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].