To the Editor:
Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab [“An Appointment With Watergate,” September] have analyzed Watergate brilliantly and imaginatively. I would have expected the expert way in which they have developed the radical Right setting. But I am instructed by the precision with which they have established Nixon’s own ambience between the Right and Center of his party, which goes far to explain events both before and after the break-in.
I am disappointed, however, that the authors at the conclusion of this otherwise superb piece re-defend their attitude during the 1972 election. They point out correctly the mistaken calculation of Nixon and the men around him that left-wing violence in the United States was likely to continue, then they themselves seem to equate McGovern with extremist positions even as they did a year ago. Can it be that just as Nixon in 1950 could so set the terms of the debate that he could lead the liberal Helen Gahagan Douglas to enunciate anti-Communist clichés, so can he in 1973 persuade two such sophisticated scholars to echo his tired shibboleths?
Department of History
To the Editor:
“An Appointment with Watergate” is extraordinarily informative. It contributes some important new perspectives on President Nixon’s role in the Watergate affair, with challenging implications for our understanding of the American political system. It should open a new stage of serious debate.
The next step in this debate should be to link what the article says with what it did not stress but perhaps should have stressed. The basic issues of American politics now may be how to close out the transitory stage of imperial intervention and adventures in our foreign policy, particularly in Asia and Latin America, how to loosen the one-sided and rigid grip of the old military-industrial and cold-war elements on large parts of our political system; and how to build up government into an effective steering organization to deal with our ever more urgent domestic problems of inflation, stagnation, excessive inequality, and inadequate public health and social justice.
Too many people are trying to preserve the policies and practices that gave us Watergate and that may give us worse to come. Too many people are trying to preserve and enhance international tension and domestic neglect. Too many special groups are digging in to defend their small privileges, old or new, which blind them to the larger dangers to world peace and to their own survival. If world peace is allowed to break down from neglect, we all may end up holding first-class cabin reservations on a sinking ship.
Karl W. Deutsch
Department of Government
To the Editor:
The framework offered by Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab is not very helpful, despite its insights, in understanding what has come to be called Watergate. The degree to which the authors have tried to force the facts into their paradigm becomes evident when they offer the following Nixon quotation as an example of Nixon’s cosmopolitanism . . .: “There are some who claim that administration officials failed to act because they were Communist or pro-Communist. But the great majority of our officials were not in this category, and I cannot accept this accusation as a fair one.”
This statement is a clear example of the classic Nixon style of planting an accusation and then separating himself from it, precisely what was meant by those who called Nixon a white-collar McCarthy. We should also recall his speeches defending Adlai Stevenson’s loyalty when nobody had ever questioned it. . . .
The fact is that the paranoid style and ideological politics are not synonymous, even if they often are found together. Nixon’s so-called shifts may be viewed as provincial or cosmopolitan—or they may be viewed as consistently pragmatic and non-ideological, and consistently paranoid in style. In such a context, it is easier to understand Cambodia, Watergate, wheat sales, wiretaps, and trips to China.
Watergate is better understood as a further example of the concentration of power in the national executive in post-industrial society. For that reason, Messrs. Lipset and Raab perform no service by minimizing, despite their protestations to the contrary, the seriousness of Watergate. The bungled burglaries were only one part of the unchecked use of executive power, the prime example of which was the conduct of a war in Cambodia without the knowledge of the Congress or the people. Those bungled burglaries were, therefore, lucky accidents which served to put a brake on the use of executive power. It is such power in dictatorial proportions which needs to be seen as the major danger. That’s the lesson of Watergate, rather than the ebb and flow of American backlash. . . .
Fairleigh Dickinson University
Teaneck, New Jersey
To the Editor:
. . . I was dismayed by “An Appointment with Watergate.” . . . Not only do Seymour Martin Lip-set and Earl Raab minimize the acts committed by the White House . . . not only do they fail to mention Sam Ervin . . . but, having decided to reduce the whole affair to an analysis of Nixon’s psychological behavior, they make light of the true significance of Watergate. For Watergate is not only a product of the behavior of one man . . . it is the result of a specific institutional development. Any analysis of the situation must begin with the fact of the enormous concentration of powers in the hands of one man, . . . powers that exist because of the vacuum created by the people’s abdication of their own power. . . . I was recently in the United States (April and May of this year) and I can confirm the total absence of public reaction . . . (no outcry, no protests, nor any demonstrations in places of work, in the streets, or even on the campuses). It is as though every four years the so-called sovereign people turn their power over to one man, and then remain totally uninterested in politics until the next Presidential election. The number-one problem of the Watergate affair is the possibility it raises of citizens and their representatives totally relinquishing their control over the government. . . . But the unraveling of the affair also reveals certain facts which allow one some hope for the future of American democracy. . . . The action of the courts, the press, and the Senate, following upon the general abdication of the American people and most of their representatives, constitutes a last line of resistance.
