Most of us live in a bubble, protected from our government’s dirty little secrets, enjoying the bliss of ignorance. Growing up in Jamaica’s remote mountains, one of my heroes was the Prince of Wales, who was to become King Edward VIII of Britain and later abdicate – ostensibly over his love for a divorced woman. Of course I did not know he was a Nazi; that was revealed much later on.
Another illuminating memory is of my staunchly Republican mother weeping in front of her television set in New Port Richey, Florida more than three decades later when Vice President Spiro Agnew was charged with taking bribes.
“Look at what the press is doing to that poor Mr. Agnew,” she lamented.
We know what we want to know, I suppose, and what we are allowed to know.
These memories emerged as I read an article by Robert Parry of Consortium News this morning. Parry explains “how the nation’s political process got so unspeakably nasty with vitriol pouring forth.” The nation he is talking about is America. And the “political process” is manifest in the rancid series of Republican primaries Americans are enduring.
Parry blames Richard Nixon (photo above) for starting the tradition of “splintering American society with wedge issues.” He recalls that Nixon appealed to the “silent majority” and denounced anti-war protesters as “bums,” riding “that divisive formula” to victory in 1972.
You might not be old enough to remember but I’m sure you know that Nixon resigned in disgrace two years later as a result of the Watergate political spying scandal.
What you might not know, what I did not know, is that President Lyndon Johnson – “for the good of the country,” of course – withheld evidence that Nixon sabotaged the Vietnam peace talks.
Parry argues that:
If the American people had seen the evidence that Johnson had regarding Nixon keeping the South Vietnamese government away from the Paris peace talks in 1968 – with promises of a better deal if he got elected – it would have been difficult for even the most die-hard conservative to believe that Nixon’s resignation was undeserved.
And that might have gone double if Americans had read the internal memos about how Nixon’s Wall Street friends were using their inside knowledge of Nixon blocking the Vietnam peace talks so they could place their bets on stocks and bonds.
The image of these Wall Street supermen sitting around a table discussing how to profit off a prolonged war – while a half million American soldiers were sitting in a war zone – might have been hard for even the most ardent Ayn Rand enthusiast to stomach.
And Parry says the fiction of Nixon’s persecution sparked the right-wing attack machine that is in full blast today.
Out of all that anger emerged an American Right that believed, as an article of faith, that the Democrats and the “liberal press” had turned Nixon’s run-of-the-mill indiscretions in Watergate into a constitutional crisis to undo Nixon’s overwhelming electoral mandate of 1972.
So, over the next two decades – with Nixon in the background egging on Republican politicians – the Right built an attack machine that was designed to defend against “another Watergate” but also was available to destroy the “liberal” enemy.
From then on, whenever some major scandal threatened Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush, the right-wing attack machine would fire up and mow down anyone who got too close to the truth.
Some examples include evidence of another October Surprise dirty trick in 1980 (with Reagan’s campaign frustrating President Jimmy Carter’s efforts to free 52 American hostages in Iran), the Iran-Contra sequel (as President Reagan traded more arms to Iran for more U.S. hostages in 1985-86), the Iraq-gate scandal of secretly arming Saddam Hussein (which put President George H.W. Bush on the spot after the Persian Gulf War in 1991), or the Plame-gate affair (which involved George W. Bush’s administration leaking the identity of a covert CIA officer to get back at her husband for exposing a lie behind the Iraq War in 2003).
The way Parry sees it, the wounds left by Watergate and the Vietnam War have festered for the past generation. He blames the errors of that era for the pathology that now afflicts American politics.
He could be right, but who knows what else has gone on in the secret corridors of power during that time? Who knows why America is irrevocably divided, its policies apparently doomed by an incurable schizophrenia?
All I know is that nothing good can come of it.