08
Jul
07

Ch II: The real Dick Nixon and a quiet little bugger named Cheney

Part II in a series on power and politics.

I’ve had Nixon on the brain lately since finishing the stupendous Personal History by former Washington Post owner/publisher/president/chairwoman/CEO Katharine Graham.  (If you’re interested in women and power, women and business, media and politics, or just enjoy memoirs, READ THIS BOOK.) She writes vividly about the paper’s role in publishing the Pentagon Papers, and of course its reporting on Watergate and Nixon’s resignation.  I, like many infuriated Americans under the Bush Administration, see many parallels between Nixon’s presidency and the current Executive Office (and that includes Cheney, despite his protestations.)  While a recent Q&A with Bob Woodward, one of the key Post reporters covering Watergate, indicates that Nixon stands alone in running “a criminal conspiracy from the Oval Office”, his other comments reveal some troubling similarities between the Nixon and “Cheney” Administrations, if the Post series last week on the Vice President is any guide.

In four articles, relying in part on over 200 interviews with current and former friends and foes of the Veep, the Post series breaks down Cheney’s unprecedented and extraordinary influence in the War on Terror, the Iraq War, the expansion of executive privilege, the current Supreme Court, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and the roll back of environmental protections, among other nefarious foreign policy and domestic budget policy decisions.  The series describes the utmost secrecy, “self-containment,” “stealth” and total “[avoidance of] transparency” that characterizes Cheney’s office, where unnamed “loyalists” execute his detailed and skillful agenda. Keeping in mind Woodward’s claims to Nixon’s exceptionalism, as we are now seeing with the Scooter Libby commutation, the shady business of the current Administration is only too slowly leaking to the surface. 

What the Woodward Q&A and the Post series on Cheney point out is that both men had an educated, insider’s understanding of the political system, and thus knew exactly how to work around or outside of or in defiance of it.  Woodward describes Nixon’s “troubles” as stemming from “his view that he was not accountable under the law,” a law that he knew intimately as a lawyer and politician.  Similarly, Cheney now “[skirts] orderly lines of debate he once enforced as Chief of Staff to President Gerald Ford.”  Indeed, as he exited the Ford Administration, he told Reagan’s incoming Chief of Staff James Baker, “BE AN HONEST BROKER,” and to always leave a “paper trail.” Because as Nixon himself explained, “‘it’s the cover-up that always matters.’

During my sophomore year in college, I had a D average mid-semester in a journalism class on tv and film, and was told I needed to ace the remainder of my assignments in order to pull it up to a B.  I chose to write a paper on Nixon (why?  good question), and watched three times in a row a two-hour CBS documentary on the man.  That’s a lot of Nixon.  What I loved about Graham’s memoir is her personally accounting of his paranoid, petty and vindictive personality, one that we should all know well since Watergate and the ensuing three decades of analysis of his Presidency.  One of the frustrating aspects of the media coverage on Cheney is how his power seems almost mythical, given what a circumscribed view we have of his personality, and almost zero understanding of his “motivations” behind this extraordinary use of power. A fuller portrait of Cheney – and by association, Bush – will be a long time coming, though probably sooner than it will take to unravel the lasting impacts of their reign. 

Woodward wishes the press and American public were more “aggressive” in seeking “fuller…accountability” and “transparency” from politicians.  Nixon won re-election in a landslide in the middle of the Watergate investigations, only to be forced to resign two years later.  Two and a half years into their second term, Cheney – and to a lesser extent Bush - should be impeached, at least according to 54% of 1,100 carousing, patriotic Americans polled during the July 4th holiday.   

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