Notes on Democracy
1. Watergate & Democracy
Over the weekend the Blast focused on the attempted parallels between the President’s firing of James Comey and Nixon’s famous “Saturday Night Massacre.” What was not discussed and needs attention is what is/was at the heart of both of these Special Counsel investigations --- FIXING a Presidential election! Yes, the whole Watergate scandal, at its heart, was about the Nixon administration making sure they would win the 1972 election. This is a seldom, if ever, discussed facet of the scandal, as the bribery of witnesses and the cover up led by the President and his closest advisors tried to make the scandal go away. If you go back and examine the history, however, you will discover that the zealous Nixon team of “dirty tricksters” was busy working long before the arrests at the Watergate complex.
Nixon’s foremost Democratic opponent, going into the New Hampshire primary in February 1972, was Edmund Muskie, the Senator from Maine. Muskie had been Hubert Humphries running mate in the 1968 loss to Nixon and an early Gallup poll (August 1971) showed him running ahead of Nixon. Keep in mind, Nixon’s first term was no cakewalk. The Vietnam War had consumed much of the Presidency and his secret mining of Haiphong Harbor and secret bombing of Cambodia were not playing well with the American public. Wanting to run against the Democrat with the least possibility of winning the election, Nixon’s team went to work. Shortly before the 1972 New Hampshire primary Muskie had to defend himself against “the Canuck letter” which had been published by William Loeb in the Manchester Union Leader, New Hampshire’s leading newspaper. The letter, purportedly from a Florida man who had conversed with Muskie when he was campaigning there, defamed U.S. citizens of French-Canadian extraction (a sizable number of New Hampshirites). This was followed by an attack on Muskie’s wife’s (Loeb editorialized she liked to drink and tell jokes) and resulted in Muskie standing out in a light snowfall and breaking down (“crying” as it was reported) in his own defense, and defense of his wife’s honor.
Woodward and Bernstein later uncovered that the “Canuck Letter” was penned by Nixon staffers and were intended to reverse Muskie’s momentum --- which it did. In the end, Nixon ran against the candidate he knew he could defeat, the South Dakotan Senator George McGovern. Winning in a landslide, Nixon believed his troubles (i.e., Watergate) were behind him but, of course, they weren’t. But let’s remember what was at the heart of the Watergate scandal: an attempt to fix the 1972 Presidential election. And let’s not forget that this entire Trump brouhaha is about Russia interfering with a Presidential election --- something the Distracted-in-Chief has yet to even mention in all his narcissistic Tweeting.
2. Julius Caesar & Democracy
Well, the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar in Central Park, NYC, ended it’s run last night, with several alt-right protesters disrupting the performance calling the actors “Nazis” and comparing them to “Goebbels.” What is striking about these protests is the sheer ignorance behind them. If they actually knew their Shakespeare they would realize that Caesar’s assassination leads to the decline of Rome and, by the play’s end, is seen for the heinous and misbegotten act it was. The alt-right protesters, of course, are only reacting to the fact that this Caesar was dressed up as our current President (we’ve already discussed that the 2012 Acting Company production with an “Obama” Caesar elicited no such protests) --- they seem to have no knowledge of the drama.
Let’s be clear here, though, about what the important issue at the heart of all this is: free speech. Whether it’s leftist campus protesters not allowing speakers to present their ideas at a college or alt-right protesters trying to stop a public performance of any play, the offense here is the attack on the First Amendment and the right of free speech. For those who may not be clear, or sure, of what the First Amendment is about, let’s not mince words: short of shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater or intentionally inciting violence of any sort, everyone and anyone can express their ideas and opinions in public --- without interference or censorship --- period. You may disagree, indeed dislike or hate, what I have to say, but you have to defend my right to it.
Our conservative Supreme Court just allowed an Asian rock band to “trademark” their name --- The Slants --- saying that even though the term is disparaging and even hateful (to a particular racial group), they are protected by the First Amendment (as are the Washington Redskins). So, while you may not like what a speaker on campus has to say, or you may not like Caesar portrayed as Trump, you have to allow those people to present their view publicly to ensure our most important democratic principle is protected. Period.