Not the Crime

They say it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up, and everyone knows that refers to Richard Nixon and that Watergate business. That cost him the presidency, not because he approved the break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Complex down on the Potomac near the Kennedy Center, which was the crime, but because he worked hard to use all the agencies of government to cover up his approval of that, and concealed or tampered with evidence that implicated him and his White House staff, and the attorney general and a few others, in the whole business. And there was tape of Nixon saying there’d be no problem finding a million or more dollars, one way or the other, untraceable funds from the shadowy big-money conservatives no one knew about, to use as hush money to keep certain people quiet. But things were spinning out of control. The Supreme Court said Nixon couldn’t use executive privilege to keep the tapes of all White House conversations all to himself – executive privilege doesn’t cut it in criminal matters. Nixon did direct that Archibald Cox, the Independent Special Prosecutor he agreed could look into things, be fired for demanding those tapes – but that didn’t go well. John Mitchell, who had the authority to fire Cox, was long gone by then, and his replacement, Attorney General Elliot Richardson, refused to fire Cox and resigned on the spot, and then Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus did the same thing. They’d not participate in Nixon’s cover-up. The third guy down the line, Robert Bork, did the deed, which is part of the reason the Senate later refused to confirm him to a seat on the Supreme Court. It was quite a mess, and then the House decided to vote on Articles of Impeachment, to send to the Senate for trial, but the curious thing was that those weren’t about the original break-in, long ago. That was a minor matter. The High Crimes and Misdemeanors were obstruction of justice and abuse of power and, generally, lying and jerking everyone around. Nixon resigned rather than face a that House vote – because he had done all that. The cover-up became the crime.

There had always been a way out of this. Admit to the original minor crime and say, well, you’d made a mistake, approving something that was a pretty dumb idea, that didn’t even work out. Hey, these things happen, and it won’t happen again, and a sincere but lighthearted apology to the Democratic Party, done with a bit of humble graciousness, would have made it all go away. Democrats, and those in his own party who thought he was kind of a jerk, would have no ammunition at all. Nixon could have also admitted he’d ordered his crew to break into the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, to get some juicy personal dirt on the guy who’d leaked the Pentagon Papers, and laugh it off. What was I thinking? That was a dumb idea, but we all have bad days. Sorry about that, but we’re all human and really, were you actually going to vote for that peace-and-love flower-power guy, George McGovern, anyway? The idea is to turn mistakes into human foibles. Everyone makes mistakes now and then. Everyone knows that, and thus they’ll actually sympathize with you. Admitting mistakes makes you more human, if not downright cuddly.

Nixon, of course, was the least cuddly of any politician in our history, but similarly, Bill Clinton could have said he DID have sex with that woman, and thus saved the country a lot of trouble. Sex with that woman was a bad idea, even if young Monica was more than willing. These things happen to middle-aged men, even those who don’t go for it. There are too many willing sweet young things around, and even that dweeb Jimmy Carter had once said he was troubled that “he had lust in his heart” – so had Bill Clinton fessed up immediately he’d be aligning himself with the human condition. Men would get it, and they’d cut him some slack. Many women would get it too – they know their husbands. Republicans this time, and those in Clinton’s own party who thought he was kind of a jerk, would have no ammunition at all. But that wasn’t to be. Clinton was impeached, and there was a Senate trial – but Clinton was cleared. He did a dumb thing, and lied about it, but that’s what guys do. The Senate cut him some slack, and then the American people did. His popularity kept rising the whole time. It was the Republicans that didn’t know a damned thing about real life, and really, the country was in fine shape. The whole thing was a minor matter, but it would have been even more minor had Clinton just said the magic words – What was I thinking? Sorry about that. So, let’s get back to work, shall we?

Other’s get it. Clinton’s nemesis Newt Gingrich got it. In the 2012 Republican primaries, with the family-values social conservatives demanding strict moral purity in America, and thus in their candidates, Gingrich had to find a way to explain his three odd marriages – the first at nineteen to his geometry teacher. He divorced her soon enough, and the rumor was that Gingrich served her divorce papers while she was on her deathbed, to marry someone really hot, but that didn’t last either. He dumped the second wife for his current wife, with whom he had been having a torrid affair while he was married to his second wife. None of this impressed the family-values social conservatives one bit, so something had to be done, and that was this:

There are times that I have fallen short of my own standards. There’s certainly times when I’ve fallen short of God’s standards and my neighbors’ standards. But I think my job is to try to do for my country – and on a very personal level for my children and for my grandchildren and for their future – to try to do everything I can to be a servant in helping this country deal both with the domestic challenges to our very identity, and that’s what rediscovering God in America is all about, and to foreign challenges to our very survival. … I hope that people will see me in that context.

