This edition of Angry Poodle was originally emailed to subscribers on June 25, 2022. To receive Nick Welsh’s award-winning newsletter in your inbox each Saturday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
Last week, President Joe Biden took a tumble from his bike while perambulating around Rehoboth Beach. It turns out, he got stuck in his toe clips. I sympathize. In fact, it happened to me three weeks ago. More than anything else, it’s embarrassing.
But for the leader of the free world, it’s not a particularly good look.
It called to mind Jimmy Carter’s unhappy encounter with an angry rabbit while he was out paddling his canoe in the summer of 1979. Carter’s press secretary would later describe the offending rabbit as berserk, deranged, or maybe both. And it was no ordinary Easter Bunny–type rabbit, he added. More like the rabbit equivalent of the Abominable Snowman. Carter, who would later go on to become the greatest ex-president in American history, was caught on film swatting his paddle at the incoming rabbit. Technically, he was just splashing water at the rabbit to shoo it away. But given the unfortunate camera angles, it looked far worse.
The point is that Democratic presidents can come across as ridiculous, hapless, and feckless in the face of such relatively innocuous happenstances. They will forever be pitied and scorned. But never feared. And certainly not respected.
By contrast, Republican presidents can get away with murder so long as they ape the mannerisms of a bug-eyed autocrat and narcissistic strongman. Just look at the pathological trajectories of Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. But even Nixon — who made it a point to appear too crazed to mess with — found that there were some limits where the madness of King Richard was concerned. For the Donald, the jury is still out. Which is a weird thing to say, given that he’s not been charged with anything yet.
The operative question here is yet.
As one-sided as the January 6 tribunals have been, they’ve laid out a compelling case that Trump incited and ignited the January 6 conflagration as part of a broader conspiracy to overturn the results of an election that not even he thought had been stolen.
Along the way, Trump sought to stop Congress from conducting its constitutional duty to certify the 2020 presidential election results and suborned perjury from a host of state and county election officials in no less than seven states. Somewhere in all that must be a couple of indictable offenses. Trump’s only plausible defense is that he has been rendered so insane by his galloping megalomania that he could no longer discern fact from fiction.
That’s his excuse.
But what about the millions of Americans who profess to believe the same thing?
Right now, Trump and Nixon find themselves bound up together in what seems a weird but telling coincidence. The January 6 committee is launching just as America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Watergate scandal, which famously forced Nixon to resign.
History has kindly airbrushed the memories of even the most ardent Nixon haters. He has emerged from the fog of time an elder statesman and a global thinker, not just the guy who would be forced by circumstances to defend his honor on national TV by proclaiming, “I’m not a crook.”
Like Trump, Nixon didn’t so much think he was above the law as he thought he was the law.
It’s worth keeping in mind that when it appeared that there was a chance that the Paris Peace Talks might bear fruit on the eve of his presidential race against Democrat Hubert Humphrey, Nixon — via back-channel contacts — notified the South Vietnamese authorities at the bargaining table they could strike a better peace if and when Nixon was elected. A negotiated peace accord would have definitely helped Humphrey’s chances. It has been argued that no peace accord was ever going to happen no matter what, so no harm, no foul.
But that’s mere conjecture. As a matter of fact, we do know the South Vietnamese walked away from the bargaining table one day before Americans went to the polls in 1968. Who knows how many people on both sides of the war got killed because of this?
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Again, that’s a matter for conjecture, too. But a lot. (Conservative estimates indicate that 58,000 American service men and women were killed during the war; 2 million Vietnamese civilians perished; and 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops were killed.) At the time, then-president Lyndon Johnson gave serious thought to having Nixon charged with treason but thought better of it. Johnson didn’t want the extent of his own extensive wire-tapping operations exposed.
Later, Nixon would go slightly berserk when the New York Times published the Pentagon papers, highly classified documents that showed that four successive presidents had systematically lied to the American public about why the war was being waged and how well it was going.
Nixon, as always, pushed the envelope of deceit even further. He expanded America’s military actions from the confines of Vietnam’s borders and launched bombing runs in both Laos and Cambodia. He retaliated by trying to stop publication of the Pentagon papers, and when that failed, he had his goons and henchmen — dubbed the Plumbers — break into the offices of the psychiatrist then treating Daniel Ellsberg, the source of the leaks.
The Plumbers would be activated to break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters, located at the Watergate apartment complex overlooking the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. That was in June 1972, just as Nixon appeared poised to cake-walk into a second term.
Famously, the Plumbers would be caught, and what was dubbed “a third-rate burglary” would bring down the most powerful person in the world. Precious little attention or curiosity has been expended wondering what the Plumbers were looking for.
The best speculation I’ve heard suggests Nixon was worried that the head of the Democratic Party, Larry O’Brien, might have had information about illegal campaign loans that Howard Hughes had made to Nixon.
Hughes had, in fact, given $100,000 to Nixon’s close pal and confidante Bebe Rebozo to give to Nixon. Had Nixon used it for campaign purposes, it would have been no big deal. But he used $46,000 to build a putting green and install a pool table in his Key Biscayne estate. That would be a bribe. O’Brien might know about this because he had worked for Hughes’s chief lobbyist and fixer, Robert Maheu.
In other words, Nixon had reason to sweat.
Hughes was a very sore subject for Nixon. In 1960 — when he ran against John Kennedy for president and lost — he blamed a last-minute exposé written by columnist Jack Anderson detailing how Howard Hughes, then one of the major moguls behind the Las Vegas gambling empire, had loaned Nixon’s brother $205,000. This was seen as a back-door way of getting money into Nixon’s grasping pockets. Going into the 1972 election against Democratic George McGovern, Nixon was unbeatable. But Nixon, a paranoid anti-Semite sublimely uncomfortable in his own skin, didn’t get where he got by not worrying. Hence the break-in.
The rest, as they say, is history.
An interesting side note: There’s strong evidence to suggest that Nixon’s goon squads had given serious thought to assassinating Jack Anderson, the exposé-writing syndicated columnist. Among the plans devised to take Anderson was one in which the steering wheel of his car would be laced with the drug LSD. When Anderson absorbed the drug through his skin, the thinking went, he’d be overwhelmed with hallucinations and crash the car.
That, for the record, never happened.
But a whole lot more did.
In the meantime, be careful getting your toes out of your toe clips. You will look ridiculous when you fall. And watch out for pissed-off bunny rabbits.