That wise woman who uses the pseudonym Digby is onto something when she writes about Integrity. Aren’t all serious political pundits – those who tell us what to make of all the events swirling about – serious white men in Washington, called into the Fox News or CNN or MSNBC studios between their thoughtful nine-hundred-word columns to fold their hands across their chests, look thoughtful, and smugly chant the words they had written the day before? Then the host mutters respectfully and the pundit nods – tastefully accepting the moderate awe offered. And we viewers know what we are to think. The few women pundits – Eleanor Clift and Ann Coulter, for example – are not that significant, the former a shrill moderate-progressive and the latter a bit of a freak, given to purposefully outrageous taunts. And none of these people are from Santa Monica. No “serious” people are from Santa Monica, save for the strange folks buried in the air-conditioned offices of the Rand Corporation in their new digs, at 1776 Main Street (with that quite appropriate sculpture), a block from the beach. But Digby is from Santa Monica. Don’t hold it against her.
What caught her eye on the matter of integrity was this essay in the New York Times by Watergate conspirator Egil Krogh (one of the best names from the last major era of Republicans-Gone-Wild scandal in Washington). So what’s up with Eagle Crow (that’s what you heard on the news, as no one was spelling it out) these days?
First some background. Egil “Bud” Krogh, Jr. (the name is Norwegian) went to prison for his role in the Watergate scandals. After his service in the Navy he went to law school, then to work at Hullin, Ehrlichman, Roberts and Hodge – the law firm of family friend John Ehrlichman, and he joined Ehrlichman in the counsel’s office of Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. He helped with the arrangements for the inauguration, then he joined the Nixon administration as an advisor on the District of Columbia and later as liaison to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, where he met G. Gordon Liddy. And he’s the guy who, in that post, handled the visit of Elvis Presley to the White House on December 21, 1970 (Krogh wrote a book about that). More importantly, Ehrlichman next made Krogh head of the “Special Investigation Unit” in the White House – Krogh and crew were known as the “Plumbers.” Krogh brought Liddy into his new office.
So when the administration decided to pursue the Pentagon Papers leakers – Ellsberg spirited those papers out of Rand in Santa Monica, made copies here in West Hollywood, and got them to the New York Times and all – it was Krogh who approved the September 1971 burglary of the office of Lewis Fielding, Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist (Liddy and E. Howard Hunt did the actual the actual breaking-in). That didn’t work out so well. On November 30, 1973, Krogh pled guilty to federal charges of conspiring to violate Fielding’s civil rights and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. He was sentenced to two to six years in prison, but he served only four-and-a-half months and was released June 21, 1974.
Krogh was disbarred by the Washington State Supreme Court in 1975, but in 1980 he successfully petitioned to be readmitted, “based on his recognition and acceptance of his wrongdoing.” Now he’s a partner at Krogh & Leonard in Seattle and using his “personal experience” as a warning, lecturing on legal ethics. His book on all this, Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the Nixon White House, is due out soon (see Amazon) – thus the Times column. Everyone is selling something.
Oh heck, add some irony. Krogh’s employment with the plumbers was terminated when he refused to authorize a wiretap. And his brother-in-law is Peter Horton, director and executive producer of the hit ABC series Grey’s Anatomy.
But enough of that. Here’s what he says in the Times –
I no longer believed that national security could justify my conduct. At my sentencing, I explained that national security is “subject to a wide range of definitions, a factor that makes all the more essential a painstaking approach to the definition of national security in any given instance.”
Judge Gerhard Gesell gave me the first prison sentence of any member of the president’s staff: two to six years, of which I served four and a half months.
I finally realized that what had gone wrong in the Nixon White House was a meltdown in personal integrity. Without it, we failed to understand the constitutional limits on presidential power and comply with statutory law.
In early 2001, after President Bush was inaugurated, I sent the new White House staff a memo explaining the importance of never losing their personal integrity. In a section addressed specifically to the White House lawyers, I said that integrity required them to constantly ask, is it legal? And I recommended that they rely on well-established legal precedent and not some hazy, loose notion of what phrases like “national security” and “commander in chief” could be tortured into meaning. I wonder if they received my message.
He sent the White House staff a memo in 2001, warning them to do the right thing? Didn’t we all? Just kidding – but it seem impossible that anyone there wanted to hear from one of the Watergate guys, particularly the one who ran “the plumbers” and went to jail for authorizing burglaries and such things. Whatever damning psychiatric details they expected find in Ellsberg’s medical records, and how they expected to leak those and use those to discredit the guy, really doesn’t matter. They couldn’t find them when they got there. The guy incompetently led incompetents. And they certainly didn’t see any danger. They were integrity personified – at least that was the platform they ran on.
But is seems Krogh did sense early on that using national security to justify what was both illegal and morally questionable (often two different things, if it matters), even if competently done, just led to trouble.
That fell on deaf ears, if he even sent the memo, for what Digby sees as a very good reason –
With the demands for the pardon of Scooter Libby, we can see that today’s entire Washington establishment, not just the Bush administration, believes that lawbreaking and smearing of reputations in the name of national security is just the “dark art of politics.” Indeed, people who practice these “dark arts” are extolled as the greatest patriots in the land by people like the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Senators and national opinion leaders.
