By Jon Favreau
If you saw the news at any point in the last month, chances are that you heard Barack Obama compared in some way to Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal (BuzzFeed has my favorite compilation here). A quick and admittedly unscientific Google search on the comparisons turns up 1.7 million hits, and they are not limited to right-wing media or Republican politicians. Partisan and nonpartisan journalists across the political spectrum casually and frequently linked Obama to Nixon over and over again, this publication included.
A quick refresher for those of us who weren’t around during the Watergate Era: reams of hard evidence, unearthed through some heroic reporting and independent investigation, revealed that the president of the United States had personally and repeatedly used the power of the federal government—the IRS, the FBI, the CIA—to target and destroy his potential challengers for reelection.
From Nixon’s mouth: “Are we looking over the financial contributors to the Democratic National Committee? Are we running their income tax returns? We have all this power and we aren’t using it. Now, what the Christ is the matter?”
Indeed. The stated goal of the Nixon administration, spelled out in a memo from the White House counsel(!), was to “use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” And that they did. Richard Nixon actually ordered IRS audits on his political enemies. He actually sanctioned multiple break-ins, including one of a psychiatrist’s office to steal the patient files of Daniel Ellsberg, a true whistleblower. At one point, he placed Ted Kennedy, his most powerful political opponent, under 24-hour surveillance. And six days after the Watergate break-in, Nixon told his chief of staff to “call the FBI and say that we wish, for the country, don’t go any further into this case, period.”
Just to provide some perspective, there was apparently a moment toward the end of the Watergate hearings where the Secretary of Defense told military commanders not to obey their commander in chief if Nixon tried to “restore order” by sending out troops.
Read More When Journalists Attack – The Daily Beast.