Nixon-Bush Continuities
Wed Jan 3, 2007 16:44

Nixon-Bush Continuities
by margieburns on Wed 03 Jan 2007 09:15 AM EST

Two books are particularly valuable resources on the Nixon presidency and Watergate. One is a little paperback, newspaperman Jimmy Breslin’s How the Good Guys Finally Won (1975). The other is a copious hardback, The Haldeman Diaries (1994), that reinforces with depth, detail and context everything condensed by Breslin. Haldeman himself worked on the diaries for publication, to his credit, although they were published shortly after his death, and they are a massive gift to historians.

The books are core references on the Nixon years. But they also anticipate the worst of the current administration. Every tactic, strategy, and policy implemented in the George W. Bush years and characterized as “Rovian” can be found in earlier form in the diary entries. Only the names have changed, and sometimes not even the names. The important benefit in reading this work, in other words, is to learn more about the present.

Here are representative diary entries, with continuities from Nixon to Bush briefly sketched and bulleted.

Thursday, March 5, 1970:

“In the [John] Connally meeting, P [president] outlined his whole line of thinkabout delegation, etc., much to Connally’s approval. Connally made point P must be totally ruthless inside the Oval Office, but firm and human outside. Also said he should not pay any price to mollify Cabinet members. Should be tough with them, and let them go if they don’t like it.”

* Subordinating Cabinet-level policy to narrowly political policies
* Subordinating Cabinet members to political advisors
* Ousting any Cabinet member who differed from White House policy

Monday, March 9, 1970:

“We got back into the Laos flap which, in K’s [Henry Kissinger] absence, took an enormous amount of P’s time.

Problem arose because of discrepancies in terms and in numbers of men killed over the years. K had given out more specific information than he should have in the briefing Friday, and then had guided the press group in giving out some more on Sunday. Turned out today it was inaccurate. So poor Ziegler [press secretary] had to explain, in two long involved briefings.”

* Issue of life and death, international law, seen as PR topic (“Laos flap”)
* Inaccurate statements issued by Secretary of State
* Inaccuracies on issue of life and death (“numbers of men killed”) addressed as PR problem
* Women, children, civilians omitted from death tally

Wednesday, March 31, 1971:

“The Democratic Caucus had their vote this morning on the question of pulling troops out of Vietnam. They got a reasonably good compromise through, and on the basis of that we had long discussions about how to handle a reaction and decided that our position should be that we were very pleased that they’re supporting the goal of the P to end the war and get our prisoners released as soon as possible. It did avoid stating a specific time certain, and our particular victory was that they didn’t put in a date of the end of 1971.”

* Issue of war addressed only as PR topic
* Issue of war addressed like political campaign
* As with Iraq war, Vietnam war pull-out delayed as long as possible for no discernible reason or purpose having to do with the national interest

Tuesday, February 8, 1972:

“We had considerable discussion on and off during the day on the whole Vietnam question, as stirred up by my speech, as the reaction starts building up. P feels that the Democrats really have a problem on Vietnam, because they’ve got to decide where to put themselves. The point now that we’ve got to make is that they’re postponing the peace.”

* One advantage in prolonging Vietnam carnage is keeping Dems divided
* Human divisions on the war seen purely as political advantage
* I look forward with interest to the upcoming State of the Union speech (“postponing the peace” coming?)

Monday, June 19, 1972:

“The P [president] . . . reported that he had a long talk with Billy Graham. Graham has a line to [George] Wallace through Mrs. Wallace, who has become a Christian. Billy will talk to Wallace whenever we want him to. The P feels our strategy must be to keep Wallace in the Democratic Party and Billy can help us on that. So immediately after the Democratic Convention, I’m supposed to call Graham and Graham should put the pressure on Wallace to decide whether he’s going to be used as a spoiler, which would surely elect McGovern. Main key for us is to keep this a two-way race. We talked to [Attorney General John] Mitchell about who’s going to talk to Wallace and how we’re going to handle what his price is.”

* direct interference in other party’s internal party politics
* Use of Cabinet officer for purely partisan job
* Manipulation of third-party candidate to harm other party
* Direct use of material inducement (“price”)
* Use of religion for purely partisan gain

To be continued . . . 

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