Nixon may have said – “I reject the cynical view that politics is a dirty business.” He said lots of things.
But that is not how things are, as Digby comments –
Modern Big Business Republicanism has thoroughly entrenched its amoral worldview into politics, which over time absorbed its belief that civic virtues are irrelevant. (The denizens of DC did, however, attempt to cover this worldly sin by adopting the GOP’s cynical and manipulative stand-in for virtue – puritanical sexual morality – a grotesque and ill-fitting substitute for personal integrity coming from such decadent creatures.) Krogh must be pretty old by now and his sense of shame at having lost his personal integrity seems, in the words of David Addington, almost quaint. In today’s world he’s just a chump and a loser for ever believing he was wrong. There is no “wrong.”
And there is this anecdote –
I remember after the 2000 election debacle, a rather exasperated acquaintance explained to me that Americans respect winners and it didn’t matter how Bush took office, all that mattered was that he did. Even at my advanced age I was a bit shocked by such cynicism. But as I watched the way the media and the political establishment treated Bush, I had to admit that, at least as far as the leadership class of America was concerned, he was right. But it was even worse than what he said. There was a distinct undercurrent of special respect for the fact that Bush had not only won, but that he’d done it in such a way that everybody knew he’d manipulated the system and there was nothing they could do about it. That audaciousness made people bow down. On some level he wanted people to know he cheated and he wanted them to recognize that he got away with it. That’s real power.
Yep. And back in August 2004, in these pages, it was framed this way –
Bully-worship is empowering, when nothing else is. Something about surrogate power, I suppose – and as I have maintained for a long time, this has to do with seeing someone doing or saying what you wish you could do or say, but cannot. When Bush tells the rest of the world to shove it – choose your issue or treaty or international law or whatever (the constitution will do as an example too) – the folks Joseph identifies get at least a partial erection. That’ll do. Bush’s election strategy will be to play to that strength, if that’s the right word.
You have to remember the Yale days –
But Digby maintains, rightly, that this is a bigger problem than just this administration –
It is a defining characteristic of our entire political culture. We are in an era of ruthless power politics – institutions arrayed against institutions, levers of influence and action set against each other in a battle for supremacy. Those who have the superior ability to dominate and manipulate those institutions are able to advance their goals and agenda. The Republicans have been far better at this than Democrats.
And now what? There’s this –
… it remains for liberals and progressives to figure out how to traverse this culture without losing their souls. It’s clear that most of the DC establishment and the political media lost its way some time ago, allowing themselves to be led by corporate values and slick GOP public relations. It does us no good to be naive and expect everyone to “just say no” and “do the right thing.” As I said, this is an era of power politics and if you don’t exert power with intelligence and energy (and integrity) when you have it, average citizens who will pay the price when the Republicans return to power by any means necessary. The situation is what it is, and if we are going to change it, it’s going to take time and dedication to changing the entire political culture in fundamental ways.
And the history lesson –
The founders understood how power can corrupt, which is why they designed a clunky system of government that would impede its application. But nothing can stop it when so many people are working in tandem to do so. The answer then, is not to depend upon personal integrity but to insure that our systems are working properly and that those who corrupt it are held accountable for what they have done when they lose institutional power at the hands of the people. If there is one consistent mistake that Democrats have made over the past forty years, it’s the impulse to forgive and forget which has created a radical Republican party that believes it can get away with anything. (“Reagan proved deficits don’t matter … this is our due…”) Our system has been so thoroughly corrupted by this lack of accountability that partisan impeachments, stolen elections and illegal wars are taken for granted as perfectly normal (if “dark”) political arts.
So perhaps personal integrity is beside the point and you just have to use the rules –
There have always been crooks and liars in politics. It’s the failure of our institutions to properly guard their prerogatives and police the political system that is the true failure. And that is something that we can fix. The Republicans must be held to account for their reckless rule, and that means following these investigations all the way to 2020 if that’s what it takes. We may not have time to impeach Bush or Cheney, but if we hold both houses of congress we have years to ensure that these crimes are not covered up and that the people of this country are reminded that corruption and cheating have negative consequences.
Yeah, but what do you do with a culture that worships the bad boy who breaks the rules? Everyone loves a rebel and all that. That includes corruption and cheating,
As I said in February 2004 –
My view is skewed by living in Hollywood for almost fifteen years. Need I say more? It’s a joke. I’m not kidding when I say I sense most folks love the idea that they, some fine day, could, maybe, be rich themselves, and then abuse others.
Cheney and Halliburton? Hell, it excites them to think about what he gets away with. Bush - inarticulate, proudly ignorant, scornful of those who read - and in love with abusing those who oppose him? They LOVE that. It feeds their fantasies.
When you’re powerless you tend to think of revenge without effort. You admire Bush. You want to be just like him – a fellow with enormous power no discernable talent who doesn’t have to take crap from anyone. Folks think it’s cool when he smirks at intellectuals and foreigners. They imagine how good it would feel to be able to pull that off in their own lives.
And that’s why I suspect he’ll win the next election easily. He’ll ride to victory on a wave of popular anger and resentment against how unfair the world is.
Cynical? You bet.
And he did win, and we are where we are. Egil Krogh is a loser. What does he know?