Tears and Nixon

by Conrad Black
The summer doldrums get deeper and deeper.

At the best of times it is hazardous for the mental equilibrium of a rational person randomly to turn on the television set, and it is probably especially so in summer. Last week, in a cavalierly daredevil moment, I did so, and was almost reduced to the incommunicable state of Zechariah in the Temple as a result. First, I unluckily happened upon what purported to be a serious discussion of the supposed difference in public responses to men’s and women’s weeping. The party of vintage, quaveringly emotional feminism, twitching and squirming as they emitted the unimaginable frustrations of their benighted lot, apparently unmitigated by their license to inflict themselves on the silent armies of unsuspecting tele-spectators, complained that men who wept were deemed to be sensitive and that women who wept in public were deemed to be weak. Another grievous count was thus added to the long charge-sheet of male attitudinal atrocities.

Hillary Clinton supposedly wept after one of the early primaries in 2008 and was supposedly reviled as being weak and womanish; not to my recollection. She didn’t exactly weep; her voice broke slightly, and all the comment I heard was that she showed understandable and commendable human feelings and was right to be affected by the primary rollercoaster. John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, was featured as a male who, when he weeps in public (which is almost every time I have seen him speaking on television), is credited with sensitivity. If his tendency to cry and lose the ability to finish sentences was in contemplation of the shambles in the United States Capitol, no one would take issue with him. I could weep myself when I think that when I first took an interest in these matters, about 55 years ago, standing in the places of Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, and President Obama were Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. I am afraid that Mr. Boehner’s vulnerability in this area has nothing to do with manliness or sensitivity; it is rather just that some men, like some women, cry easily. Observers may feel sorry for them or even be embarrassed sometimes for them, but I doubt if anyone thinks much of it, nor should they.

I was steadying down from this unutterably inane and sexist exploration of irrelevant human traits, when, of a sudden, there came down, like Japanese Zeroes over Pearl Harbor, CNN’s treatment of home movies of Nixon White House staffers. This was billed as Nixon as candidly viewed by his closest collaborators, revealing and new material. Like almost all keyhole peeps or recorded reflections of Richard Nixon, it was breathlessly flagged as a great leap forward in Nixonology. Given the subject and the source, I was naturally prepared to fear the worst; that we were all in, once again, for a dramatic breakthrough in discovering how the only person in the country’s history apart from Franklin D. Roosevelt to be nominated by a major party for national office five times (both won four times) grew horns and cloven feet that he disguised until they were exposed by the Washington Post. All the original film was completely innocuous and not in the slightest discreditable to Richard Nixon or to his entourage, who commented on aspects of the Nixon era.

But the clips of their amateur films were rarely related to their subsequent reflections, and were spliced together in a completely dishonest and unprofessional pastiche designed to reinforce the imposed conventional wisdom that Nixon was evil. The basic premise, of course, is never presented or analyzed. Instead, we have such soothsayers as Mike Wallace, a man who gave new warmth, depth, and color to the phrase “great liberal death wish,” which he personified, recounting that various Nixon aides went to prison, as if that proves anything. So have tens of millions of others in the U.S. (including me), but it doesn’t mean, in that turkey-shoot of a criminal-justice system, that anyone is guilty of anything, though many are. But these individuals were convicted of perjury or related offenses. The infected myth that has been slathered over the Nixon legacy is not that the Nixonians didn’t tell the truth to grand juries. It is, in the climactic allegation of this monstrous avalanche of defamatory falsehoods, the claim, attributed to Leon Jaworski, the overindulged successor to the rabid Kennedy lickspittle Archibald Cox as Watergate special prosecutor, that Nixon was trying to nazify American public life.

If there is anything that can strengthen the view that there is indeed a “malaise” in America, to use a Carter-era phrase, this persistent propagation of a fraudulent, Manichaean interpretation of a decisive chapter in modern American history is it. At least the “malaise” of the Carter era had, as its chief and distinctly curable symptom, the presence of Jimmy Carter in the White House. In more than an hour of completely neutral amateur film woven between misused comments from former Nixon aides and haymaking accusations and ponderously unsupported judgments of recidivistic criminal, if not treasonable, behavior, there was not a redeeming or balancing word.

There was nothing that would remind the viewer that Nixon extracted the U.S. from Vietnam while preserving a non-Communist government in Saigon; that he ended segregation while avoiding the court-ordered idiocy of school busing for racial balance; ended the riots, the skyjackings, and the draft; opened relations with China and the main Arab powers; started a Middle East peace process; signed the greatest arms-control agreement in history; founded the Environmental Protection Agency; reduced the crime rate; and proposed serious campaign-financing reform and comprehensive medical care. There was scarcely a word of any of it, and it was clearly implied that Nixon was reelected by the greatest plurality in American history, 18 million votes, because some junior operatives of his campaign forced entry into the Democratic National Committee office, where they took nothing, planted nothing, and did no damage.

Even 41 years after the tawdry facts of Watergate, the myth that there was any evidence that Nixon himself was complicit in crimes was amplified by the assertion in this farrago of misinformation that Nixon knew beforehand about the break-in at the office of the psychotherapist of the Pentagon Papers thief and publisher, Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg’s conduct was considerably less defensible than that of Edward Snowden, whom the current liberal eminences are trying to label a traitor and who is spared the vagaries of the conviction factory of American justice only by the mercies of the world’s premier thug, Vladimir Putin (still sluggishly delaying the magic transformation of Joe Biden’s reset button).

There has never been one shred of evidence that Nixon knew anything about that disgraceful episode. In fact, the hallelujah chorus that still supports the righteous and salvationist Watergate myth still overlooks the inconvenient fact that there is no evidence that Nixon committed any offenses at all. It is not at issue, and was fully acknowledged by him, that he had made serious errors “unworthy of a president,” but the only issue is whether he approved money being paid to Watergate defendants to acquire altered testimony. Even in the case of Howard Hunt, where $1 million was authorized, shortly after his wife died in an airplane crash leaving him with a young family, there is no evidence that this was a quid pro quo for perjury.

At some point, the United States is going to have to face the fact that, even though Nixon, by his self-confessed mismanagement of the question, effectively cooperated with his enemies, there was no justification for bloodlessly crucifying him, destroying a very successful administration, and scuttling the entire effort in Indochina with the consequent loss of millions of lives and the enslavement of tens of millions of people, in a war that Nixon’s enemies began, mismanaged, and then prevented him from salvaging. And important sections of the national media will have to face the fact that they perpetrated what was morally indistinguishable from an assassination, and had even more heinous policy consequences than assassinations, apart from Lincoln’s, have had in the U.S.; and that they have spent the intervening decades giving themselves a total immersion in hypocritical self-praise. Those who seek to know the source of dysfunctional American politics, gridlock in Washington, and the failure of government, since Watergate, apart from the halcyon Reagan years, need seek no farther.

— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, A Matter of Principle, and the recently published Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership. He can be reached at [email protected].