Writing from memory yesterday morning, I recalled the role George Will had played as National Review’s Washington columnist during Watergate. I was faithfully reading the magazine in 1973 and 1974, and I think I was remembering Will’s NR columns accurately, but I was also recalling an inside account written, I thought, by William Buckley or NR senior editor Jeffrey Hart. I couldn’t find what I was thinking of in Buckley’s books or Professor Hart’s The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times — but I did find this interesting passage in Hart’s history:
National Review responded to the developing scandal with condemnation for the violation of constitutional norms mixed with a great deal of disgust; it came close to lacking even residual loyalty to Nixon. NR viewed the “President’s men,” the aides closest to him, as technicians of no discernible principle, all products of their relationship with Nixon and otherwise ciphers with no personal identity. It regarded Nixon himself as the shifty politician the magazine had always known….
What strikes anyone going back over that period, and what certainly struck National Review at the time, is the conspicuous presence of an absence–or the deafening noise of a silence. Why did those closest to the president in the administrative structure–namely Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell–not once, ever, say to themselves or to each other, “President Nixon would never approve of this”?
We don’t know what Obama’s senior staff members have said to or among themselves, but that passage resonates.