Watergate, as much as it was a political coming-of-age for America, coincided with my own personal coming-of-age. The actual break-in occurred just weeks after I’d graduated from high school and the initial furore continued throughout the summer as I prepared to leave for my first year at college. The repercussions, investigations and hearings continued throughout my first two years at college and culminated with Richard Nixon’s resignation, when I was in summer school in Spain in August 1974. I watched his resignation speech on a flickering black-and-white television set in the living room of my host family at 2AM in the morning, European time.
It’s not unusual at all that the current political climate in the US should make me think about the definitive political scandal of the late 20th Century. After all, the media has been looking for another Watergate since the last one was resolved (as much as it could ever be). Every newspaper reporter, every media journalist fancies himself this decade’s Woodward or Bernstein, never mind the fact that they happened upon their golden egg purely by chance. One of Watergate’s many legacies is the intense desire on the part of the media to discover some socio-political scandal latent in every subsequent Administration, and so almost every official in every subsequent Administration has been subjected to the scrutiny, for better or for worse, by the Fourth Estate.
And the Fourth estate has mutated rampantly since the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine under President Reagan.
But the name which keeps popping up in my mind more often than not, lately, isn’t one of the bigger guns from Watergate – not Haldeman or Erlichmann or John Dean – but a lesser-known character called Donald Segretti.
Segretti was a young lawyer, who, during the early 1970s, was engaged by the Committee to Re-elect the President (aptly anagrammed CReeP). He specialised in a particular brand of practical joke, or dirty trick, designed to make the victim look particularly bad. The aim of CReeP wasn’t only to insure that Nixon was elected to a second term; the principal aim was to insure that the Democratic party fielded the weakest candidate possible in 1972, one that would virtually guarantee Nixon a Presidential victory.
Of course, Nixon’s chief political strategists at the time, the late Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes (yep, that Roger Ailes), were busy formulating a tactic which they would call The Southern Strategy – convincing all those Southern Democrats who were less than lukewarm about the idea of Civil Rights, that their natural political party was none other than the GOP, considering the fact that George Wallace’s reincarnation of the Dixiecrats – the American Independence Party – had disbanded after its third party attempt in the 1968 election. But to really secure a second term, Nixon and Co would have to be absolutely certain that the Democratic candidate was loser material.
It was practically a foregone conclusion that the Democratic candidate for 1972 would be Maine Senator and former Vice-Presidential candidate Edmund Muskie. Muskie was impressive as a speaker during the campaign, and the Democrats, rightfully, thought that he would stand a good chance in challenging Nixon. After all, America wouldn’t wash 8 years of Dick Nixon.
Right before the silly season started, North Dakota Senator, George McGovern, a very Leftwing and very progressive politician, announced that he, too, would seek the nomination.
CReeP’s aim was to discredit Muskie to the point that Muskie would drop out of the race. With no other Democrat on the horizon at that point, and the Democratic Party in a weakened state, generally, McGovern would run and lose heavily.
This is where Segretti stepped in. Financed by funds from CReeP – laundered money, really – Segretti did his stuff. Segretti engaged hundreds of young Republican volunteers – mostly college students and recent graduates. Their mission was to imbed themselves in various Democratic offices and campaigns as volunteers, walk the walk and talk the talk of Democrats, get close to staffers and other genuine volunteers, even to the candidates themselves, get the gossip, sow discontent and be subtly, but brilliantly divisive.
The strategy was amazing. Someone managed to steal some sheets of Muskie’s Senate stationery, along with some samples of his handwriting, fished from rubbish bins in his office. The result was two, seemingly original notes, penned by “Muskie” on official notepaper, trashing Canadians in objectionable terms. Someone else started rumours of Muskie’s wife having a drinking problem and mouthing off about another Democratic politician in a lewd way. Mores forged notes emerged, depicting Muskie as speculating about another Democratic Senator, Henry Jackson of Washington, having a lovechild by a 17 year-old girl, and passing hints alluding to Hubert Humphrey’s sexlife as well.
The end result was Muskie, who’d denied all these allegations, giving an impassioned defence of his wife’s honour, so impassioned that he ended up in tears, a fact which, effectively, ended his Presidential aspirations, and paved the way for George McGovern’s nomination.
A few years later, in the course of the Watergate investigations and trials, Donald Segretti’s part in all of this was revealed. Segretti told Bob Woodward that such practices, which he’d perfected to art form, were known to him and his circle as “ratfucking.”
Ratfucking was only in its rudimentary form as developed by Segretti. There was plenty of room for development and improvement.
