Nixon's tainted victory in 1968 and Reagan's in 1980 also were not inconsequential events. Neither was George W. Bush's reversal of the judgment of the American voters in 2000.
Nixon extended and expanded the Vietnam War for four additional years at the cost of a vast loss of human life there and profound social upheaval at home.
In the 1980s, Reagan lurched the United States off on a path that three decades later has gone a long way toward gutting the American middle class, delaying progress on alternative energy, and saddling the nation with an unsustainable debt. Reagan also made foreign policy decisions that permitted Pakistan to develop a nuclear bomb and strengthened the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as a supposed counterweight to communism.
Bush's theft of the White House in 2000 guaranteed that the American people would have no reasonable route back from Reagan's dead-end. The plight of the middle class worsened, action on climate change was forestalled, the debt deepened all while the threat from Islamic fundamentalism was intensified by Bush's authorization of torture, aggressive war and other abuses.
When the Bush-43 era finally ended in 2009, President Barack Obama again listened to the Democratic "wise men" and chose to "look forward, not backward" on Republican crimes. By doing so, Obama reinforced the dangerous pattern that has been the unacknowledged political history of the United States since 1968.
It has been the kind of false history that requires the investigative gymnastics that were on display with the alibis that cleared the Reagan campaign of the 1980 October Surprise case:
Writing down a person's home phone number "proves" he's at home; a relative conjuring up an uncorroborated memory of another phone call must be deemed "credible"; identifying an alibi witness but then barring investigators from questioning the witness isn't suspicious.
Lawrence Barcella, who was the chief counsel to the congressional October Surprise investigation, has accused me of "cherry-picking" in noting the absurdity of these and other alibis, though they were at the heart of his debunking report. But Barcella has refused to "get into a point by point" defense of the alibis, either.
Barcella also has acknowledged that so much evidence of Republican guilt arrived late in his investigation that he believed that a three-month extension was needed to evaluate the new material. He told me that he recommended this extension to the investigation's chairman, Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, but Hamilton chose not to seek the extra time from a new Congress in 1993.
"I told you that Lee was sympathetic to my request to ask for an add'l 3 months, but felt it was quite unrealistic given a new Congress and new President [Bill Clinton]," Barcella wrote in an e-mail on July 30, 2010. "One of the most honest, straight shooters in Congress [Hamilton] told me we wouldn't be able to get a re-authorization."
So, instead of fighting for a reauthorization, the Hamilton-led investigation simply wrapped up its business without tying down its loose ends.
The alibis, especially those for Reagan's campaign chief William Casey and then-vice presidential candidate George H.W. Bush, became key pillars in the debunking. (In recent interviews, Hamilton has denied that Barcella asked him for a three-month extension of the investigation.)
Still, the political expediency reflected in not pushing the Republicans to extend the October Surprise inquiry (and similar decisions made by President Clinton not to release key documents regarding the Iran-Contra, Iraq-gate and contra-cocaine scandals) allowed the Republicans to craft their own history of the era, elevating Reagan to an iconic stature and salvaging the Bush Family legacy.
The price that the United States has paid for this neglectful approach toward an accurate writing of the nation's recent history has been extraordinarily high and continues. This November, Tea Party Republicans will invoke Reagan's memory in pushing their anti-government message, and next year, a major national celebration will be held on the 100th anniversary of Reagan's birth.
The wacky October Surprise "alibis" also remind us that not all Americans are equal. Some are so powerful and important that if they ever find themselves in a tight pinch, they can expect an "investigation" to turn logic on its head to establish their "innocence."
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