Still Wallowing In Nixonland

by digby

What with all the current media activity about Obama and his acquaintance, former weatherman Bill Ayers (coming coincidentally on the heels of the McCain campaign launching a full blown character attack) Media Matters wonders why nobody has yet discussed McCain's relationship with his old pal, convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy.

On October 4, The New York Times published a 2,140-word front-page article about Sen. Barack Obama's association with former Weather Underground member William Ayers -- at least the 18th Times article this year mentioning that association. But the Times has yet to mention, let alone devote an entire article to, Sen. John McCain's relationship with radio host and convicted Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy. Indeed, in its October 4 article, the Times quoted Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman denouncing Obama's association with Ayers but did not note that Chapman has described Liddy as McCain's "own Bill Ayers" and has written that "[i]f Obama needs to answer questions about Ayers, McCain has the same obligation regarding Liddy." The Times, moreover, quoted McCain criticizing Obama for his association with Ayers without noting that Chapman has faulted McCain for what Chapman described as McCain's "howling hypocrisy on the subject."

As Media Matters for America has noted, Liddy served four and a half years in prison in connection with his conviction for his role in the Watergate break-in and the break-in at the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers. Liddy has acknowledged preparing to kill someone during the Ellsberg break-in "if necessary"; plotting to murder journalist Jack Anderson; plotting with a "gangland figure" to murder Howard Hunt to stop him from cooperating with investigators; plotting to firebomb the Brookings Institution; and plotting to kidnap "leftist guerillas" at the 1972 Republican National Convention -- a plan he outlined to the Nixon administration using terminology borrowed from the Nazis. (The murder, firebombing, and kidnapping plots were never carried out; the break-ins were.) During the 1990s, Liddy reportedly instructed his radio audience on multiple occasions on how to shoot Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents and also reportedly said he had named his shooting targets after Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Liddy has donated $5,000 to McCain's campaigns since 1998, including $1,000 in February 2008. In addition, McCain has appeared on Liddy's radio show during the presidential campaign, including as recently as May. An online video labeled "John McCain On The G. Gordon Liddy Show 11/8/07" includes a discussion between Liddy and McCain, whom Liddy described as an "old friend." During the segment, McCain praised Liddy's "adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great," said he was "proud" of Liddy, and said that "it's always a pleasure for me to come on your program.

Liddy, of course, was mainstreamed long ago and is a perfectly legitimate DC dinner guest, advisor and pundit. He ran for the senate. He has a successful radio show and appears frequently on television.

The right is proud of its miscreants and felons and ascribes their motives to Goldwater's dictum, "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Celebrated right wing pundit Ann Coulter even went so far as to say:

My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.

The Republicans and the mainstream media (masochistically) call that a joke. But I have a sneaking suspicion if anyone tried to joke about William Ayers, we'd have a hissy fit the size of Hurricane Katrina on our hands.

The fact is that what many people would call violent, eliminationist rhetoric is common among the right wing, but has become so mainstream that the country doesn't even see it anymore. Instead, it's being projected onto the ghosts of a small handful of leftist radicals who in reality are now placid, aging academics musing about their former glories before an audience of 13 English majors.

A couple of years ago, I linked to this article about a study which had been done by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger:

Looking at the data from 1992 to 2004, Shellenberger and Nordhaus found a country whose citizens are increasingly authoritarian while at the same time feeling evermore adrift, isolated, and nihilistic. They found a society at once more libertine and more puritanical than in the past, a society where solidarity among citizens was deteriorating, and, most worrisomely to them, a progressive clock that seemed to be unwinding backward on broad questions of social equity. Between 1992 and 2004, for example, the percentage of people who said they agree that “the father of the family must be the master in his own house” increased ten points, from 42 to 52 percent, in the 2,500-person Environics survey. The percentage agreeing that “men are naturally superior to women” increased from 30 percent to 40 percent. Meanwhile, the fraction that said they discussed local problems with people they knew plummeted from 66 percent to 39 percent. Survey respondents were also increasingly accepting of the value that “violence is a normal part of life” -- and that figure had doubled even before the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks.

Lumping specific survey statements like these together into related groups, Nordhaus and Shellenberger arrived at what they call “social values trends,” such as “sexism,” “patriotism,” or “acceptance of flexible families.” But the real meaning of those trends was revealed only by plugging them into the “values matrix” -- a four-quadrant plot with plenty of curving arrows to show direction, which is then overlaid onto voting data. The quadrants represent different worldviews. On the top lies authority, an orientation that values traditional family, religiosity, emotional control, and obedience. On the bottom, the individuality orientation encompasses risk-taking, “anomie-aimlessness,” and the acceptance of flexible families and personal choice. On the right side of the scale are values that celebrate fulfillment, such as civic engagement, ecological concern, and empathy. On the left, there’s a cluster of values representing the sense that life is a struggle for survival: acceptance of violence, a conviction that people get what they deserve in life, and civic apathy. These quadrants are not random: Shellenberger and Nordaus developed them based on an assessment of how likely it was that holders of certain values also held other values, or “self-clustered.”

Over the past dozen years, the arrows have started to point away from the fulfillment side of the scale, home to such values as gender parity and personal expression, to the survival quadrant, home to illiberal values such as sexism, fatalism, and a focus on “every man for himself.” Despite the increasing political power of the religious right, Environics found social values moving away from the authority end of the scale, with its emphasis on responsibility, duty, and tradition, to a more atomized, rage-filled outlook that values consumption, sexual permissiveness, and xenophobia. The trend was toward values in the individuality quadrant.

