There are few things that will shock me anymore in present day politics. There are even fewer that will shock me from history.
But yet I sit slack jawed as I pour over this NBC News exclusive report about Watergate. A memo written by one of the prosecuting attorney’s during Watergate accused the Nixon White House, and specifically Chuck Colson, Nixon’s Special Counsel, of some very disturbing allegations. The perpetrators were going to physically assault anti-Vietnam protestors, including Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.
Nixon was enraged by the leak of the Pentagon Papers, which destroyed the official government story on why engagement in Vietnam was necessary and outlined a series of lies by the Johnson administration to justify an escalation. It hurt the justification for Nixon and Kissenger’s war crime activities in Laos and Cambodia, the after effects of which are still being felt to this day. To discredit Ellsberg, he had, among other things, a team of his “plumbers” (a secret unit assembled to execute his infamous “dirty tricks”) break into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to obtain his medical records.
Watergate wasn’t just a break in operation that went awry, it was a massive conspiracy to utilize dirty tricks and democratic institutions in illegal ways to rig the levers of power for a disturbed maniac (the late, great Hunter S. Thompson states this far more articulately and eloquently than I ever could). It resulted in over 60 indictments, including more than 45 guilty pleas from top Nixon officials. It was a national shame, an international embarrassment and fitting of the behavior of someone who deployed the Southern Strategy.
My grandfather was extremely honest, non-judgmental and open to new political ideas, rare for someone who spent the majority of their life inside the beltway. And even he couldn’t contain his utter disgust and complete contempt for Nixon, Kissinger, Mitchell, Colson, Liddy and the rest of the syndicate that occupied the White House during that time.
Watergate was a massive scandal. But it looks tiny in comparison to the yuge one we are dealing with now.