Watergate concerns us also in Europe because we can see . . . the same . . . deterioration of the democratic system at work here, the same tendency toward an authoritarian Presidential system, which, judging from past history, can only have a corrupting effect. . . .
To the Editor:
Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab offer an intriguing comparison of extremism and the fear of conspiracy in the 20’s and the late 60’s, but their conclusion is puzzling. They assert that Americans are more willing to accept cultural and political differences in our own time than during the KKK era, but they severely hedge their optimism by suggesting that this tolerance can be easily upset by ideological factionalism on either the Right (provincialism) or the Left (cosmopolitanism). Despite the spectacular rise in the number of college graduates and the disappearance of the most blatant forms of racism, the unhappy truth is that the Klan mentality is alive and well in the United States.
Kenneth T. Jackson
Department of History
New York City
To the Editor:
The article on Watergate is one of the few relatively informative and dispassionate summaries on the subject that have been published in the U.S. But . . . one can still distinguish some typical academic blindspots. . . . Thus, it is fashionable . . . to imagine certain conspirators and unfashionable to imagine others, and the article left one with the impression that it is largely and inevitably the political Right (in both its Whig and Tory manifestations) which hears plotters under the bed. For example, George Wallace, mentioned as an “extremist” in the article, certainly uses salty language, but I can’t at the moment recall his ever having set up a conscious, coherent conspiracy as a political target. On the other hand, I can’t recall a single significant public statement by Ralph Nader which does not directly or by implication set up such a target.
The White House might never have fallen into this trap of its own making if it had only consulted with a historian of 19th-century anarchism who could have described that movement and placed the American new radicalism in a chain of descent from it rather than from conspiratorial Leninism. . . .
John W. Bowling
To the Editor:
. . . What brought the rough campaign tactics of the Nixonians into public focus was nothing but an explicitly political event: the Senate hearings (not the election of 1972). Because such tactics were not peculiar to Nixon’s campaign, reasonable men might wonder why they have caused so much indignation. This wonder is perhaps dispelled to some extent by reflecting that Nixon won with the support of the core element of the coalition which has maintained Democratic hegemony since 1936. Moreover, he won without much organized support from Eastern establishment Republicans. If Nixon had lost in 1972, or even if he had won by a margin similar to that of 1968, there would have been little need for, and no interest in, the calumnies and accusations which we saw this past summer.
. . . Messrs. Lipset and Raab’s argument is complicated by their rehash of opinions—formed in the reaction to McCarthyism—about “conspiracy theories.” From their point of view, provincials tend to formulate “conspiracy theories,” whereas cosmopolitans understand that political events are moved by “social forces.”. . . But “conspiracy theories” are one thing and genuine conspiracies quite another. If we construe political “conspiracy” broadly as the use of private or secret, i.e., publicly indefensible, means to public ends, then we would have to conclude that conspiracies are at least as much a part of American politics as the authors believe “conspiracy theories” to be part of the American political tradition. . . . Why then should Nixon’s use of covert means become a matter of such great public indignation? In raising this question, I run the risk of being accused of being soft on Watergate; I do not ask it rhetorically, however.
Messrs. Lipset and Raab make the claim that some hidden “social forces” necessitated our “appointment with Watergate.” Perhaps from the point of view of God, this is true. I don’t know. But this much seems obvious: real men have been dishonored, whether justly or not is still controversial; foreign and domestic policies once widely acclaimed have now become suspect. What is more, the discrediting proceeds almost entirely on the basis of deliberations which scrupulously avoid mention of the substance of Nixon’s policies and actions. Such formalism is not new. It is a nice way of purging partisan humors: surely Messrs. Lipset and Raab remember the days when the question of whether or not our policy toward Russia and China was altogether sound was replaced by the question, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?” I don’t know what the authors think of this summer’s purging; they seem to be above it. Still, for those of us dwelling below, caught in the play of the “social forces,” the serious question of whether Nixon can or should subvert the heirs of the New Deal on the basis of the New Deal coalition still remains open.
