Here is another installment in my ever popular Watergate series. Following this post, I'll be writing about how this all applies to our current batch of Republicans. After all, the main point of learning history is to learn how it applies to us now. It's kind of like cheating, really. And the main lesson that we should be learning from Watergate is not about stopping crooks; but rather about getting an inside peek into the propaganda-based self-deceiving minds of modern Republicans.
And of course, the source of today's lecture will again be from Woodward & Bernstein's excellent book, The Final Days. All the President's Men was a fine book, but was mainly from the journalists' perspective and how they tracked everything down. But Final Days has all the inside scoop as to what was actually happening. I cannot recommend it enough and I haven't even finished it yet.
And the main thing to remember is that we only know this stuff because Watergate was such a complete blow-out for everyone involved, and the players involved cooperated with W&B so that they could get their side of the story told. I guess history isn't always written by the winners; sometimes they quote the losers. It is unlikely that we'll be so lucky with the Bush Administration.
Here's the context for today's reading. Nixon was a crook. Maybe he didn't specifically authorize the Watergate break-in and other illegal doings; but he certainly encouraged an atmosphere in which his men would do such things on their own. And that's what Plausible Deniability is all about: Getting illegal or unethical things to happen, but for which all accountability rests with lower level grunts, and cannot be tied to the upper echelons. Much like how Abu Ghraib was handled.
But whether or not Nixon authorized the break-in, he certainly knew a lot about it shortly afterwards, and was working to stifle any investigation. Which is what got him in trouble. And today's reading involves a taped conversation that happened six days after the break-in. And in that conversation, Nixon is clearly discussing ways to stifle the investigation; primarily by using national security as an excuse for why it should be stopped. And there's no doubt that that's what he did.
But later on, Nixon pretended that that conversation never happened, and considered it as an attack on the presidency itself if anyone contemplated such an idea. And that was one of his problems; he didn't just lie to us, and his staff and lawyers; he had to lie to himself. And later on, when he listened to the recordings of that day, he lied to everyone and himself about what was on the tapes. And finally, he lied about even listening to that tape, and insisted to his staff that he hadn't listened to it. But it was all self-deception. And when you get read about Tricky Dick lamenting to friends and family what happened, it's obvious that he really did believe his own hogwash.
But again, the only reason this deception was possible was because they ALL were deceiving themselves. They knew that Nixon wasn't Mr. Honest. And yet, throughout this whole thing, they always convinced themselves that he was only misleading others, but was somehow being truthful with them. And the reason they had to believe that was because they wanted to be loyal to Nixon, but knew that they could not be loyal if they knew the truth. They rationalized that the charges against Nixon were just partisan ruses, which justified the deception to the public. But they didn't want to know otherwise. So they all were lying to themselves, simply so they could continue the defense.
And that allowed them to defend Nixon in ways that the truth would not allow. They said things which were untrue, but they didn't know the statements were untrue. But that was because they didn't want to know they were untrue. They said the things that they wanted to believe, yet they had no basis for believing them. They were all in self-denial for a long time. And when the truth came out, they were upset at Nixon. But they had no one to blame but themselves. But because their ultimate loyalty was to themselves, they blamed Nixon instead. And while Nixon was deceiving them, he couldn't have done so unless they wanted to be deceived.
Which they all did; just like our current Republicans believe any deception because it is the only way they can justify their loyalty to the team. Ultimately, their loyalty is only to themselves; so they won't openly lie. Which is why they insist on propaganda and deception. Not to fool us, but to justify everything to themselves. It's Plausible Deniability on a personal scale, and they're all doing it.
And so that's where this latest chapter picks up. If you're reading at home, this starts on page 363. This is from a meeting at Camp David shortly before Nixon's resignation, when Nixon's closest allies are discussing their next move. They're divided into separate camps as to whether Nixon should fight the post-impeachment trial (impeachment was already considered a lock), or if he should resign immediately. Nixon had just been forced to release transcripts from that conversation six days after Watergate, and it clearly undermined everything they had been saying. Their statements had only been valid in absence of these tapes. So it looked bad, and his toughest defenders were considering defeat. Yet most of them were still denied many basic facts.
