Friday, April 29, 2005

Learning From Liars

I've been reading The Final Days by Woodward and Bernstein, and it's a great book. A really great book. It tells you a lot about Watergate and Nixon's final days as President, but it also tells you a lot about politics and how things work at the top; along with a few funny anecdotes for good measure. If you're interested in this kind of thing, I can't recommend it enough. I've read a few Watergate books, but this is by far the best. I'm not a Watergate junkie, but I know what I like.

And I've been meaning to write about it for some time. For lots of different reasons. But something I read today seemed applicable to what I've been writing about lately, and so I thought I'd reprint some of it for your reading pleasure. You owe me one.


Context: The Nixon Administration has been in a holding pattern for months and months and can't seem to shake the noose of the impeachment. They've been putting up a good fight, but everything seems futile. And rightly so. The Watergate tapes were horrifically damning. There's no doubt about it. The Nixon Whitehouse was a crooked place, and crookedness had just become part of doing business. Nixon and Co. really didn't think they had done anything wrong; and believed they were just taking advantage of Presidential perks. Which was the very reason he had to be taken down. Nixon had made the Presidency too powerful and he had to be removed from office.

Now the impeachment hearing is imminent and the Whitehouse is leaking like a sieve. But they're still trying to put up a good front, and act as if they'll be sticking it to those partisan Democrat "Nixon-haters". That's the line they had been telling their people for months, and that's what they were sticking with now.

I quote from page 299, Monday, July 29. I'm too drunk to bother figuring out which year it is, but you get the idea. Nixon chief-of-staff, General Alexander Haig questioning David Gergen, Whitehouse speechwriter, about possible leaks in the Whitehouse. Gergen admits to being one of them.

"Gergen put the paper down and looked at Haig. Things were bad, Gergen said. There wasn't any coordination and, yes, it was true, he was not optimistic about the chances of organizing successfully to defend the President at this late date.

The general reminded him that the Washington Post was not the proper forum in which to voice his frustrations. Haig doubted the ability of the liberal press to handle such information fairly, to refrain from sensationalizing it. There was a question of loyalty, even of patriotism, he said sternly, and that applied to each member of the staff.

Gergen said that he understood, but that he felt foolish trying to keep up an optimistic facade. He had been doing it for months; he had told acquaintances in the press over and over that the President had turned the corner on Watergate. He had compromised himself.

"What do you think about me?" Haig shot back. He was the one out on the front line, sticking his neck out. His own doubts ran deep, very deep. "He's guilty as hell." Haig said.

Gergen was startled. Haig was the ultimate loyalist.

The chief of staff drew a deep breath. He still had to keep the ship together, he said. Again, it was a question of loyalty and patriotism. He had made his decision and he would see it through. Everyone on the White House staff should do the same or they should get out."

He's Guilty As Hell

And that just about says it all, doesn't it. That's exactly the type of people who we are dealing with. "He's guilty as hell." But it's not about what you know to be true, it's about what you want to be true and about making other people believe what you know to be false. That's how you shape reality into being what you want. Not by confessing the truth and admitting unpleasant facts, but exactly the opposite.

It's essentially the power of prayers; of using belief to change reality. That's what we're up against. Truth is irrelevant. Propaganda is real. Propaganda as a form of prayer. Propaganda to make your dreams come true. And they think that we're doing the exact same thing.

The only difference between the Whitehouse then and now, is that the current Whitehouse learned the lessons of the Nixon Whitehouse. For them, the lesson wasn't that you shouldn't be corrupt or that you shouldn't over-extend the powers of the Whitehouse. It was that loose lips sink ships. You don't express your doubts publicly. You don't spill the beans on what you know. You act confident and hope that you can BS your way to victory. And all of their followers naturally follow suit.

For them, truth is for losers; winners make their own truth. They don't see it as lying. They see it as loyalty and patriotism. And that should tell us everything about who we're up against.

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