Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Coldest Warrior

Note: Below this note I've posted a piece I wrote for Richmond.com in 1999; did the illustration back then, too. The reason to post it now is that some revealing quotes from John Ehrlichman have been in the news in the last week. Ehrlichman was one of President Richard Nixon's top aides who went to prison following the Watergate scandal. The following Ehrlichman quote is about Nixon's infamous War on Drugs and the real reasons for it: 

Ehrlichman: "The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

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August 9, 1999: August is usually a slow month for news, so we are spoon-fed anniversaries to contemplate: Hiroshima’s 54th; Woodstock’s 30th; it was 25 years ago that Pres. Richard M. Nixon took the fall. The entire culture shifted gears the day Nixon threw in the towel.

The brilliant strategist, the awkward sleuth, the proud father, and the coldest of warriors had left the building. August 9, 1974 was a day to hoist one for his enemies, many of whom must have enjoyed his twisting in the wind of Watergate’s storm. It was the saddest of days for his staunch supporters, whose numbers were still legion.

Either way, Richard Nixon’s departure from DeeCee left a peculiar void that no personality has since filled in anything close to the same way. For the first time since his earliest commie-baiting days, in the late-‘40s, Dick Nixon suddenly had no clout. 

Upon Nixon's departure, concern for social causes went out of style for a lot of young Americans. It was time to party. Soon what remained of the causes and accouterments of the ‘60s was packed into cardboard boxes to be tossed out, or stored in basements.

Watergate revelations killed off the Nixon administration’s chance of instituting national health insurance. On top of that, many people have forgotten that he was also rather liberal on environmental matters, at least compared to the science-doubting Republicans who have followed. Although he was a hawk, Nixon was moderate on some of the social issues.

Nixon's opening to China and efforts toward d├ętente with the Soviets are often cited as evidence of his ability to maneuver deftly in the realm of foreign affairs. No doubt, that was his main focus. Still, at the bottom line, Nixon is remembered chiefly as the president who was driven from office. And for good reason.

Nixon’s nefarious strategy for securing power divided this country like nothing since the Civil War. Due to his fear of hippies and left-wing campus movements, Nixon looked at ex-Beatle John Lennon and instead of a sarcastic musician, in his view he saw a raw power to galvanize a generation’s anti-establishment sentiments. Fearful of that imagined potential, the sneaky Nixon administration did everything it could to hound Lennon out of the country.

Nixon deliberately drove a wedge between fathers and sons. To rally support for his prosecution of the Vietnam War, he sought to expand the division between World War II era parents and their baby boomer offspring. The families that never recovered from that time's bitterness were just more collateral damage.

However, Nixon’s true legacy is that since his paranoia-driven scandal, the best young people have no longer felt drawn into public service. Since Watergate the citizens who’ve gravitated toward politics for a career have not had the intellect, the sense of purpose, or the strength of character of their predecessors. We can thank Tricky Dick for all that and more.

So weep not for the sad, crazy Nixon of August, 1974. He did far more harm to America than whatever good he intended.

Some commentators have suggested that he changed over that period, even mellowed. Don't buy it. The rest of us changed a lot more than he did. On top of that, Nixon had 20 years to come clean and clear the air. But he didn’t do it. He didn't even come close. In the two decades of his so-called “rehabilitation,” before his death in 1994, Nixon just kept on being Nixon.

So, spare me the soft-focus view of the Nixon White House years. Tricky Dick's humiliating downfall should be a lesson to us all -- he surely got what he deserved.

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Note: Reading what Ehrlichman had to say about the War on Drugs, it's still damn hard for me to summons up much forgiveness for Nixon. But given what Ehrlichman said about the platform of lies the War on Drugs rested upon, it should make us all wonder about some of the disinformation that's being promulgated today by politicians seeking ever more power. Shouldn't we be now be thinking about what long-term effect the worst of it could have on the years to come

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