And he later said this:

There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.

All of this is a preemptive strike. He admits it all, but reminds us we’re all sinners, and God knows that and is forgiving, if your heart’s right, and besides, he loved his country so passionately that he was too consumed with that to worry about his marriages – and that was a GOOD thing, really. All this was masterful, except he didn’t win the Republican nomination. He was too much of a goofball – but at least he disarmed most of those family-values social conservatives. We’re all sinners, right? How could they argue with that? Throw in the all-consuming ecstasy of patriotism and all is forgiven. Then you can run on your policy ideas, such as they are. His, however, impressed no one.

Others fared better. David Vitter is still a senator in spite of that DC Madam Scandal – with his wife standing beside him he asked the people of Louisiana for forgiveness, because he was sure God forgave him, as He forgives all sinners. Everyone knows this, right? That worked fine, and he denied nothing at all – he had been a long-time client at a high-end brothel up in Washington. There was no cover-up, and Rob Ford is still the mayor up in Toronto – and he admitted to smoking crack cocaine “probably in one of my drunken stupors” and refused to resign. These things happen and the city is doing fine. You got a problem with that?

There’s a lesson here. Never run away from what you have done. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes they aren’t even mistakes, and the current thinking, that Democrats should run away from Obamacare in the upcoming midterm elections, because everyone hates it, may be the wrong thing to do. Red-state Democrat senators may not lose to Republican challengers in this year’s midterm election – recent polling shows those races are all pretty close, but Greg Sargent argues that these particular Democrats do need to be careful:

In Arkansas, 52 percent would not vote for a candidate who disagrees on Obamacare, versus 35 percent who are open to doing that. In Louisiana: 58-28. In North Carolina: 53-35. It seems plausible the intensity remains on the side of those who oppose the law. This would again suggest that the real problem Dems face with Obamacare is that it revs up GOP partisans far more than Dem ones – exacerbating the Dems’ already existing “midterm drop-off” problem.

However, in Kentucky, the numbers are a bit different: 46 percent would not vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on the law, while 39 percent say the opposite – much closer than in other states. Meanwhile, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear – the most outspoken defender of Obamacare in the south – has an approval rating of 56-29.

Kevin Drum tries to untangle this:

I’m keenly aware that I’ve never run for dogcatcher, let alone had any experience in a big-time Senate race. So my political advice is worth zero. And yet, polls like this make me more, not less, invested in the idea that running away from Obamacare is a losing proposition. Electorates in red states know that these Democrats voted for Obamacare. Their opponents are going to hammer away at it relentlessly. It’s just impossible to run away from it, and doing so only makes them look craven and unprincipled.

The only way to turn this around is not to distance yourself from Obamacare, but to try and convince a piece of the electorate that Obamacare isn’t such a bad deal after all. You won’t convince everyone, but you don’t need to. You just need to persuade the 5 or 10 percent who are mildly opposed to Obamacare that it’s working better than they think. That might get the number of voters who would “never” vote for an Obamacare supporter down from the low 50s (Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina) to the mid-40s (Kentucky). And that might be enough to eke out a victory.

Nixon looked craven and unprincipled, hiding everything, but there’s no need for that:

The early website problems have been resolved and the initial signup period has been a success. Conservative kvetching has taken on something of a desperate truther tone, endlessly trying to “de-skew” the facts and figures that increasingly make Obamacare look like a pretty successful program. There are lots of feel-good stories to tout, and there are going to be more as time goes by. What’s more, the economy is improving a bit, which always makes people a little more sympathetic toward programs that help others.

Obamacare isn’t likely to be a net positive in red states anytime soon. But it’s not necessarily a deal breaker either. It just has to be sold – and the sellers need to show some real passion about it. After all, if they don’t believe in it, why should anyone else?

This might work:

Despite strong dislike of President Obama’s handling of health care, a majority of people in three Southern states – Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina – would rather that Congress improve his signature health care law than repeal and replace it, according to a New York Times Upshot/Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

The poll also found that a majority of Kentucky residents – and a plurality in a fourth state, Arkansas – said they thought the health care marketplace in their state was working well, even as they expressed strong disapproval of the health care law. More than twice as many Kentuckians say their state exchange is working well than say it is not.

The findings in the four states – all with political races that could tip the balance of power in the Senate – underscore the complex and often contradictory views of Mr. Obama’s principal domestic legislation four years after it became law.

Most people still loathe the law. Questions about it may evoke associations with an unpopular president, the remoteness of Washington from ordinary Americans and extra costs in family budgets. But majorities say they do not want it taken away, even in states that lean Republican in presidential elections.

