Yesterday, I stumbled onto a movie I had not seen in a while, so I decided to watch it again. “Nixon” starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role was made in 1995 and directed by Oliver Stone. Hopkins had a little trouble looking the part, but he more than made up for it with his terrific version of President Richard Nixon. Joan Allen played his wife Pat Nixon and does a splendid job as well. Seeing the President’s wife role played behind the scene was illuminating as we only got to see a stoic supporter of her husband in real life.
As you watch the film, you have to remind yourself you are seeing an Oliver Stone directed version of the facts. Setting that aside, having lived through Watergate, President Nixon did authorize and cover-up some very bad things, so he resigned before he would have become the first president to be impeached. There a few moments in my life where I can remember where I was when a major event happened. Nixon’s resigning was one of those moments. I was actually attending the very first football game of the newly created World Football League. They actually broadcast his speech as the start of the game was delayed.
I have read several books about Watergate and the peripheral actions: “Blind Ambition” by former White House Counsel John Dean and “Will” by one of the Nixon ‘plumbers’ Gordon Liddy and watched three movies – “All the President’s Men” about the Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who broke the story (must see), “Blind Ambition” a mini-series starring Martin Sheen as Dean, and “Nixon.” And, like millions around the world, I watched the Watergate Senate hearings which were run by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina.
Yet, seeing “Nixon” after several years left me disturbed all over again. However, in addition to being disturbed by the crimes committed by Nixon, his Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, Dean’s predecessor and Nixon confidante John Ehrlichman, Attorney General John Mitchell and several others, I had an unfortunate illumination into contemporary politics that is disturbing. You see the legacy of Watergate lives on in certain places and we need to continue to shine a bright light on actions that are not conducive to fairness and good governance. What do I mean by this statement?
As context, Nixon is a prime example of how power can corrupt. While he did oversee some good things – passage of the Environmental Protection Agency, opening markets to China and the Soviet Union and overseeing job growth while he was president – he sold his soul to the devil to get there. He was beholden to some huge oil/ gas industry funders and the likes of J. Edgar Hoover, who was actually far worse than Leonardo DiCaprio played him in the movie “J Edgar.” Nixon was also extremely paranoid and went out of his way to squash his enemies and do one thing that eventually led to his undoing. He taped his conversations in the oval office.
Where the movie haunts me looking at today’s events through its lens are in two areas. First, the decisions made by our Supreme Court and other actions that allow wealthy donors to exorbitantly fund election campaigns with little repercussion is very alarming. When you see examples of the pressure put on Nixon and his predecessors by wealthy business interests, it shows how easily the office can be used to their advantage. This past election season we saw a group of funders literally trying to buy an election. Whether you agree or disagree with the positions of the Koch Brothers, the fact they can pony up hundreds of millions of dollars to promote a campaign goes well beyond believing in a particular cause. They are buying a center of influence and that is not right. There are several points in “Nixon” where you see an earlier version of people like the Koch Brothers telling Nixon what they wanted him to do. We must modify this type of funding for the next election process.
Second, I saw too many similarities to today’s Republican Party in this movie. I saw the moral majority being referenced in different ways as the only way to combat the liberal eastern establishment. I saw references to the religious right as the only way to defeat the demonistic protestors who did not want to fight a war where we were bombing innocent people in Cambodia and Vietnam. I saw references to the people who disagreed with his version of America as communists, which held additional importance given Nixon’s role in crucifying Alger Hiss and others before he became Vice President to Eisenhower. And, still fresh in my mind, I saw the purposeful manufacturing of evidence against people to game the election. It was so severe that one of the impeachable crimes listed was defrauding the election process in 1972.
You see Watergate was only part of the crime against Nixon. Nixon created a White House based spy agency that was called the “plumbers” so they could plug leaks to the press. They also bugged and broke into the National Democratic Party Headquarters based at the Watergate Hotel complex. But, they did more than that. Under the guidance of Jeb Magruder, they disrupted their adversaries’ campaigns. In particular, Senator Edmund Muskie was a target, as Nixon did not want to run against Muskie. He wanted to run against the more liberal Senator George McGovern. Their antics got Muskie to drop out of the race.
To me this equates to the fairly recent action of President George W. Bush to manufacture evidence (the infamous weapons of mass destruction) to lead us into an invasion of Iraq. And, to make the story complete, one of George’s men, Scooter Libby took the fall for the distortion of evidence and discrediting of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame (check out the fairly recent movie “Fair Game” starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn). Libby worked for Karl Rove, a name we all know these days. Libby’s falling on the sword ended the affair, but speculation by smarter people than me abound about further culpability.
Yet, the more troubling resemblance is the blatant manufacturing of stories and data to discredit the opposition deployed by the current Republican Party. I like to add both parties do their fair share of perfuming pigs, yet with the puppeteering of a news agency to distribute calculated messages, the GOP has this down to an art form. I left the GOP to become an Independent for three reasons – their stance on global warming, their unhealthy embrace of the evangelical right, and their higher preponderance to fabricate information. This last point is not said without due consideration as it is extremely important to my thought process. You may not agree with me, but this is how I feel.
Our country needs good dialogue around the issues using good information and not someone’s version of the facts. I see a political system that needs to change to weed out the problem areas. I agree, in part, with my friend Mrs. N who says the wealthy never had it so good in our country. We need to assure the American people they do not become the Robber Barons of the 21st century. I don’t want the “haves” gaming the system to a degree they can spread misinformation and disinformation to get what they want. I have said it several times before, given the weakness of the GOP platform and candidate they put forth as contrasted with an imperfect President who had done a better job than given credit for, this election should not have been as close as it was and the President should have won in a landslide. The monied interests made it close.
I want the GOP to return to legitimacy as our country needs them to be so. Many in our country are like me, socially liberal, but economically conservative. I want us to help people climb ladders out of poverty, but I want us to invest in them and not just give them money. In the long run, that helps no one. We need thinkers and leaders with good hearts and good heads. We do not need monied interests calling the shots telling people how to think. And, we need to squelch the legacy of Nixon and get rid of disinformation and misinformation tactics.
I will leave you with Nixon’s line which he repeated often trying to convince the American people as much as himself. “I am not a crook,” he would say. Unfortunately for us, yes you were President Nixon.