Thursday, April 23, 2009

Watergate's Lesson on Crises, Closure and Moving On

Curious Photo from the George Eastman House Collection, 1880

Gerald F. Seib has written  a piece in the Wall Street Journal today entitled Watergate's Lesson on Crises, Closure and Moving On. Instead of advocating that our country follow the rule of law, however, Mr. Seib instead seeks to join with others in our establishment media who have politicized this issue. 

In order to try to justify not following the law in the current torture issue Seib reaches back into history to point to another president who, when it came time for him to allow the rule of law to take it's course, instead chose to succumb to political considerations when he granted a pardon to President Nixon.

Mr. Seib says that history has vindicated Ford for his decision. However, in light of the fact that we now have another president who, like Nixon, thought that he too was above the law there may very well have to be some second thoughts among historians concerning the wisdom of the Ford decision.


The president's advisers insist that, though their party controls Congress, the White House doesn't really have the ability to stop lawmakers from going down that path, only the ability to influence how they might do so. The broader question is what that distraction might do to the president's agenda -- driving, as it would, even bigger wedges between the parties in Congress.

One who has dealt with that dilemma is Tom Korologos, a former U.S. ambassador who worked in the Ford White House on legislative relations. Mr. Ford, Mr. Korologos says, "smelled what could have been a horrendous Washington event" in a Nixon trial. He decided it would be better for the country to forgo that event. 

More than that, he adds, Mr. Ford concluded it would be better for his own agenda: "We were in the middle of an inflation fight. We were in the middle of a lot of international issues. It would have sucked the air out of a whole lot of goals he pursued." 

That is the danger Mr. Obama faces as well.
Below is a copy of the email that I sent to Mr. Seib last night and what I then posted on the WSJ site today:

Dear Mr. Seib,

Perhaps if President Ford had allowed a trial to go forward instead of worrying about his political agenda and worrying about comforting an establishment that wanted the status quo protected then we might not be where we are today. 

Maybe if President Bush and VP Cheney had seen a president hauled into court, just like any other citizen, then maybe they wouldn't have found it so easy to torture - maybe they would have thought twice about it.

Maybe now we need to rectify the mistake made by President Ford, in order to deter future executives from thinking that when the president does it, it's legal.

In addition, to what I told Mr. Seib in my email, Glenn Greenwald, as usual, has a spot-on piece today about how our establishment media and our politicians are inappropriately politicizing this issue

Blocking criminal investigations for political reasons is definitively corrupt -- period.  That's true whether Democrats or Republicans do it.  
Punishing politically powerful criminals is about vindicating the rule of law.  Partisan and political considerations should play no role in it.  It is opponents of investigations and prosecutions who are being driven by partisan allegiances and a desire to advance their political interests.  By contrast, proponents of investigations are seeking to vindicate the most apolitical yet crucial principle of our system of government: that we are a nation of laws that cannot allow extremely serious crimes to be swept under the rug for political reasons.  That's true no matter what is best for Obama's political goals and no matter how many Democrats end up being implicated -- ethically, politically or even legally -- by the crimes that were committed.
The Wall Street Journal piece written by Mr. Seib is sadly a perfect example of what I believe is our establishment media learning the wrong lesson from Watergate because they continue to focus more on politics and partisan allegiances, as Greenwald points out, then about vindicating the rule of law that would serve the needs of the entire country and not just the needs of a few in the establishment.

Update: Mr. Seib also has a video about his views.


  1. pmorlan, I had no problem whatsoever linking to this site from Salon's letter section.
    Independently of being in agreement with your post I like the civilized and restrained language of your piece. The facts in itself are outrageous and we don't need to hurl epithets to readers who certainly would not listen.
    Best of all I like your "curious photo". Words couldn't say more.
    Keep on the good fight!

  2. AugoKnoke, thanks for letting me know about linking to my site and thank you for posting a comment.

    I usually try to be civilized when posting, however, there are times when even I can be less than diplomatic.

    I like the photo too. I found it on the Flicker website and thought it was perfect for this post.


* If you post using the "anonymous" profile you can still include whatever name you wish to use at the end of your comment.