Dylan Scott digs deeper into the data:

The poll showed Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D), who expanded Medicaid under the law, are hugely popular. Their approval ratings are more than 20 points higher than their disapproval ratings; Beebe holds 68 percent approval, and Beshear is at 56 percent.

But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) are at best treading water with their constituents after they declined to expand the program to cover low-income residents. McCrory is middling, with 43 percent approval and 44 percent disapproval, while Jindal is 14 percent underwater at 40 percent approval and 54 percent disapproval.

Medicaid is an issue, and now it’s more of an issue:

Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates released last week show that health reform’s Medicaid expansion, which many opponents wrongly claim will cripple state budgets, is an even better deal for states than previously thought… The CBO now estimates that the federal government will, on average, pick up more than 95 percent of the total cost of the Medicaid expansion and other health reform-related costs in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) over the next ten years (2015-2024).

Those governors who declined to expand the program to cover low-income residents in their states, assuring that hundreds of thousands in each of those states will continue to go without healthcare at all, have lost their rationale, the idea that sooner or later Medicaid will break the bank, although Kevin Drum says it’s not quite that simple:

The good news is obvious: the Medicaid expansion is an even better deal for states than we thought. The federal government will pick up nearly the entire cost of expansion, and when you account for money that states will save from reduced amounts of indigent care, and greater help with mental health costs, the net cost of expansion gets very close to zero.

The mixed nature of this seemingly good news comes from the reason for CBO’s more optimistic budget projection: it’s because they think the program will cover fewer people than they previously projected. There had always been a fear among states that lots of people who were already eligible for Medicaid – but had never bothered applying for it – would hear the Obamacare hoopla and “come out of the woodwork” to claim benefits. Since these folks weren’t technically part of the expansion, states would be on the hook to cover the bulk of their costs.

CBO now believes this fear was overblown. Apparently most people who didn’t bother with Medicaid before Obamacare took effect aren’t going to bother with it now either. That’s good for state budgets, but obviously not so good for all the people who could be getting medical care but aren’t.

Still, Medicare expansion is free to the states. Why refuse to get hundreds of thousands in each of those states health coverage, at no cost to the state? And why the hell would any Democrat shy away from calling those who turned down the money fools, and nasty cruel people too? There’s no need to cover-up the “mistake” that was Obamacare, or to shy away from asking for the vote of those whose current governors have decided to keep their lives miserable. Everyone knew you were all-in for Obamacare anyway, including the Medicaid expansion, which the Supreme Court said should be optional for each state. Embrace it. To refuse the option was always stupid and cruel, if ideologically pure, and now it’s even stupider. Yeah, Bill Clinton DID have sex with that woman, and you supported Obamacare. Denial is absurd in either case. Turn things to your advantage.

It’s best to deal with mistakes, if they are mistakes, and now it seems to be Rand Paul’s turn:

In a variety of campaign appearances that were captured on video, Paul repeatedly compared Reagan unfavorably to Carter on one of Paul’s top policy priorities: government spending. When Paul was a surrogate speaker for his father, then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), during the elder Paul’s 2008 presidential quest, his sales pitch included dumping on Reagan for failing to rein in federal budget deficits. Standing on the back of a truck and addressing the crowd at the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers picnic in July 2007, Rand Paul complained about Reagan and praised his father for having opposed Reagan’s budget:

“The deficit went through the roof under Reagan. So how long did it take Ron Paul to figure out that the guy he had liked, endorsed, campaigned for and campaigned for him? The very first Reagan budget! Ron Paul voted ‘no’ against the very first Reagan budget… Everybody loved this ‘great’ budget. It was a $100 billion in debt. This was three times greater than Jimmy Carter’s worst deficit.”

Rand Paul isn’t walking this back, either, or not much. Carter was far more fiscally responsible than Reagan. Deal with it. Covering up Reagan’s mistakes will lead to nothing but trouble, as the cover-up is always worse than the crime, and there’s also this:

Here’s another interesting comment from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) during his sit-down with former senior Obama adviser David Axelrod on Tuesday: Paul said that the Republican Party might be over-selling incidences of voter fraud.

From the transcript:

PAUL: Dead people do still vote in some elections. There still is some fraud. And so we should stop that, and one way of doing it is (driver’s licenses).

AXELROD: Although the incidence of fraud is relatively small.

PAUL: It probably is, and I think Republicans may have over-emphasized this. I don’t know.

Admit the mistake, apologize, shrug and move on. There’s no way to cover up the fact that you’ve been lying about voter fraud, and then there’s this angry item form the hard right:

Rand Paul assures David Axelrod and an auditorium full of bloodthirsty, sex-crazed feminazis at the University of Chicago that while he personally believes life begins at conception he will not seek to impose his religious beliefs on others…

“The country is in the middle (and) we’re not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise.”