Those golden days of “pragmatic democracy,” when Senators Stennis, Humphrey, and Dirksen could sit down in private and hammer out a civil-rights bill or a war on poverty while the sweet voice of reason boomed above, are gone. Messrs. Lipset and Raab may long for their return, and maybe consensus politics should return. But the American experience reveals that lasting consensus is the consequence of bitter partisan struggles—struggles rather like the Watergate investigations in some cases—because a consensus is the opinion of the ruling party.
John A. Wettergreen
California State University
San Jose, California
To the Editor:
. . . I thoroughly agree with Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab’s picture of the sense of “conspiracy” behind the protest movements of the late 60’s. But I have some misgivings about the explanation they give: “In each case, an important segment of the American population felt that it was being displaced in power and status; in each case, this feeling generated a cultural and moralistic ‘backlash.’” . . . I wonder if this is a fail-presentation of the motives of those who elected the winners of 1972, no matter how badly their choices have turned out!
One difficulty is the ambiguousness of generalization. It’s surprising how wide a span of human motivation can be encompassed in that phrase “power and status.” One visualizes mean little bankers clutching their moneybags from grasping black fingers, but the following projection fits the generalization just as well.
Suppose I’m a middle-class Wasp, parent of a sixteen-year-old girl. . . . My daughter runs a thousand miles away from home to join a hippie camp. . . . I think most of us will grant there’s a good chance of her reappearing on my doorstep in a couple of years with no husband and a. child under each arm. . . .
Alas, I don’t live in a hypothetical future social Utopia; I must deal with society as it exists in the here and now, meaning a material blow to my “status” and my “power.” . . .
It may be objected that this case evades the issue; Messrs. Lipset and Raab’s protagonists, after all, were urban blacks as well as intellectuals and academics. So this time, let me be a Jewish tailor in some . . . city slum. . . . I’ve spent years saving up enough to go into business, and thereafter some decades in building my business into a good living. Then come black liberation . . . and black boycotts. My business slumps, my insurance climbs out of sight, my debts are uncollectable, and my physical existence becomes intolerably precarious. Nor can I pull out short of ruin. . . .
Here again I’m a representative of “an important segment of the American population,” being displaced in status and power—and my values are being challenged at the same time. . . . Lifelong Democrat that I am, I might feel strongly enough to join the “backlash” vote. . . .
I guess what I’m trying to say is that “backlash” in 1972 was never a simple business of haves versus have-nots. Or if it was, in the course of climbing to full citizen status have-nots are as likely to violate morals and reason as those they seek to displace; it serves neither morality nor reason to focus all our attention on the imperfections of one side. More than in most areas, we need here to fight shy of grand social generalizations.
Alfred B. Mason
Huntington Beach, California
To the Editor:
In “An Appointment With Watergate” Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab refer in passing to the Brookings Institution as one of “the largely government-financed ‘think tanks.’” May I correct this misconception? For reasons which will be clear to anyone who has given thought to the problems of preserving the independence of a public-policy research institution, we have steadfastly avoided substantial reliance on government financing. For the last five years, the ratio to our total operating expenditures of funds derived from federal government grants and contracts has been as follows:
The Brookings Institution
Seymour Martin Lipsei and Eari Raab write:
We do not want to argue anew the role of Senator McGovern in 1972 with Frank Freidel. We never suggested that he was an extremist. Rather we contend that he behaved as a factional spokesman in a political system which requires that the Presidential nominee of a major party accept the fact that he is the leader of a coalition. McGovern, like Goldwater before him, treated those who had disagreed with his policies as immoral, and thus made impossible the creation in 1972 of an anti-war coalition that would embrace those Democrats who had at one time supported the war. As the sponsors of the vicious Republican “dirty-tricks” campaign recognized, such a coalition could have formed around the candidacy of Senator Muskie or even Senator Humphrey and might well have deteated Richard Nixon for reelection.
Karl W. Deutsch raises important issues about the future of American politics which go well beyond the scope of our article. His point is well-taken that the petty concerns of various special groups may prevent the American government from dealing effectively with urgent domestic and international problems. We would urge him to propose some solutions to the dilemma, although we do not deny our own responsibility to try to do the same.
