From Frank Rich’s NYT review of Rick Perlstein’s Invisible Bridge, about the conservative movement following Nixon’s resignation:
Once Nixon did make way for Ford, the bipartisan rapture in Washington was off the charts. Of 81 articles in The Times on the day Ford was sworn in, Perlstein writes, two-thirds “resounded with the very same theme: The resignation proved no American was above the law, that the system worked, that the nation was united and at peace with itself.” The new president was hailed universally as “dependable, solid, uncontroversial — just like the cars Ford built.” But as Perlstein adds, “wasn’t it also the case to partisans of Chevrolets, Fords were controversial indeed? And that Americans, being Americans, had always found things to passionately disagree about, to the point of violent rage — and that when American elites reached most insistently for talismans of national unity, it usually portended further civil wars?” So it was with the euphoric celebration of national unity that greeted Ford’s swearing in: The moment he pardoned Nixon a month later, the country’s civil war resumed just where it had left off. Even the false honeymoon of reconciliation that greeted the election of America’s first black president lasted a little longer than that.
The shorthand version of Nixon’s pardon is that the nation needed to move on, our long national nightmare is finally over, etc. Rich’s counter-gloss suggests that the nation was perfectly capable of moving on with its long national nightmare becoming a specific penal one for Nixon — and that when it didn’t, the specter of Nixon’s individual corruption was revealed, permanently, as the structural corruption of American politics.
Incidentally, “the system worked” is becoming an increasingly common response to the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse, in which two rounds of (insufficient) stimulus were passed in a hurry and a wide array of automatic stabilizers kicked in to keep the economy from flying off a cliff, basically as they were intended to do. The dying economy got a huge shot of Keynesian policies, and they worked exactly as Keynes said they would.
I think this is correct, but it bumps right up against the lack of jailed bankers. The above reading of Nixon’s pardon suggests that “the system worked” extends exactly as far as accountability is apportioned out; to the extent that the corruption that led to the catalyzing event is allowed to continue, the system isn’t working — or, in fact, it’s working in conjunction with the original crimes, preserving the conditions that produced them in the first place. John Dean and the rare trader wearing prison stripes isn’t the system working.
Historical anecdote of the day, summarized from Geoffrey Kabaservice’s highly-recommended Rule and Ruin:
Donald Rumsfeld began his career as a moderate, reform-minded congressman, during which he made friends with a liberal anti-war Democrat named Allard Lowenstein. The two were so close that when Lowenstein’s GOP opponent in the 1970 election started red-baiting him, Rumsfeld came to his defense—a rare moment of party-crossing, even then. The local Republican Party complained to the Nixon administration, which ordered Rumsfeld to fall in line and denounce Lowenstein, leaving our hero with a dilemma: stand up for his friend, or throw him under the bus for the party.
He chose the latter. Lowenstein never spoke to Rumfeld again, and Robert Novak said the candidate was more shattered by the betrayal than by losing the election. Quoting Kabaservice: “Rumsfeld would go on to be one of the most durable and accomplished Republicans of his generation, but at the price of becoming one of Nixon’s tough men of the center, unencumbered by excessive human sentiment.” That’s one way to put it, I guess.
The historical what-ifs embedded in this paragraph are boggling:
In 1966, when he was elected to run the players’ union, Miller was in some ways too big for the job. An economist and leader in the United Steelworkers union, he had met and directly negotiated with American presidents and been offered both a visiting professorship at Harvard and work directing a long-term study for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Baseball, by contrast, was a backwater. The players were so naïve that he had to explain to them at an early meeting that they were being screwed over because their pensions didn’t have any mechanisms to adjust for inflation. He also warned his soon-to-be constituency that Richard Nixon, a rival for the job, probably had political ambitions beyond heading their union. (Later, he was able to gloat. “I was glad to see he had managed to find work after losing out on the Players Association job,” he wrote of meeting President Nixon in 1969.)
Nixon did have those ambitions, and because he didn’t get the job he was free to pursue them, no? Can anyone imagine what baseball would be like right now if Nixon had gotten his fangs into it in 1966? More important, wouldn’t the 300 million non-baseball players of this nation be a lot better off if he had? I dunno about you, but I’d gladly forego free agency if it meant the southern strategy had never been invented and implemented, wouldn’t you?
Mitch McConnell, from a Dahlia Lithwick article about the DISCLOSE law:
This amounts to nothing more than member and donor harassment and intimidation, and it’s all part of a broader government-led intimidation effort by this administration. There are parallel efforts at the FCC, SEC, IRS, DoJ, and the White House itself to silence its critics. The creation of a modern day Nixonian enemies list is currently in full swing and, frankly, the American people should not stand for it. As I’ve said before, no individual or group in this country should have to face harassment or intimidation, or incur crippling expenses defending themselves again their own government, simply because that government doesn’t like the message they’re advocating.
Nixonian! The Obama administration is bad because…it’s acting too much like a former Republican administration. How long before Republicans accuse some future Democratic president of seizing too much executive power by calling him “Bushlike?” (via Slate)