Watergate: A Skeptical View by Noam Chomsky, 1973

by on January 28, 2008 · 4 comments

in Civil Rights

This amazing piece by Noam Chomsky written 35 years ago, “predicts” the problems between impeachment and the unbridled executive imperial presidency.

The New York Review of Books, September 20, 1973
Even the most cynical can hardly be surprised by the antics of Nixon and his accomplices as they are gradually revealed. It matters little, at this point, where the exact truth lies in the maze of perjury, evasion, and of contempt for the normal-hardly inspiring-standards of political conduct. It is plain that Nixon’s pleasant crew succeeded in stealing the 1972 election, which probably could have been theirs legally, given the power of the Presidency, in spite of Muskie’s strength at the polls when the affair was set in motion.

The rules of the political game were violated in other respects as well. As a number of commentators have pointed out, Nixon attempted a small-scale coup. The political center was subjected to an attack with techniques that are usually reserved for those who depart from the norms of acceptable political belief. Powerful groups that normally share in setting public policy were excluded, irrespective of party, and the counterattack thus crosses party lines.The Dean-Colson list of enemies, a minor feature of the whole affair, is a revealing index of the miscalculations of Nixon’s mafia and raises obvious questions about the general response. The list elicited varied reactions, ranging from flippancy to indignation.

But suppose that there had been no Thomas Watson or James Reston or McGeorge Bundy on the White House hate list. Suppose that the list had been limited to political dissidents, antiwar activists, radicals. Then, it is safe to assume, there would have been no front-page story in the New York Times and little attention on the part of responsible political commentators. Rather the incident, if noted at all, would have been recognized as merely another step, inelegant perhaps, in the legitimate defense of order and responsible belief.

The general reaction to the Watergate affair exhibits the same moral flaw. We read lofty sermons on Nixon’s move to undermine the two-party system, the foundations of American democracy. But plainly what CREEP was doing to the Democrats is insignificant in comparison with the bipartisan attack on the Communist Party in the postwar period or, to take a less familiar case, the campaign against the Socialist Workers Party, which in the post-Watergate climate has filed suit to restrain government agencies from their perpetual harassment, intimidation, surveillance, and worse. Serious civil rights or antiwar groups have regularly discovered government provocateurs among their most militant members. Judicial and other harassment of dissidents and their organizations has been common practice, whoever happens to be in office. So deeply engrained are the habits of the state agencies of repression that even in the glare of Watergate the government could not refrain from infiltrating an informer into the defense team in the Gainesville VVAW trial; while the special prosecutor swore under oath that the informer, since revealed, was not a government agent.1

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Shawn January 29, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Maybe we should enact “Presidential Contracts” so that these politicains are required, by contractual law, to practice all that they preach during the campains.

My neighbor watched the State of the Union Address, but I did not.

I pretty much guessed everything Mr. President said.

I guess I cannot understand the overwhelming fascination with politics as, to me, it seems like a puppet show, and I outgrew those many moons ago.

So, the next President will use money and power to win the election, as will all other that follow in his/her footsteps.


anon antichrist January 29, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Shawn – you called it! the capitalist political parties cannot change any thing structural about the system, so the most powerful run around spending millions while important social needs go unmet arguing over how to rearrange the deck chairs while the Titantic is sinking.


Molly January 29, 2008 at 7:28 pm

Shawn – although you have an interesting idea, you raise a myriad of issues in your casual way, inadequately addressed by anon antichrist. Politics in America is more than just politicians using money & Power to “rearrange the deck chairs.” Often candidates represent powerful coalitions battling each other over priorities. Each of the major political parties has different wings that despise each other. The Democrats have peace-niks on one end and ‘blue-dog’ dems on the other, hippie leftists along with social and culturally conservative machine politicians. Politics is the battle for power. It’s simplistic to say that we just have one party in this country, although there is a serious truism about that notion.
Given the state of the slide/ shift into a real authoritarian society where even bloggers and web designers would be restricted, the regular guy and woman off the street have got to do a quick study on the precarious nature of where America is at right now, and understand that getting involved in politics is more than giving a candidate money.
It is in the interest of your country, and yourself, to figure out that we must move to deal with global warming and freedom cooling.


OB Joe January 29, 2008 at 11:31 pm

“freedom cooling” – I like it!


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