That didn't happen because of Bill Ayers pontificating from his Hyde Park living room about revolution. That happened because of people like Rush Limbaugh who have audiences of 20 million people a week, and who described Abu Ghraib like this:

This is no different than what happens at the skull and bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You of heard of need to blow some steam off?"

And these American prisoners of war -- have you people noticed who the torturers are? Women! The babes! The babes are meting out the torture...You know, if you look at -- if you, really, if you look at these pictures, I mean, I don't know if it's just me, but it looks just like anything you'd see Madonna, or Britney Spears do on stage. Maybe I'm -- yeah. And get an NEA grant for something like this. I mean, this is something that you can see on stage at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex in the City -- the movie. I mean, I don't -- it's just me.

That study was a very revealing portrait of today's America and explains some things about why the right has been so successful. And it's the opposite of what the political analysts insist it is. It isn't because they've become more moral and religious. It's because they've fostered and exploited cruelty and anger. For all their crowing about traditional values, it's the right that has embraced decadence, sadism, nihilism and corruption under the cover of religion. We've come to the point where the president of the United States decrees that activities that have been described as torture for thousands of years are perfectly moral and legal.

I have little doubt that most of the people who listen to Rush also believe that they are good practicing Christian conservatives. And many Christian conservatives probably don't listen to him. But they do listen to this:

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.

And this:

How about group marriage? Or marriage between daddies and little girls? Or marriage between a man and his donkey? Anything allegedly linked to civil rights will be doable, and the legal underpinnings for marriage will have been destroyed." Now, that's more or less a prophecy. Not a divine prophecy, but a prediction.

Notice how Limbaugh and the conservative preachers pander to the depraved imagination? It's not religious values these people are selling. They are selling a brutal, domineering, degenerate culture, making their listeners and viewers wallow in it, plumbing the depths of the subconscious, drawing forth Goyaesque images of bestiality and violence and death. That's a feature of some religions, to be sure, but it's not the nice upright Christian morality everybody's pretending it is.

If the culture is careening into a crude, dog-eat-dog, corrupt "Pottersville" it's because the greedheads and the juvenile authoritarian thugs, whether in street gangs or talk radio or K Street (or right wing web-sites) have takenover the discourse. And it is hard for liberals to counter this because our values include tolerance, free expression and personal autonomy which perversely enables the right's rhetorical domination. But let's make no mistake, it is only on the right that current purveyors of brutal, sadistic, depraved political discourse are routinely welcomed into the houses, offices and beds of the nation's top political leadership.

Recall that when when Limbaugh came under fire for his vulgar comments about Abu Ghraib, the leading lights of the Republican party didn't distance themselves from him. They quickly came to his defense.

Rush's angry, frustrated critics discount how hard it is to make an outrageous charge against him stick. But, we listeners have spent years with him, we know him, and trust him. Rush is one of those rare acquaintances who can be defended against an assault challenging his character without ever knowing the "facts." We trust his good judgment, his unerring decency, and his fierce loyalty to the country he loves and to the courageous young Americans who defend her. For millions of us, David Brock is firing blanks against a bulletproof target.

— Kate O'Beirne is Washington Editor for National Review.
Both Bush presidents and Jeb recently appeared on his show.

So, I'm not surprised that John McCain is a close friend of convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy. For the right, eliminationism and right wing extremism fall under the same umbrella of patriotism as McCain's POW experience. Liddy is a hero too.

It should be noted that Liddy isn't McCain's only connection to the Watergate gang, of course. The whole Republican establishment is peppered with them. But McCain hired one of the more notorious directly into his campaign:

On April 3, Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) 2008 presidential campaign announced that it had hired former Nixon staffer Fred Malek as its national finance co-chairman. However, as David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation, noted in an April 3 entry on his Capital Games weblog, the McCain campaign's press release "left out an interesting piece of Malek's history: when he counted Jews for President Richard Nixon." As Corn reported, Nixon suspected that a "cabal" of Jews at the Bureau of Labor Statistics was skewing economic figures to make the administration look bad and assigned Malek to report back on how many Jews were employed at BLS. When former President George H.W. Bush hired Malek as a top official at the Republican National Committee (RNC) in 1988, revelations in the press regarding Malek's work for Nixon reportedly led him to resign. McCain's hiring of Malek would seem to warrant the same disclosures from the media, but so far, only one news outlet other than The Nation has reported it.

If William Ayers' youthful radicalism is relevant to this campaign, you'd think that people would question why McCain is involved with former Nixon henchmen from the same era. Ayers was exiled to the far corners of Illinois academia where a young state senator might cross paths with him at a local event, but would never dream of hiring him to work on his campaign. And Bill Ayers was certainly never feted with awards for his national radio show where he alludes to his desire to kill the President of the United States.

Out of the ashes of Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, the right regenerated and created a political movement based upon the ugly ressentiment that characterized the right of the 1960s. Rush Limbaugh was their avatar. And over the years, as that Envirotec study showed, we unsurprisingly ended up with a political discourse that celebrated coarseness, cruelty, nihilism, xenophobia, consumption worship, sexim, racism and rage.

The Democrats, meanwhile, marginalized their angry radicals and produced the post partisan pragmatist Barack Obama. America will have the choice in this election of whether to finally reject those conservative 60s politics of anger and backlash and move on. The left actually moved on some time ago.

Someone should alert the media.

Update: more from glenzilla on the same topic.

Update II: They've got Sarah W. Palin out there saying that Obama is "palling around with terrorists who want to harm their own country." And while CNN rebuts the charge in its entirety, Cokie's Law is in effect. It's out there.

Mission Accomplished. But as with Bush's earlier aircraft carrier pas de deux, it may not be that easy. Let's hope it isn't.