The recent election results in Wisconsin show that Nixon's techniques still work, just as they did for Nixon in 1968, 1972, and his earlier elections. Any time you see a conservative candidate making -- and continuing to make -- outrageous claims about their opponent, you can thank Richard Nixon, who used that technique much more effectively than his friend, Sen. Joe McCarthy. Such claims, even after they've been debunked, keep press and voter attention off the real issues, and away from the record (and often unsavory connections) of the person making the outrageous claims.
For Nixon, it was often all about money and power, and he knew that the candidate with an overwhelming funding advantage usually wins. To Nixon, taking money from the Mafia was no different from taking huge sums -- legal and illegal -- from business tycoons, large corporations, and even foreign governments. The parallels with today are all too obvious.
Nixon's extensive use of "dirty tricks" documented in the book were brought to mind by the mysterious "robo calls" in Wisconsin, and the attempts to limit college student voting there, as well as the growing cottage industry of disruptive techniques applied to progressive and Democratic candidates.
Nixon was reelected by a large margin in November 1972, almost five months after Watergate first hit the headlines, and the scandal was not a factor at all in that election. In the same way, the investigation of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's "former staff and associates" for "allegations of campaign finance malfeasance, embezzlement of veterans funds, bid-rigging" and other crimes -- as reported by The Huffington Post on June 3 -- was not a factor in the recent election, in part, because it simply wasn't widely reported.
Just as in 1972, in 2012 the mainstream media is overwhelmingly pro-Republican -- even as Republicans make it sound like they're the underdogs fighting a huge liberal media. Nixon pioneered that technique, and even after Watergate, Nixon was endorsed by ten times the number of newspapers that endorsed his opponent, Senator George McGovern.
In 1972, only a few media outlets -- including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Newsday, the Los Angeles Times, CBS, and Time -- really focused on Watergate, while the vast majority of the news media ignored it or accepted Nixon's spin. The book shows that Nixon had what he called "the 10,000," which were the journalists and outlets he could always count on for favorable coverage. The PR effort that Nixon had to run out of the White House is now handled by the large conservative propaganda mills, who churn out a constant stream of anti-progressive rhetoric which is spread across America's public airwaves every day.
It also became obvious to me while reading the book that Nixon was constantly playing not checkers but chess against his Democratic and liberal opponents. Nixon was often thinking two or three moves ahead, knowing he could count on progressives to react in certain ways to his pronouncements (or those of his surrogates), and framing issues so as to distract -- and ultimately divide -- those opposed to his policies. In the same way, the right often seems to have the upper hand in framing issues today, in ways that suppress progressive voter turn out.
As the book shows, Nixon came to power using Congressional hearings, access to secret intelligence, and leaks to the press, and he would be proud of the current "Fast and Furious" hearings in the House. Those hearings and demands appear to have been timed so that President Obama would be forced to assert Executive Privilege the week of the Watergate anniversary, and Republicans spent last week trying to draw parallels between the two events.
There is so much more in the book that is important for the 2012 elections, as well as for the history of Watergate, including incredible revelations about Deep Throat and other Watergate matters. (Did you know that Nixon knew four months after Watergate that Associate FBI Director Mark Felt was leaking information to a Washington Post reporter? Or, that Felt was named as Deep Throat in the press two months before Nixon resigned?) Author Lamar Waldron has been researching Watergate: The Hidden History since 1990, and I helped him with much of his research through 1995.
More information about the book is available at watergatethehiddenhistory.com and you can see my interview with Waldron and at Conversations with Great Minds.
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