Review of “It didn’t Start with Watergate” by Victor Lasky

In reviewing this book, I’m going to make an argument that the only way to understand Watergate is to understand as part of a broader historical era that begins with what is called “McCarthyism” continues into “the Sixties” and end with Watergate.

Here’s my argument in brief:

Before, during and immediately after WWII, the United States Government (USG) expanded dramatically. During this period of expansion, the USG was transformed into an organization that is run by permanent employees of the federal bureaucracy, the media, and academia (readers of Mencius Moldbug will know this group as The Cathedral). This transformational process is The New Deal. Burnham will help you understand the infiltration and rise to power of these organizations. McCarthyism represents a backlash against this transform, but it was too late. McCarthy was correct but even the truth was not powerful enough to defeat this new power structure – Evans will show you what happens when you fight The Cathedral.

Then, the Sixties happened and it was fucked up. Nevertheless, the crazy actions of these people only become logical if they are understood as a further attempt to seize power. The Cathedral was taken, but major actors of the Sixties were looking for more efficient routes to power. I think the best way to understand the Sixties is to analogize it to McCarthy. The Cathedral co-opted the energy of the Sixties. For example, if you look at the members of the Weather Underground, they are no longer storming the barricades, but they are now in academia. Thus we see that enemies to the right get crushed and enemies to the left get co-opted.

Watergate provides the proof that the takeover of USG by The Cathedral is complete. The Cathedral can now oust a President at will and on a whim. I think there was some element of revenge as well, as Nixon was intimately involved in the McCarthy movement.

Mencius Molbug said, “So Watergate marks the transition between the Middle New Deal and the Late New Deal. Or perhaps the Early and the Middle. As a student of history, I am reluctant to commit to any such chronology while the era remains ongoing. I expect it to remain ongoing for a while.” If I am interpreting this correctly, the Middle New Deal marks the successful takeover – the victory of the Cathedral. The Late New Deal is then the period in which The Cathedral is firmly entrenched in power.

Now, here are my thoughts on Lasky’s book on Watergate:

The first two-thirds of the book chronicle the activities of the presidencies of FDR, JFK and LBJ. These presidents had the FBI investigate their enemies, had wiretaps on competitors, covered up serious crimes, took kickbacks, and used the IRS as a weapon against basically anyone they didn’t like. After the first two-thirds of the book you basically assume that they are capable of anything short of murder or rape. Lasky also makes clear that many of the reporters who went after Nixon knew of, or were directly involved in perpetrating these activities on behalf of these earlier presidents.

For example, Bill Moyers:

. . . As special assistant to the President [LBJ] he [Moyers] ordered the FBI to run a name check on numerous members of Goldwater’s campaign and Senate staffs in an effort to obtain derogatory information about their possible sexual aberrations.

What the President was looking for, Moyers told the FBI, was information about “fags” and other perverts on the Arizonan’s staff.

So, according to Moyers, it was bad when Nixon did this stuff but it was fine when he did it.

Lasky’s thesis is perhaps best found in a quote that he provides from the Chancellor of the University of Rochester at commencement during the Watergate era:

. . . The saddest think about Watergate is that in important respects it is far from unique, or even unusual. . . . One thing different about Watergate, however, is that the end is not acceptable to the academic-journalistic complex, as were the ends pursued by Daniel Ellsberg, the Berrigan brothers, the anti-war rioters, the Black Panthers and innumerable others stretching back to the sit-in strikers of the 1930s.

This quote also fits our thesis that Watergate marks the high-watermark of the New Deal. Frankly, so does this one from Richard Nixon, also provide by Lasky:

Hiss was clearly the symbol of a considerable number of perfectly loyal citizens whose theaters of operation are the nation’s mass media and universities, its scholarly foundations, and its government bureaucracies . . . They are not Communists (but) they are of a mind-set as doctrinaire as those on the extreme right. . . . As soon as the Hiss case broke and well before a full bill of particulars was even available, much less open to close critical analysis, they leaped to the defense of Alger Hiss—and to counter attack of unparalleled venom and irrational fury on his accusers.

The last third of the book deals with Watergate itself. Here, Lasky’s thesis is given best by another quote he finds from an anonymous Congressman:

We’re going to impeach his [Nixon’s] ass. We’re going to do it. . . . We’re going to do it, although nobody will quite know why. . . . Beyond all questions of guilt or innocence, he must be impeached because we, the Super-Bowl people, have been promised the show. We’re gearing up for it emotionally the way did when the ballyhoo built up for the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs match.

And so they did. Despite the fact that “as it turned out, the one person who had absolutely no advance knowledge of the Watergate break-in was Richard M. Nixon.” Much of the common historical knowledge of Watergate is also incorrect. For example, the story was not uncovered by great investigative journalism, but was largely uncovered because of leaky federal bureaucracies – basically in open war with Nixon (also furthering the argument for our thesis on The New Deal).

But then, the whole thing wasn’t about Nixon’s crimes – if they really cared about those, they’d have to indict every President since FDR – it was about power. A new group finally had an unbreakable grip on it and they were having fun demonstrating just how unbreakable their grip was.

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