Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Secret Messes of Yesteryear: Nixon Tricks Pre-Watergate

Gosh, it's forty years ago since Nixon resigned the presidency.  That was closer in time to the end of WWII than it is to us.  

I almost nailed Nixon four years before he resigned. Therefore it seems even longer ago that the perpetually ill-shaven Nixon strode up the steps of that plane and then turned to face us, raised his arms, flashed his phony smile and gave the V-shaped peace sign with both hands as a final gesture.  He's the only man who could give the finger with two of them, four if you count both hands. 

It was his signature gesture, going all the way back to his first dirty trick, the beginning of Watergate before there was Watergate.  In 1970 he came to San Jose, California, quite near where I lived and where I was active in Democratic politics. He was there to campaign for a failing GOP senator, movie tap dancer George Murphy, challenged by John Tunney, son of the great prizefighter.  California had just invented the weird candidate thing and was having a lot of fun.  

But Nixon wasn't there for fun.  He was there to start a riot.

To that end he left the auditorium where he had spoken, climbed on a car, and did the double-wave double-finger.  To flash a pseudo-peace sign at the crowd facing the car was to invite a riot indeed.  In the crowd were a brown-shirted (I'm not kidding) torch-carrying, wildly anti-war and anti-Nixon contingent.  They were the cadres summoned to the site by a pair of Stanford U's avowedly Communist professors.  Earlier that day I'd asked the wife prof of the Communist couple what their goal was. "To overthrow the government and introduce anarchy."  Well, at least they had a clear goal, though not particularly Communistic.  "We want to egg the government into over-reacting with violence so people get rid of government."  A goal and a plan.

So there were two agendas running that night, both with the same idea. Nixon wants a riot because he wants to blame the "anti-war Democrats" and so do the only avowed Communists I've ever encountered.  (Communists particularly hate liberals because we stand in the way of their extremism.)  But the Communist couple and Nixon didn't get their riot. There were other people in that parking lot, the ones I'd brought who were just angry at high unemployment and the war but definitely not interested in a riot. I also now suspect that the Stanford profs had cut a deal with Nixon:  Let us alone when our guys show up virtually jack-booted and we will be the backdrop for what doesn't really happen, for what you pull off as a fake riot. 

Of course, the foregoing presumes some sort of conspiracy against the Democrats but what else did the Communists and Nixonists do but conspire?  Even we paranoids have real enemies.

To guarantee that Nixon got the riot he wanted, Nixon's people had a group standing on a traffic island with stones and boards in hand.  After Nixon got off the car and drove past, this group let loose on the press bus following Nixon. Nothing else happened.  That was it.  A modest attack on a press bus.  It was enough, however, to dupe a lot of the Washington press corps into writing about Nixon's "riot". And at the airport, Nixon's people proudly showed off some "dents" created by stones thrown at Nixon's vehicle. I subsequently found the San Jose firemen who had washed the vehicle on its arrival in San Jose, and they said the dents were already there. We all know that firemen don't lie, even if presidents do.

Nor do some cops.  Two of them got hold of an attorney friend of mine and told him that the White House advance had met with the police and said, "There will be a hot time in the old town tonight.  No matter what happens, don't try to stop it." The two cops were pissed at being put in harm's way for a political agenda. 

But their story and that of the firemen never got public. These guys were scared and wanted the protection of a Congressman.  GOP Rep. Pete McCloskey got wind of it and stepped forward to be that Congressman, with me as the go-between.  Only he didn't really step forward with both feet.  He put the informants off and put them off until they got disgusted and walked away.  I was never so disappointed and angry in my life.  The fate of the nation was in the hands of a scheming ruthless crook, but hypocrite Pete McCloskey, the Republican pride of the intellectual anti-war Democrats, sells out the country just to gain points with the Nixon wing of the GOP, which loathed him and was always trying to unseat him in primaries.  

With the help of a KQED-TV reporter, I got the Washington Post and some other reporters to raise questions about the authenticity of the "San Jose Riot", and the Democrats took the  GOP tap dancer's Senate seat and did well elsewhere on election day. 

Nixon then went on to Watergate, the Daniel Ellsberg burglary, the IRS auditing of Nixon's "enemies", the bribing of the burglars, the "deep-sixing" of evidence by the head of the FBI, fraudulent post-dating of Nixon's tax returns, etc. etc. etc.  He looked out at the American public on TV and solemnly said, "I am not a crook."  No, he was a lot worse.

