The Birth of the Right's Shameless, Nasty Smear Machine
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The image of these Wall Street supermen sitting around a table discussing how to profit off a prolonged war – while a half million American soldiers were sitting in a war zone – might have been hard for even the most ardent Ayn Rand enthusiast to stomach.
But Johnson chose to stay silent in November 1968 and took the secret to his grave in January 1973. It was then up to Rostow to decide what to do with the file that Johnson had entrusted to him, what Rostow called “The ‘X’ Envelope.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “ LBJ’s ‘X’ File on Nixon’s ‘Treason.’”]
Rostow apparently struggled with the question until June 1973 when he sealed the file with a note to the LBJ Library that the envelope should stay secret for a half century and possibly longer. (It was eventually opened in 1994, beginning a long process of declassifying some of the secret and top secret documents that described what Johnson called Nixon’s “treason.”)
Johnson, Rostow and other senior Democrats who were privy to the secrets apparently thought that – in their silence – they were doing what was good for the country.
“Some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have a certain individual [Nixon] elected,” Defense Secretary Clark Clifford told Johnson in a conference call on Nov. 4, 1968. “It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country’s interests.”
However, by not trusting the American people with such vital information, these Democrats set the stage for the depressing drama that has played out over the ensuing four-plus decades. With the evidence of Nixon’s “treason” kept under wraps, Republicans could fancy themselves the real victims in the Watergate scandal and thus could justify doing whatever was necessary to protect some future GOP president from similar treatment.
From then on, whenever some major scandal threatened Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush, the right-wing attack machine would fire up and mow down anyone who got too close to the truth.
Some examples include evidence of another October Surprise dirty trick in 1980 (with Reagan’s campaign frustrating President Jimmy Carter’s efforts to free 52 American hostages in Iran), the Iran-Contra sequel (as President Reagan traded more arms to Iran for more U.S. hostages in 1985-86), the Iraq-gate scandal of secretly arming Saddam Hussein (which put President George H.W. Bush on the spot after the Persian Gulf War in 1991), or the Plame-gate affair (which involved George W. Bush’s administration leaking the identity of a covert CIA officer to get back at her husband for exposing a lie behind the Iraq War in 2003). [For more on this history, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege or Consortiumnews.com’s “ New October Surprise Series.”]
The Right’s attack machine was there, too, to take down Democratic presidents over even minor “scandals.” For instance, in the 1990s, Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing operatives pounded President Bill Clinton over murky questions about an old real-estate deal known as Whitewater.
A dark eminence behind the assault on Clinton was none other than Richard Nixon, who even in his disgraced retirement continued to counsel Republicans on how to play hardball politics. Ironically, Nixon plotted to destroy Clinton even as Clinton was extending a hand of friendship to Nixon.
As Monica Crowley reported in her book, Nixon Off the Record, Clinton called Nixon seeking advice on everything from foreign policy to time scheduling. The first contact — a 40-minute conversation — was made on March 2, 1993, barely a month after Clinton entered the White House “and their unexpectedly close relationship was born,” wrote Crowley, a personal aide to Nixon who recorded many of the ex-president’s commentaries in his final years.