Wednesday, May 03, 2017

When Democrats lose

By Scott Johnson

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein both spoke at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Time has posted their speeches in case you were otherwise occupied at the time. They had some advice for President Trump.

In part they revisited past glories covering the Watergate scandal and taking down President Nixon. They have a few loose ends to tie up. For example, they still haven't discovered what Nixon's guys were looking for inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee. Watergate served its purpose, however, and the boys have moved on.

Edward Jay Epstein asked whether the press had uncovered Watergate in a brilliant 1974 Commentary essay. The fundamental things apply. One can still learn from Epstein's essay as time goes by. In 2015 Pat Buchanan added a few footnotes on the Washington Post's Watergate coverage that have only become apparent in the fullness of time.

Tim Alberta profiles Buchanan at length in an excellent piece in the current issue of Politico Magazine. This is beyond the scope of Alberta's profile, but it prompted me to recall that Buchanan was one of the few who emerged from inside the Nixon administration after Watergate with his reputation intact. Moreover, when called as a witness to testify before the Senate Watergate Committee, he gave better than he got. Indeed, Buchanan dished it out.

In his standard account of Watergate, published in 1990, the late historian Stanley Cutler all but passed over Buchanan's testimony. Cutler wrote: "The Administration got in some last words for itself on September 26 when Patrick Buchanan blasted the committee for its excessive leaks and its treatment of witnesses. Buchanan boldly attacked the committee, but John Dean's image and testimony persisted in the nation's consciousness, not the mauling tactics of club-fighter Buchanan."

The New York Times published excerpts of Buchanan's testimony in 1973. They are accessible online here. The Washington Post was still working its own angle on Watergate and Buchanan in this 1996 story by George Lardner.

In his statement before the Watergate Committee Buchanan was at pains to refute the proposition that the Nixon campaign was responsible for the Democrats' defeat of Senator Muskie and nomination of Senator McGovern to be crushed by Nixon in the 1972 presidential contest:

It is being argued that illicit Republican strategy and tactics were responsible for the defeat of the strongest Democratic candidate for President, and for the nomination of the weakest. It has been contended publicly that the Democrats were denied, by our campaign and our strategy, a legitimate choice at their own convention.

It is being alleged that the campaign of 1972 was not only a rigged campaign, but an utter fraud, a "political coup by the President of the United States."

These contentions, Mr. Chairman, are altogether untrue. Republicans were not responsible for the down fall of Senator Muskie. Republicans were not responsible for the nomination of Senator McGovern.

Buchanan argued: "The McGovern people won their own nomination. And they lost their own election." The underlying theme that Buchanan sought to debunk has a surprisingly contemporary ring. It feels as fresh as today's headlines. I thought some readers might be interested in taking a walk down memory lane with a look at Buchanan's argument, courtesy of the Times.