Oh … and one of the many of those earnest, young Republican volunteers who infiltrated the Democratic party, undercover, for Segretti was a Texas college senior named Karl Rove.
Rove took ratfucking to another level in his work for George Bush. At first, he developed the doctrine of “continuous campaign,” of never allowing the Bush Administration to get comfortable with its success, of operating every day with the aim in mind of securing a second term. 9/11 handed them their modus operandi on a plate: keep the public scared and use fear to keep the usually liberal media on side too. After all, when the country’s under attack, no one wants to be labelled “leftist and unpatriotic” (which had almost come to be synonymous).
Rove’s ultimate aim was an unbroken hegemony of Republican Administrations – something akin to Hitler’s vision of the Fourth Reich lasting 1000 years – which meant that whatever had to be done to secure that aim, was sanctioned. This time the Ratfucker-in-Chief was operating inside the White House and on the public payroll.
When the Republicans lost the White House in 2008, Rove moved to Fox News as a political commentator – a natural move, considering Fox’s CEO was none other than that same Roger Ailes, the Nixon strategist from the years Rove was a lowly ratfucking operative under the tutelage of Donald Segretti.
A couple of months ago, Rove, rather disingenuously announced that he’d had a strategy in place for awhile that would result, not only in delivering substantial gains to the Republican party in this year’s Mid-Terms, but it would also insure that Barack Obama served one term and one term only, that the Republican Party would regain the White House in 2012. Rove admitted that, as he spoke, he’d had “operatives” working the length and breadth of the country for the past couple of years, dedicated to dividing and conquering the Democratic Party and its ambitions.
Empty rhetoric and bragging?
Maybe, but Rove’s never one to brag without substance to his bragging.
Rove, if he knows nothing else, knows the American people. He certainly knows the base of the Right, and he’s probably made it his business to know the base of the Left. He’s also astute enough to capitalise on the similarities between the two, and the basic similarity amongst the two ends of the political spectrum is the overwhelming ailment affecting the American public as a whole – the singular inability to think for oneself and to think critically.
Both ends of the spectrum are television addicts. They read little, comprehend less and live for entertainment and instant gratification. Unable to digest and bored by news bulletins, their information must be delivered with panache and passion – thus, they need to be “infotained.” More than being infotained, they need to hear the opinions voiced of various and sundry paid talking heads on television – people who voice and articulate that which the average person from the extreme end of the Rightwing and the average person from the extreme end of the Leftwing are thinking. If the opinionator is likeable and amusing, he or she will gain not only a fanbase, but a disciple.
And, as television is an illusion, what if the people voicing opinion on the box, are just selling the brand of what their network is supposed to be? What if the opinionators are merely … salesmen?
The lack of critical thinking in all this never ceases to amaze me, as I watch various and sundry opinionators from both the Left and the Right.
That the social-climbing ex-wife of a former Republican Congressman and oilman, a woman who’s never been anything else in her adult life spent in two countries, than the most conservative of conservatives, a woman who led a virulent and strident campaign for Bill Clinton’s impeachment, a woman who taught Andrew Breitbart all the fine points of blatant press hackery (another form of ratfucking), should decide – the day after the 2004 defeat of John Kerry – that the Left needed an internet aggregate to challenge Matt Drudge and could result in being a nice little earner for her, that in the space of 24 hours, Arianna Huffington could go from being a neocon’s neocon (and devotee of Newt Gingrich) to being a fully paid-up Progressive, without ANYONE in the media batting an eyelid, is pure shallowness in and of itself.
I never bought the original Damascene conversion, and I never bought this one, especially not during the 2008 campaign season when Huffington’s attacks on Hillary Clinton became increasingly nasty and personal.
The only thing I do know is that, of all the Presidents I remember, and I remember a lot, this President is the only one whom I’ve known to be criticized, second-guessed, ridiculed, name-called and parsed by the Rightwing media and equally so, by the media on the Left, the so-called “Professional Left.”
It’s important to remember that the Professional Left is, more than likely, on the payroll of the Corporate Right, who are also bosom buddies with Rove, who writes for their bible, the Wall Street Journal.
When the Shirley Sherrod incident saw light, not only Fox, but also MSNBC, ran with the story that Breitbart propagated that very first day. It took CNN and The Atlanta Journal Constitution to get the real facts out and amongst the people. Fox then, promptly, apologised. MSNBC pulled all evidence of their hysteria from their website. No one … no one blamed Breitbart in this. He got scant mention; the emphasis was all on the Administration’s preciptous reaction. It was all how quick to jump the gun Tom Vilsack (and by extension, the President) had been, how weak the Administration was, how frightened of Fox News they were perceived to bel. Ed Schultz, in his usual bullying way, intimated that this Administration were pussies. Later, during his appearance at the Netroots convention, big Ed let slip that the real reason he was throwing a strop was because the President wouldn’t appear on his hour-long MSNBC program to be shouted at and hectored; instead, he preferred to be interviewed and interrupted by Bret Baier of Fox News.