Well, it was probably all for the best that Nixon slipped though my fingers in 1970.  We Democrats all had a peachy good time later with Watergate. A couple of good young reporters got a good book out of it.  And we got a good movie out of it too. 

I don't like to think of the additional GIs and Vietnamese who died because Nixon didn't get caught earlier.  That's the part that really is enraging.  But I had tried.  I really had.  Even when the FBI began calling me and following me, I didn't stop trying. 

So, yes, this is a very happy fortieth anniversary for me, the downfall of Richard Nixon.   

I wonder if it is too for those firemen and the two cops.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Obama: The Right Man for These Troubled Times

Some well-meaning folks are bemoaning the fact that all hell seems to be breaking loose on Obama's watch.  "Poor man," they say, "he just can't catch a break.  All this trouble and his hair getting so gray."

Stop it.  This is exactly the time for Obama to be where he is and doing what he does so well.  Namely, keeping a cool head.  Yes, a lot of stuff is happening, from Putin acting badly to ISIS starving 40,000 people on a mountaintop.  But Barack Obama was made for bad times such as these.  He figures out what to do, calmly and thoroughly.  He's not always exactly right but he's always in the ballpark.  He's never on the moon side like GW was about invading Iraq or Clinton was about Rwanda and about not killing Bin Laden when the monster was in his sites and hadn't yet done 9/11.

Obama is doing just fine in a world that is still working its way out of the aftermath of WWI.  Indeed, it's ironically suitable that all this bad stuff is happening on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that senseless and stupid war.  From that war sprang Communist Russia and Putin.  From that war came the Europeans carving up the former Ottoman/Turkish empire without regard to tribes but only with regard to what was most advantageous economically for the Big Powers that would now control those Muslim "nations".  Go see "Lawrence of Arabia" again.  Yesterday explains today, and art explains them both.

If you perceive the Middle East and some other troubled places as in a process of evolving, then the current troubles seem endurable.  I say "endurable" advisedly.  We had almost 200 years to evolve from our earliest beginnings as collection of colonies in the early 1600s to a viable democratic country by almost 1800, and even after viability we had a horrible Civil War. The Middle East has had only a fraction of the time we had.  And look how slowly India has gone even though it had the advantage of a lot of self-governing under Britain and training by the Brits of cadres of native bureaucrats.  We mustn't get sucked into the GW Bush silliness of expecting overnight nation-building.  Outsiders don't build a nation.  The people of a land decide to do it and then they get on with the job.  That's why Obama got us out of Iraq.  We have to get out of people's way.  They sometimes keep killing each other until they decide to stop.  To make them stop earlier than that, there has to be a "strong man".  You want to put those guys back in charge?

This nation-building thing can be very messy.  Ours sure was.  We get a sanitized version of it in our "history", mainly several dozen good-natured but passionate wigged "fathers" battling over the wording of the Constitution.  We forget that the first "Articles of Confderation" hadn't work out and we had to scrap that whole first damn effort.

We also conveniently forget that almost half our people had to run for their lives.  They were the forty per cent who had remained loyal to King George.  Fleeing to Canada, they lost everything.  Some never made it to Canada. We caught them and killed them after first tarring and feathering them. It was as brutal as almost everything ISIS is now doing to its rivals.

We also wreaked vengeance on the Native American tribes which had sided with the British.  We burned their orchards and fields of corn to guarantee their starvation and, not completely satisfied with that, we also slaughtered their women and children when we found them.  The blacks also suffered.  The English had promised freedom to any slaves who fought against us rebels. Some blacks took them up on it and then watched the English sail away after surrendering.  You can imagine what happened to those blacks.

So the birth of America was as bloody as births usually are.  But the idea of people governing themselves and settling their internal disputes peacefully has endured that bloody birth.  The idea lives, even now when we Americans are not living up to it very well.  Hopefully we will pull our socks up and start acting like Americans again soon.  Hopefully the people everywhere who now are free of the Europeans' control will make their way forward to that remarkable dream we created and take so for granted.

Obama is said to take the long view.  Well, my darlings, in nation building, it is not just his view.  It's the way things actually work.

Obama, the realist, isn't worried about how he looks right now. He's worried abut those 40,000 people on that mountaintop. Though he often takes the long view, sometimes he takes the immediate view and this is one of those times.  Time is running out to save those people by air drops of food and water.

Yes, Mr. President, save those people.  And let's hope that over time the new Muslim nations will save themselves.  Like we finally did.  Sort of.