Most people old enough to remember the intricate details of the Watergate scandal are rapidly approaching geezerhood, if they aren’t established geezers already. (If you were an adult when Nixon resigned, you’re over 50 now.) So readers of Unsilent Generation may be interested in a story posted recently by my colleague at Mother Jones, David Corn.
It seems that a former NSA staffer and amateur historian thinks he has found a way to recover some of the infamous 18-minute gap in the Watergate tapes, in which the president and his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, discuss the recent break-in by their team of dirty tricksters at the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate offices. This gap was discovered when Nixon finally released the tapes, after resisting for months (and firing half of his own Justice Department over the issue in the Saturday Night Massacre). Nixon’s loyal secretary, Rose Mary Woods, later said that she had inadvertantly erased part of the tape by stepping on a pedal while she reached over to answer the phone–a move so unwieldy and implausible that it came to be know as the “Rose Mary Stretch.”
All this cloak-and-daggering in the Oval Office might seem pretty amusing, 35 years after Nixon boarded his plane back to San Clemente–if only history hadn’t repeated itself so many times. There’s a reason why the recent film Frost/Nixon wasn’t seen as simply an overblown tale of two has-beens trying to redeem themselves. When Nixon says, in one of his interviews, “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,” he could be expressing the credo of the Bush/Cheney White House. In fact, some of Tricky Dick Cheney’s sinister machinations make Watergate look tame by comparison: Nixon, after all, was mostly just trying to get re-elected, not toss out the Constitution and take over the world.
Things may have gotten better since January 20, 2009. But as John Nichols pointed out in the Nation last week, we’re still a long, long way from the executive branch transparency Obama promised in his campaign. In particular, the Obama White House’s clandestine deals with Big Pharma and other health care industry representatives are starting to sound a lot like Dick Cheney’s secret sessions with oil companies to set energy policy–maybe not quite as bad, but bad enough. And as Nichols puts it, “bad-but-not-quite-Cheney-bad is an unacceptable standard.”