The players involved are speechwriter Ray Price, speechwriter Pat Buchanan, Chief of Staff Al Haig, and Press Secretary Ron Ziegler. Price was supposed to write Nixon's next speech to the nation, and had just laid out the framework of the speech Nixon had commissioned. Yet his speech was, even at this late date, part of a deception that he was still unaware of.
Price was pleased with the draft and thought it expressed his deep belief that the President's actions six days after the Watergate break-in were innocent in intent, and that nothing Nixon had done merited impeachment.
Buchanan was satisfied that the President was not committing himself to wage all-out war. Whatever words Price chose to soften the harsh facts, Buchanan thought there could be no mistaking the impact such a statement would have. It did, however, leave the President a little room.
Haig was not satisfied. It wasn't accurate, for one. It implied that Nixon hadn't listened to the tape until after the Supreme Court decision. The fact was that he had heard it sometime during May.
Price and Buchanan were confused. Why had he listened to it in May?
Haig explained. The President was, at that time, responding to Jaworski's compromise offer to settle for certain tapes in return for keeping secret Nixon's status as an unindicted co-conspirator. Buzhardt, St. Clair and he were all involved in the May thing. The statement must make it clear that they were not aware that the President had turned down Jaworski's offer as a consequence of listening to the June 23 tape.
Buchanan and Price were outraged. They, and a lot of other people, had put their own reputations on the line defending the President and saying things that Nixon knew were false.
Ziegler defended the President. Nixon had not listened until after the Supreme Court decision. They were wrong. He rushed off to check with his boss.
So we see here that there clearly were some important details that some of Nixon's closest defenders knew, which other close defenders hadn't known. Very important details. Yet, they had been discussing all of this for months. How could they not have known? Because they didn't want to know. They wanted to keep defending Nixon in clean conscience.
Needless to say, they looked into it and Haig was absolutely right. Nixon had listened to this crucial tape, yet had continued to deceive his closest advisors. And after all, we're talking about a conversation that Nixon had, and not only was he lying about the conversation, but also lying about having listened to the tape of the conversation. And after all, they're not necessarily upset that Nixon lied, but that the lie was provable; and it proved them to be liars. And as we'll see, he continues to lie about it. We'll take up right after Haig verifies that what he said was true, and after Nixon lies to Ziegler again.
Ziegler shouted that they were wrong. "The President says he didn't listen to it then. It was late in May." They were all jumping to the wrong conclusion.
"Look, Ron," Buchanan said, his voice rising, "we've got the records. The only date they were checked out was on May 6. Here's the Jaworski thing at the same time. There's no other conclusion."
"I don't believe that," Ziegler said shrilly. "The President says it was the other way." That the tape had been checked out was simply no proof that the President had actually listened to it. And even if he had, he had not recognized its significance, Ziegler added. But he was all by himself on this one.
They go on to dispute this for some time. They double-check the logs and the guy responsible for the tapes, they ask the lawyers, and doubt every shred of evidence. And all because Nixon had told them that he hadn't checked it out until later. And yet it made no sense Nixon's way. And it made perfect sense this way, and all the facts were against Nixon. And as it had already been pointed out, Nixon had specifically asked one of his lawyers to hear that tape. So Nixon must have already heard the tape himself. Yet he continued his deception, even to the end.
And again, Nixon already knew what the conversation was. He had said it. And it represented everything that he had continued to do before and after the break-in; namely to cover everything up and lie about it. And they knew that Nixon was prone to this kind of self-deception. They had to, they worked with him every day and he was always like that. Yet they had continued to believe him; not because he was so honest, but because they needed to deceive themselves. Because otherwise, they couldn't do their jobs.
And yet, right up until Nixon's resignation speech, they had continued to present a solid front of defense.
These are the kind of people we're still dealing with today. When all is said and done, the ultimate target of their deceptions are themselves. It's not that they think that WMD lies or torture is acceptable. It's that they have to believe these things, or they have to leave the team in disgrace. So they force themselves to deny that any of it happened, by outright refusing to see facts. So our outrage at them is not only unnecessary, but counter-productive. All we need to do is to show them the facts in an undeniable way. They use our outrage an an excuse to deny facing facts. We need to deny them that excuse.