With perfect timing Christopher Caldwell reviews what we have learned about Watergate in the past 50 years. Caldwell’s First Things essay is titled “Regime change, American style.” The occasion of Caldwell’s essay is the publication of Garrett Graff’s Watergate: A New History.
Caldwell’s essay usefully reminds us that, 50 years later, we still have no idea what the Watergate burglars were looking for. Whatever it was, however, they came away with nothing. In the words of the Dylan song, nothing was delivered. Caldwell quotes Graff on this point:
What were the burglars actually looking for? Who ordered them into the building? And who on the burglary team knew what? . . . No one was ever charged with ordering the break-in, nor has anyone ever confessed or presented conclusive evidence one direction or another about what the burglars hoped to accomplish that night.
In terms of substantive harm, no damage was done. If anything, Watergate gave George McGovern something besides Vietnam to talk about in his 1972 presidential campaign. I remember his bringing down the house with his attribution of responsibility for the break-in to Nixon when he campaigned in Minneapolis in the summer of 1972. I was there.
It has been clear for years that the Clinton presidential campaign orchestrated and disseminated the “disinformation” that goes under what I call the Russia hoax. The campaign enlisted the assistance of FBI and the FBI turned the FISA court to its uses. The hoax culminated in the Mueller investigation that would be ongoing if Bill Barr had not forced its conclusion. I have declared for quite some time that the fabrication of the Russia hoax by the Clinton campaign is the dirtiest trick in American political history.
Given the testimony introduced in the trial of hoaxer Michael Sussman yesterday, we have an opportune moment to revisit my assessment. By contrast with the Watergate break-in, the Clinton presidential campaign seriously damaged candidate Trump and the Trump administration.
Those of Nixon’s misdeeds grouped under the heading of Watergate — particularly the break-in itself — were almost entirely ineffectual. While he wielded the executive authority of the president, he had to go outside for help to get the dirty work done.
As a candidate with no government power, Hillary Clinton seems to have lacked the resources Nixon thought he could draw on. Yet the Clinton campaign successfully defamed candidate Trump, compromised or paralyzed his presidency, and did real damage to the United States. The sinister role of the prestige press in retailing the Russia hoax deserves special mention. It helps to have the press in bed with you.
I’m sure I’m forgetting facts that need to be weighed in the balance (and such a balance is far from the object of Caldwell’s review). What are they?