Water­gate was politics as usual. Nixon just got caught.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

“There is an as­sump­tion that politics have al­ways been cor­rupt,” one NBC ret­ro­spec­tive on Water­gate posited in 2004, “and that Nixon just got caught.” In his sweep­ing book on the 1970s, his­to­rian Bruce Schul­man noted that the sen­ti­ment was wide­spread, even in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of Water­gate: “‘They all did it, Nixon just got caught,’ is what many Amer­i­cans be­lieved.”

In 1977, the con­ser­va­tive jour­nal­ist Vic­tor Lasky pub­lished “It Didn’t Start With Water­gate,” a thick dossier on the sins of ev­ery Demo­cratic pres­i­dent since Franklin Roo­sevelt. He had plenty of ma­te­rial to work with. The anti-New Deal con­gress­man Hamil­ton Fish III claimed that FDR had some­thing like an en­e­mies list, that he was on it and that he was sub­jected to years of puni­tive tax au­dits be­cause of it. Pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son pre­vented a con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion of a cor­rupt former aide, Bobby Baker, first by pres­sur­ing friendly sen­a­tors on the rel­e­vant com­mit­tee to quash it, then by man­ag­ing to get it post­poned un­til af­ter the 1964 elec­tion. And so on.

But the proven ac­tiv­i­ties of the Nixon White House far sur­passed any­thing John­son or FDR were ever ac­cused of. Nixon was adamant in his at­tempts to find wrong­do­ing from Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, which was an ob­ject of per­sonal ha­tred on ac­count of his in­tense loathing of the per­son­able and hand­some JFK — at one point Nixon even or­dered a break-in at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion. (Deputies qui­etly buried the project.) De­spite his ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­forts, Nixon was so un­suc­cess­ful in im­pli­cat­ing Kennedy in Water­gate-level wrong­do­ing that, in one of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s most bizarre in­ci­dents, his aide Charles Col­son or­dered “cables” to be forged, us­ing scis­sors and glue, to falsely sug­gest that Kennedy or­dered the as­sas­si­na­tion of South Viet­namese Pres­i­dent Ngo Dinh Diem.

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