Friday, August 15, 2008

Watergate Whiners

Scientists claim addictive behaviors are caused by deficiencies in the pleasure centers of the brain. Though my sub-par marks in high school chemistry have forever branded me really bad science guy, I can cautiously assume that folks much wiser than I have determined that deficiencies in the pleasure centers (stop giggling) differ from your garden variety cases of clinical depression. This means, after careful analysis by really bad science guy, that there is a certain cause and effect to the phenomenon known as the addictive personality. Clinically depressed Bob just can't motivate himself to get out of bed and plant some roses. Addictive personality Bill has no problems planting the roses, but feels it just isn't the same without a pint of vodka and a bottle of Vicodin. Fair enough.

...And so, the 34th anniversary coverage of Watergate began (If you're wondering where I'm going with this, that makes two of us).

34 years ago, a politician lied. No kidding, this actually happened. A member of this elite group of morally unflappable guardians of civic virtue actually stood in front of the naive, doe-eyed masses and said something that wasn't exactly the truth. Apparently, if very important pundits with really great teeth are to be believed, this was the darkest day in American History; 57% of Americans agree, though only 14% admit to actually knowing anything about it. It's a very dark and important day because those who made their careers on it say so. Without the myth of Watergate, there would be no bubble gum news outfits like CNN, no Geraldo Rivieras, no 60 Minutes, and certainly no sitcoms about spunky female reporters who stick it to the patriarchy.

Watergate anniversaries are always difficult times to remain sober for anyone who doesn't eat things off the floors of public washrooms. Watergate is the most overblown scandal since Bob Dole popped Viagra to celebrate his 70th birthday. The media suffers from an acute case of addictive punditry. Not content to lie in bed in a state of lethargic contemplation, they want to party until last call, or until it's time to put Bob Woodward back into cryogenic stasis. The pleasure center of their collective brain is malfunctioning, and only hour-long documentaries about the day we lost our innocence will cure them.

To buy into the traditional media version of Watergate, one must first suspend all rational thought and believe two rather astounding assertions:

1) Before Watergate, Americans trusted their Government and its institutions.

Please. This must be the only day in history where the media forgets the 60's ever happened. Remember the 60's? You know, hippies, massive protests, taking it to the streets, don't trust anyone over 30? A movement that was sparked by mass disenfranchisement with government? The Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in American history, was a direct result of vehement dissatisfaction over the policies of the Lincoln Administration. Mistrust in government was a staple of American culture long before Nixon famously waved the V-sign from the open door of Air Force One. From Hollywood's flirtation with communism to the divisive fight for racial equality in the 60's, Americans have never been fond of Government.

2) Watergate was the gravest abuse of power in American history.

I wonder how much media attention will be given this month to the 64th anniversary of the day FDR completed the unlawful round up and detainment 120,000 Japanese-American citizens from the Pacific Coast? How about when Bobby Kennedy, the Patron Saint of American civil rights, bugged the offices of Martin Luther King Jr. (Ironically, this also required a group of fellows to break into an office in the dead of night)?

Despite the litany of allegations damning Nixon, only one small piece of evidence ties Nixon to the Watergate cover-up - a recording of Nixon brainstorming with Chief-of-Staff H. R. Haldeman in the wake of the arrest of the Watergate burglars. In the scratchy recording, Nixon advises Haldeman to have Deputy CIA Director Vernon Walters call FBI Director Pat Gray and request: ''We wish, for the good of the country, (that you) don't look any further into this case."

For all the talk of extortion, bribery, and strong-arm FBI tactics, that one statement is the evidentiary extent of Nixon's culpability.

Yet, on go the Watergate anniversary festivities, set to the endless drum beat of somber editorials dripping with inane metaphors. Nixon is hardly history's worst villain, though Watergate will forever be the epitaph of his legacy. He was a pensive bureaucrat, with a penchant for big government solutions at the slightest hint of a problem. He was plagued by insecurity, despite his astonishing intellect, and the role of president hung ill on his shoulders. He is fondly remembered by his staff for his graciousness and warmth. He knew the name of every cook and chauffeur, and was generous with his time and money to their families. He was a consummate author, penning over 2 dozen books and hundreds of articles in his lifetime. Every president from Reagan to Clinton sought out his advice in the midst of their most dire foreign policy crises.

But what does it matter? Every August 9th is Nixon bashing day. I'm staying home from the party - call me in the morning.


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