(A Special Report)
April 25, 2009
In recent years, the Washington political dynamic has often resembled an abusive marriage, in which the bullying husband (the Republicans) slaps the wife and kids around, and the battered wife (the Democrats) makes excuses and hides the ugly bruises from outsiders to keep the family together.
So, when the Republicans are in a position of power, they throw their weight around, break the rules, and taunt: "Whaddya gonna do "bout it?"
Then, when the Republicans do the political equivalent of passing out on the couch, the Democrats use their time in control, tiptoeing around, tidying up the house and cringing at every angry grunt from the snoring figure on the couch.
This pattern, which now appears to be repeating itself with President Barack Obama's unwillingness to hold ex-President George W. Bush and his subordinates accountable for a host of crimes including torture, may have had its origins 40 years ago in Campaign 1968 when the Vietnam War was raging.
President Lyndon Johnson felt he was on the verge of achieving a negotiated peace settlement when he learned in late October 1968 that operatives working for Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon were secretly sabotaging the Paris peace talks.
Nixon, who was getting classified briefings on the talks' progress, feared that an imminent peace accord might catapult Vice President Hubert Humphrey to victory. So, Nixon's team sent secret messages to South Vietnamese leaders offering them a better deal if they boycotted Johnson's talks and helped Nixon to victory, which they agreed to do.
Johnson learned about Nixon's gambit through wiretaps of the South Vietnamese embassy and he confronted Nixon by phone (only to get an unconvincing denial). At that point, Johnson knew his only hope was to expose Nixon's maneuver which Johnson called "treason" since it endangered the lives of a half million American soldiers in the war zone.
As a Christian Science Monitor reporter sniffed out the story and sought confirmation, Johnson consulted Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Defense Secretary Clark Clifford about whether to expose Nixon's ploy right before the election. Both Rusk and Clifford urged Johnson to stay silent.
In what would become a Democratic refrain in the years ahead, Clifford said in a Nov. 4, 1968, conference call that "Some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I'm wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have a certain individual [Nixon] elected. It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country's interests."
So, Johnson stayed silent "for the good of the country"; Nixon eked out a narrow victory over Humphrey; the Vietnam War continued for another four years with an additional 20,763 U.S. dead and 111,230 wounded and more than a million more Vietnamese killed.
Over the years, as bits and pieces of this story have dribbled out--including confirmation from audiotapes released by the LBJ Library in December 2008--the Democrats and the mainstream news media have never made much out of Nixon's deadly treachery. [See Consortiumnews.com's "The Significance of Nixon's Treason."]
The Watergate Exception
The one exception to this pattern of the Democrats' "battered wife syndrome"- may have been the Watergate case in which Nixon sought to secure his second term, in part, by spying on his political rivals, including putting bugs on phones at the Democratic National Committee.
When Nixon's team was caught in a second break-in--trying to add more bugs--the scandal erupted.
Even then, however, key Democrats, such as Democratic National Chairman Robert Strauss, tried to shut down the Watergate investigation as it was expanding early in Nixon's second term. Strauss argued that the inquiries would hurt the country, but enough other Democrats and an energized Washington press corps overcame the resistance. [For details, see Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]