At the end of the day, the Rightwing media treats this President like an escaped slave who needs lynching, and the so-called Professional Left treat him like the natural child of a token Affirmative Action appointment and Prissy from Gone With the Wind.
And either way, that boils down to one, singular, unmentionable thing.
When Robert Gibbs vented his frustration in that infamous interview last week, it came on the heels of having watched Dylan Ratigan, another sudden convert from corporatism to Progressivism and a thug who pretends to be a journalist, slate the recently passed States’ Aid Bill as a “bailout for the teachers’ unions,” Gibbs had had enough. And rightly so.
The allusion to the “Obama is like Bush” meme comes right from the whining mouth of Bill Maher. He’s been preaching that sermon for over a year, even alluding to the President as “Barry,” a name commonly used by the disaffected, old white men of the Teabagging Party, but then, earlier this season in an attempt at satire, Bill donned a Teabagger’s hat, and if it fits …
The Professional Left has done its fair share of deliberately misinforming, spinning and ratcheting up discontent amongst its base and convincing them why they should be disaffected with the President. The plain truth is simply that the base of the Left, as well as the base of the Right, for some reason either doesn’t read or doesn’t read widely enough and can’t for some reason think for themselves enough to form opinion without cravenly depending on people who get paid the corporate penny to spin for the network they serve.
Sometimes they, like the broken clock which is right twice a day, reveal their real intentions, which sometimes seem to be the opposite to the posture they effect:- Bill O’Reilly lets slip he favours a public option in Health Care Reform, Chris Matthews admits racism in admitting that sometimes he forgets Obama is a black man, Bill Maher admits to being in favour of the death penalty, something no real Progressive would admit.
Maybe some of the Professional Left are really Rove’s operatives – this generation of refined ratfuckers. After all, Bill Maher follows Rove on Twitter and Rove follows Bill. Rove and Huffington go way back in association. Last week on his syndicated radio program, in the wake of Gibbs’s outburst, Ed Schultz urged Progressive listeners NOT to vote in the Mid-Terms, to stay home. (Ed, by the way, is an ex-neocon, himself, who once ran for Congress as a Republican, and not too long ago.)
Yet if anyone challenges any devotee of a media opinionator, from Beck to Bill Maher, from Hannity to Olbermann and Schultz, the challenger is meant with a stream of invective as strong as if one had insulted a personal friend, a relative or a loved one. In fact, insulting one of these people is as though you’ve issued a personal affront to the disciple’s own opinion and mindset.
Here is a news flash: The Professional Left is the same as the Professional Right – bought and fully paid-up members of the corporate club, be that club Murdoch, ComCast of TimeWarner. They don’t give a rat’s ass about their devoted fans. Their aim is to generate ratings/clicks etc which generate profits, which mean fatter wallets for them which will accommodate their even fatter wallets. That Arianna Huffington attempts to speak for the middle class whilst her daughters attend debutante balls and hobnob with titled gentry from Europe makes her Progressivism as much of a joke as John Kerry’s multimillion dollar yacht.
What happened last week was simply this: Gibbs got frustrated and gave the Professional Left a dose of its own medicine which it had been hurling at the President for months, and the Professional Left couldn’t take it, after dishing it out. Big Ed Schultz, the biggest mouth and the biggest bully of the lot, even cravenly attempted to convince his regular viewers that this criticism wasn’t about him, really, it was directed at them. (It wasn’t; Gibbs clarified precisely whom he was criticizing). That was crass. Even crasser was his exhortation for the Democratic base NOT to vote – in short, to enable the Republicans to come in and undo every incremental thing upon which real progress and real change could be built. But hey, Big Ed would still have his Bush tax cuts, right?
This whole ordeal, this whole new level of ratfuckery – because that’s what it is – was foreseen by the writer Paddy Chayefsky, in his screenplay Network, a brilliant film made in 1976. It’s worth a watch again these days, because everything alluded to in that film has come to pass, regarding the television industry. And so I leave you, with the prescient words of the film’s hero, the iconic Howard Beale, juxtaposed with some contemporary images which enhance the prescience of a film made 34 years ago:-
Maybe it’s time for those of us who consider ourselves to be Democrat and progressive, to turn off the television, and learn to think for ourselves and to think critically.