The message to his party is clear. You win the argument, and then you win the vote. It doesn’t work the other way around, and there’s no way to cover up the fact that the country isn’t with you on this, yet, if they ever will be. Cover-ups just get you in trouble, or you end up reviled, or worse. Think of Richard Nixon.

Even if many of us find Rand Paul’s views execrable, or absurd, he is turning out to be a formidable politician here, but so are a few others. If you or your party has made a mistake, do not deny it at all, and don’t work hard to cover up any of it. It’s simple. Oops. Sorry about that. What was I thinking? Ah well, we’re all human, and shall we move on now? The cover-up is always worse than the crime.

And if it wasn’t a mistake, even if the folks on the other side are mocking you and assuming you’ll deny everything, in abject shame, that’s simple too. Deny nothing and ask the obvious question. What were YOU thinking? There wasn’t even a crime in the first place, but either way, own whatever it is. It’s best for everyone if you do, and best for you.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to Not the Crime

  1. Rick says:

    As for “confessing” to being a supporter of Obamacare, I totally agree with Kevin Drum’s advice to Democratic candidates in red states:

    “The only way to turn this around is not to distance yourself from Obamacare, but to try and convince a piece of the electorate that Obamacare isn’t such a bad deal after all. You won’t convince everyone, but you don’t need to. You just need to persuade the 5 or 10 percent who are mildly opposed to Obamacare that it’s working better than they think.”

    And it’s not just the right thing politically to argue this, but also people of the state need to hear this stuff, since one of the reasons voters in red states take it for granted that Obamacare is evil is because they never hear anyone in the state showing the guts to argue that it’s actually a good thing, not a bad thing. If only they had, the Democratic candidates wouldn’t have such an uphill battle in the first place, and Republicans wouldn’t be so easily able, come election time, to get away with vying among themselves for the title of Obama’s worst enemy, much less favoring things that actually hurt their states, such as turning down the extension of Medicaid.

    But as for what you say about what would have helped Nixon during Watergate?:

    “There had always been a way out of this. Admit to the original minor crime and say, well, you’d made a mistake, approving something that was a pretty dumb idea, that didn’t even work out. Hey, these things happen, and it won’t happen again, and a sincere but lighthearted apology to the Democratic Party, done with a bit of humble graciousness, would have made it all go away. Democrats, and those in his own party who thought he was kind of jerk, would have no ammunition at all.”

    You’re kidding, right? I beg to differ. Not a chance!

    If he came out early and admitted to approving a burglary, it would have been over for him. Burglary is, I think, usually a felony, and being accessory to it against your political enemies is a misuse of a president’s official powers, making it a “High Crime” under the definition of impeachment — and even when it’s only a misdemeanor, you can get impeached for that, too. I’m sure not even hardcore Republicans back then could have lived with the idea of their president being a burglar.

    Sure, apologize, like some criminal apologizing in the courtroom, but that doesn’t get you off. You’re still a burglar, for Chrissakes!

    Maybe confessing early on would have worked for Bill Clinton, but unlike Nixon’s case, that’s because what Clinton would have been admitting to (cheating on his wife with someone at work) was not against the law. And even what he finally was cited for, two months after being acquitted by the Senate — “civil contempt of court for his ‘willful failure’ to obey [the judge’s] repeated orders to testify truthfully in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit” — was “civil”, not “criminal”, and closer in seriousness to jay-walking than breaking-and-entering.

    As for Gingrich, I would bet all his serial-marrying, cheating on one and then the next, and then the next, probably did hurt him with some people — certainly many social conservatives, but even with some other voters who just added that to the long list of his personal shortcomings, such as not only changing wives on a whim but also his religious affiliation, proving the guy just couldn’t be trusted.

    But getting back to Nixon, one of my favorite Watergate moments was when Ron Ziegler, Nixon’s press secretary, described the Watergate break-in as just a “third-rate burglary”, the implication of which seemed to be that anyone involved can be absolved of the burglary on the grounds of “not being very good at it”! I guess you could call it the “incompetence defense”.

    So is there such as thing as “third-rate homicide”?

    “Hey, we need to give the guy a break! Yes, he did shoot the guy to death, but only after missing him six times!”


    • Alan says:

      Good one – except I still think Nixon could have pulled it off – just like Romney talked about that time in prep school in Michigan he and his friends beat the crap out of the kid they thought was gay, and then cut off his long hair. Just a prank, a good-natured prank, a bit of youthful high spirits, and no harm done, really – so Nixon could have tried that. But yes, there was a crime involved, even if a minor one – botched. Selling the Watergate break-in as a harmless prank would have been difficult. But it wouldn’t have been impossible. More than a few House Republicans would have sided with him. But it hardly matters now.

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