent of the crimes of Watergate remain suppressed, not fully known and acknowledged. It wasn't Ford's first participation in a coverup. He was a member of the esteemed Warren Commission.
At one point during the impeachment struggles, Nixon tried to threaten the FBI by saying if it didn't back off "all that Bay of Pigs stuff" would come out. Nixon's aides said that when Nixon talked about the Kennedy assassination, he talked in code calling it "all that Bay of Pigs stuff."
So go figure.
-- by David Cogswell