Gordon Liddy was the mustachio’d FBI agent turned White House aide who belonged to the “Plumbers,” the group whose efforts to plug leaks from the Nixon administration led them to burgle DNC headquarters at the Watergate complex. Slapped with a 20-year sentence by Judge John Sirica, Liddy refused to squeal on the operation (others obliged). His sentence was commuted by President Carter, but he never recanted his silence, or his (mis)behavior.
He offered various explanations. He served his Prince, Nixon (as if he were some condottieri in Renaissance Italy). He committed a mere malum prohibitum, not a malum in se (Aquinas as a second-story man). He explained, with relish, that in prison it is necessary to beat up some other inmate lest one be beaten up oneself.
Older NR readers may remember the late Seventies issue whose cover described articles by Eldridge Cleaver and G. Gordon Liddy. (“That will look good in the faculty lounge!” Jeff Hart laughed, delighted.) In a way, the two relics of the greater Sixties became mirror images of each other: icons of extremism in defense of . . . whatever. Liddy, the Watergate burglar who never ratted, spent the rest of his life cultivating his tough-guy manner. One gig was a column for Forbes, FYI, a lifestyle magazine then edited by Chris Buckley, in which he gave advice on security — how to defend yourself if attacked, how to protect art from theft. Action-figure politics never goes away, as we saw in the streets of Portland and the Capitol Hill riot. Liddy was no episode, but a harbinger. As a radio and TV host, Liddy was surprisingly mild-mannered, winning. Dead at 90, R.I.P.