It hardly took the recent Scott McClellan book to confirm the verdict of Watergate emeritus John Dean that the current crop of Neo-Con Cosa Nostras in the Bush Administration is far worse than the Nixon Mafioso. But this view tells only part of the story.
No, I’m not talking about the world-class competition between the two Administrations for violating constitutional, international and moral norms. Indeed, my own sense of history and constitutional law persuades me that Dean’s aptly named book about the Bush gang, Worse Than Watergate, is unquestionably accurate.
Instead, my only quibble with Dean’s neat alliterative title is that it doesn’t take into account the drama, pageantry and mythic proportions of Watergate that I perceive, through my nostalgic-colored glasses, as sadly missing in the Bushian banana republic.
I guess what I’m driving at is, Tuesdays have no feel, and neither does the current Constitutional crisis.
The contrasts are both stark, and too numerous to exhaustively list. Where, for example, is the modern-day equivalent of country lawyer Sam Ervin, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Watergate, armed with both a copy of a tattered Constitution in his back pocket, and a down-home Jimmy Stewart-like authenticity (replete with stammer), that we’d be hard pressed to find in today’s Congress.
And as dangerous as he was, and probably still is, Karl Rove miraculously managed to maintain a kind of clownish countenance (even before his embarrassing rap performance), that stands out in bold relief to those twin scowling Nixonian palace guards, Haldeman and Ehrlichman.
Ditto Alberto Gonzales, who may match John Mitchell “hack for hack” in partisan hackmanship. Yet somehow the boyish looking, in-over-his-head, deer-in-the-headlights-looking Gonzalez somehow never quite equalled Mitchell as a symbol of Macchiavelian mischief.
Indeed, much the same could be said of the man-child Bush himself, in a tale-of-the-tape comparison with Nixon. Again, does Bush’s sheer incompetence and inarticulateness serve to temper perceptions of his venality? (Yes, the mentally challenged kid means well.)
In the same vein, as nutty and brazen as the Chicken-Hawk Neo-Cons are, nary one of them could lay claim to firing a shot in war, let alone holding their hand over a fire a la the legendary Gordon Liddy. Even the vastly “underrated” Iran-Contra affair had the colorful Liddy-like zealot, Colonel Ollie North.
And even on a more prurient level, the sex appeal of Maureen Dean (at least in the mind’s eye of this then-adolescent in the Summer of 1973), captured prominently on camera during hubby John’s dramatic testimony before the aforementioned Senate Committee, far eclipsed the parade of Bush right-wing blondes such as Monica Goodling and Sara Taylor, who appeared on the boob tube to deny any knowledge of the Justice Department’s boobs.
One might also ask why the destruction of over 100,000 emails sent or received by Karl Rove alone, somehow never quite stacked up to one infamous 18-minute gap on an audiotape. Did we really need a picture of Rove on the cover of national magazines, demonstrating how an overstretched forefinger “mistakenly” deleted such emails, to propel such offense into the national consciousness? In other words, isn’t Mr. Rove really “Rosemary’s (Woods) baby?”
So what are we to make of these differences: Are they attributable merely to the fact that those of us who lived through both eras and are approaching at least early middle age tend to “glorify” everything that happened in the past, just as the mythic exploits of a Mantle or Mays loom so much larger than those of the steroid-inflated, over-exposed modern athlete.
Or are there more objective distinctions that color our perceptions, such as the fact that the Nixon criminal regime overlapped with the tail end of the 60′s counterculture, as well as a war in which a draft actually existed, and therefore magnified the good vs. evil morality play that Watergate will forever represent.
Or perhaps one could subscribe to the theory, ironically, that “conservative” Republicans, one of whose mantras is the denunciation of “moral relativism,” have now “morally relativizied” any transgression by their own home team, aided and abetted by the right-wing noise machine, led by the likes of FOX News, Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge. Not to mention their “dumbing-down” of the impeachment tool in the case of Bill Clinton.
Alternatively, the differences may have to do more with the fact that the physical break-ins at Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office and Watergate itself were tangible, more commonly understood crimes such as burglary (“third-rate,” indeed!). Is there any doubt that the type of violations which are routinely depicted on popular television crime dramas are politically more explosive than what we suspect to be much more “invasive invasions”: the wholesale monitoring of telephone calls and emails of millions of Americans.
Or can it be that despite our computer literacy, we have somehow built up a psychological firewall that filters out the significance of such electronic searches.
Well, if it’ll make any difference, I’ll offer up my own home or office as “third-rate burglary” targets, just to see the bad guys get their comeuppance.
And what about Dick Cheney, you ask? Doesn’t his cartoon-like, Darth-Vaderish villainous persona — one that could easily be cast opposite Dick Tracy or Batman –disprove the theory that the good ‘ole days of Watergate were simply more colorful and “compelling.” Well, yes … and no. While Cheney is easily the equal of Nixon, Mitchell, Haldeman or Ehrlichman as a symbol of evil, or more likely, the sum of all of them rolled into one, even Cheney has managed to lighten his image with comic incompetence, most typified by the operatta-like farce of shooting a hunting companion in the face, not to mention his serial and surreal denials of reality.
So there it is, a smorgasbord of theories as to why the Bush Administration seems to get a pass on their Constitutional crimes. Hopefully, the historians of the next few generations will rectify this injustice and give this gang their “proper due.” But maybe not. Unless, of course, a Democrat wins the next election, Bush and Cheney refuse to leave, and the Supreme Court rubber-stamps the coup. Remember, you heard it here first.