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Watergate vs. Birthgate


Hugh McInnish

Howard Baker, Republican senator from Tennessee, held the floor, the cameras focused tightly on him, the other senators sitting in stoic silence, their faces expressionless as corpses, the witness squirming in his seat, stress evident in his posture, half of America, worn out with the months-long hearings, yet watching in excited anticipation, Baker himself, his eyes turned upward in thoughtful contemplation, dangling his glasses by one earpiece, poised to ask his deathless question: "What did the President know and when did he know it?"

Baker was the senior Republican member of the committee holding hearings on the Watergate scandal, the hearings that mesmerized the country from their beginning in May 1973, through the spring and into the summer, finally ending in August, and eventually leading to Richard Nixon's disgrace and his resignation from the presidency.

The committee got its answer to Baker's question. It established that Nixon did not know, before the act was attempted, about Republican operatives' plans to burglarize Democratic headquarters in the Watergate, did not know of G. Gordon Liddy's and E. Howard Hunt's felonious intent, but did learn the details soon afterward and gave instructions to effect a coverup.

The dramatic break in the case came when the committee learned that Nixon had bugged his own Oval Office and recorded both his telephone calls and his conversations there. The committee demanded the tape recordings that had been made, the famous Watergate Tapes, and a long legal battle ensued until finally they were delivered. This was the pivotal evidence that, more than anything else, ended Nixon's career.

Nixon was not a burglar, nor even an accessory before the fact, nor a person who would have condoned a crime of this kind. Rather it was his abject dishonesty and his serial lies concerning what he knew and when he learned it, and his participation in the coverup that followed the breakin, that became his Waterloo.

The year 1973, it seems so long ago now, but, as history frequently does, it is intruding into the present. With a different cast, the scenario of 1973 is back on the stage, at least in the first act. Once again the President of the United States, based on massive circumstantial evidence, is accused of an enormous lie, once again a coverup is apparently being directed from the Oval Office, and once again a ferocious legal battle is being fought to withhold critical evidence that would resolve the question of his guilt.

But this is just the first act of this drama, and we don't know yet how it will eventually unfold, but the parallel between 1973 and what we are watching today is strong. I believe that the table below will make this manifestly obvious. I call what is being acted out today "Birthgate."

Two Scenarios: Watergate vs. Birthgate

  Watergate Birthgate
Leading Character President Nixon President Obama
Subject Watergate Breakin Status of Citizenship
Accusation Lying, Coverup Lying, Coverup
Evidence Sought Watergate Tapes Birth Certificate
Mode of Investigation Senate Select Committee None Established
Media's Behavior Constant Detailed Coverage Silence
Democrat's Action Scathing Attacks on Nixon Silence
Republican's Action Cooperation with Dems silence
Verdict Nixon Guilty as Charged None Yet
Eventual Outcome Nixon Resigned Remains to be Seen

The events of 1973 and the events of today run parallel, I have said, but that is only true up to a point. Both involve the President of the United States, both involve the suspicion of massive Presidential lying, both involve suspicion of a coverup, both involve the existence of a crucial piece of evidence, and both involve a ferocious legal battle to keep the evidence hidden. But beyond that, the point at which something needs to be done, the two cases diverge. In the case of Watergate: All Hell broke loose. In the case of Birthgate: Nothing.


First, there is the hopelessly biased and utterly dishonest mainstream media. To find media more dishonest than the American media of today I suspect that we would have to look back to Göbbels and the Third Reich. Our media piled on Nixon with glee unrestrained, but of Obama, not a word.

Second, we have to look to the strange behavior of Republicans, who have been astoundingly timid in pointing out the obvious: Obama is lying about his place of birth, is not a native-born American, is constitutionally unqualified to be President, and therefore is a Pretender to the Presidency. If they would scream just half as loudly as the Democrats during Watergate, things would certainly change.

But the Republicans are lacking, lacking in knowledge, lacking in will, or lacking in courage. I have already recounted Senator Jeff Sessions' near-nervous-breakdown when I simply raised the question of Obama's eligibility to serve.

Even more puzzling is the silence of our conservative talk show hosts. Rush Limbaugh has made one or two passing references to the question, but has not really pursued it. And where are Hannity, Boortz, and Levin? All are silent.

Only among the patriotic, pajama-clad, rabble-rousing bloggers is the question of Obama's citizenship being discussed. It is up to us to propel it into the spotlight and to keep it there where it belongs.

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12 Jul 09