Water Man Spouts

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Buzzards and Snakes

"Reporters had begun circling Muskie like buzzards, just as they had done to Romney in 1967; everyone wanted to be the first guy to claim the scalp of a front-runner. ….. Richard Nixon showed more than a casual interest in the news. It was evidence his campaign plan to get the Democrats to scratching each other’s eyeballs out was bearing fruit.

"A White House staffer, not ‘Paul Morrison,’ had written the ‘Canuck’ letter. A man on the White House payroll had hired and supervised the black picketers who greeted Muskie at his Florida hotel. His name was David Segretti, and he had also secured a spy to get hired as Muskie’s campaign driver – which is how Evans and Novak got the secret memo on Muskie’s California property-tax hearings. The director of the Youth for Nixon unit of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, Kenneth Rietz, received stolen Muskie documents on Washington street corners from a contact known as ‘Fat Jack.’ Jeb Magruder, the deputy director of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, ran another, entirely separate dirty tricks team. Thus all the fake leaflets, stink bombs, stickers, and press releases claiming unlawful use of government typewriters that were driving the Democratic campaigns insane. ….

"Segretti turned to more willing recruits: fellow veterans of conservative campus politics. Political dirty tricks were the bread and meat of the young conservative movement that organized in the early sixties around the National Review and the Goldwater for President crusade. Young Americans for Freedom, Tom Charles Huston’s old outfit, for example, set up camp in a hotel for the 1961 conference of the National Student Association with a mimeograph machine, walkie-talkies, and a bevy of secret operatives who pretended to be strangers but identified themselves to one another by wearing suspenders – all funded with the help of Bill Rusher, National Review’s publisher and another former army intelligence officer – and took over the resolutions committee via a phoney ‘middle-of-the-road caucus.’ The Young Republican National Federation was shot through with so much chicanery that its 1963 convention turned into a chair-throwing brawl. College Republicans put on elections more rank than banana republics: here was where young operatives learned the black art of setting up ‘rotten boroughs’ – fake chapters – in order to control the national conventions.

"Then they brought their skills to the grown-up’ game. One especially nasty operator was loaned by the College Republicans to the campaign to defeat the Democratic candidate for state treasurer in Illinois in 1970, Al Dixon. Dixon was having a formal reception to open his Chicago headquarters. This kid assumed an alias, volunteered for the campaign, stole the candidate’s stationary, and distributed a thousand fake invitations – they promised ‘free beer, free food, girls and a good time for nothing’ – at communes, rock concerts, and street corners where Chicago’s drunken hoboes congregated. The kid’s name was Karl Rove. The RNC soon hired him at $9,200 a year to give seminars on his techniques."
--Rick Perlstein; Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America; pages 628-630.

As the presidential primary season ends, and the general election contest begins to take shape, the spirit of Richard Nixon'’ "dirty tricks" will manifest itself in new and different ways. During the democratic primaries, the goal of these republican operatives is to damage unity among democrats. It is worth taking a few moments to examine both how and why they will be coming out in full force during the general election contest.

First, the strength of the democratic party lies in its ability to unite a wide range of groups and individuals, with a variety of interests in the presidential and congressional elections. These groups include progressive, liberal, moderate, and conservative democrats; those with specific interests, including fighting racism, sexism, ageism, and numerous other "-isms"; environmentalists; labor unions; anti-war groups; the young, middle-aged, and old; the poor, the middle class, and even a segment of the wealthy; and democrats from the grass roots, and local, state, and federal positions.

Among the interests that we share as democrats is a common enemy. That common enemy is the republican machine. Alone, each of us is like an individual finger that the republican machine can crush and break. Together, we form a powerful fist that is fully capable of protecting all of our interests.

The republican operatives seek to weaken democratic unity. They do so for the most obvious of reasons: to keep us as individual fingers that they can break. To do so, they try to identify the areas where they can exploit differences among us. In 2008, those areas include issues including race, sex, and the ability for the democratic party to coordinate efforts from the grass roots to the presidential campaign – and everywhere in between.

Obviously, some things have changed since 1972. The media is far more entrenched in the republican camp. And the internet has offered democrats a powerful means of organizing and coordinating our efforts.

Thus, we can expect to see the republican operatives focusing their efforts to manipulate both the media and the internet. More, these efforts will be coordinated to the fullest extent possible. The most obvious example is what is know as "PUMA," a republican effort to plant seeds of dissent, distrust, and animosity among some of the larger and most important groups within the democratic party. The media can be expected to support their efforts to make PUMA-like groups appear to be organic democratic splinter groups. But, of course, they are being run by republican operatives.

There will also be an increase in the number of individuals who claim to represent democratic values, who will continue to try to plant those seeds on the internet sites that offer the promise of being able to unite grass roots democratic activists, especially among the progressive and liberal ranks.

This is not to suggest that there are not tensions within our party. There are. And there should be. There are people who have become frustrated and angry during the primary season, and who voice serious concerns. There are elected officials in Washington, DC, who have behaved in dishonorable ways in the Bush-Cheney years. We must be patient with the first group, and let the second group know that we have no more patience with them.


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