Donald Feldstein, properly, is opposed to the tactic of “planting an accusation and then separating himself from it,” which he suggests is the essence of what we described as Nixon’s cosmopolitan streak. But surely he does not believe that Nixon was the primary agent of “red-baiting.” The fact remains that in earlier internal debates among Republicans and conservatives, Richard Nixon on various occasions did denounce those in his own camp who sought to link their opponents to subversive conspiracies. He understood the danger that extremism posed—to his own ambitions if nothing else. Some of his speeches to this effect were made to audiences that did not relish such views.
Mr. Feldstein, like W. Rabi, views Watergate as an example of the “unchecked use of executive power,” and believes that things are getting worse in this regard as time goes on. But the tact is that, unlike the Nixon administration, earlier administrations engaged in public efforts to intimidate their opponents by branding them as agents of foreign-based conspiracies. From the Alien and Sedition Acts of the Adams Federalists, through President Grant’s denunciation of Catholic conspirators, to Attorney General Palmer’s raid on radicals and aliens, such attempts were made openly with the assumption that the public was behind them. Those who undertook the Watergate break-in and the “White House horrors” (in John Mitchell’s phrase) operated in secret; they did so because, as J. Edgar Hoover recognized, the climate of American opinion had shifted decisively. Hoover, as former Acting FBI Director Ruckelshaus pointed out, felt that it had become impolitic to continue various illegal procedures the FBI had employed in the 195()’s. Given such changes, we also cannot agree with Kenneth T. Jackson’s conclusion that “the Klan mentality is alive and well in the United States.” It is alive, but it is far weaker than it was in the era of the second Klan about which he has written so perceptively.
As for Mr. Rabi’s observations that the American people are indifferent to the efforts of repression,. we would note the inability of the government in recent years to find juries willing to convict radicals and black militants, something which was not the case in earlier decades. Beyond this, we would reiterate these points in our article: there was considerably less repression of anti-war activity or of radicals in the 60s than of comparable phenomena in previous eras; during a war against a Communist opponent, restrictions on the rights of Communists broke clown; those who tried to repress dissent had to operate covertly, and. therefore, failed.
It is true, as John Bowling states, that George Wallace never “set up a conscious coherent conspiracy as a political target” in his national campaigns. He is much too clever a politician to have done so. But as we noted in The Politics of Unreason, he repeatedly invoked a kind of conspiracy surrogate, traitors abroad, the intellectual elite at mischief at home. And he was able to mobilize a veritable army of believers in conspiracy theory, Birchers and others, behind him. The chairman of his American party, T. Coleman Andrews, stated: “I believe in the conspiratorial theory of History. . . . People are beginning to see that . . . [the Birch Society’s] original theories were right . . . There is an international conspiracy.” As to the question of whether Wallace is an “extremist,” the record is clear that in his campaign speeches he repeatedly stated his determination to eliminate the sources of evil in America without regard to due process or constitutional rights. For example, he denounced intellectual critics of the Vietnam war as “those long-hairs [who] ought to be treated as traitors, which they are.” His solution to the problem of riots was to “let the police run this country for a year or two and there wouldn’t be any riots.” He stated that in his administration there would be “a police state for folks who burn the cities down.” He said the way to handle violent demonstrators was to announce that “the first man who throws a brick is a dead man. The first man who loots something which doesn’t belong to him is a dead man.”
John A. Wettergreen seems to believe that concern over the “White House horrors” is largely motivated by partisan considerations. He asks why the attacks on “Nixon’s use of covert means” were made without “mention of the substance of Nixon’s policies and actions.” The answer is that whatever may be guessed about the behavior of other politicians, no evidence has ever been assembled to suggest that as many comparably high-placed members of any previous administration were so deeply involved in secretly trying to subvert the political process. The issue here is not Richard Nixon’s social policies but the deliberate effort to defeat political opponents by illegal and other undemocratic means.
Alfred B. Mason seeks to give us some insight into the ways some people react to threats against whatever power or status they have. We can only sympathize with this effort, but to “understand” why decent people are led to believe that events which disturb them are traceable to a conspiracy does not make their analysis true, nor does it modify the disastrous consequences that such beliefs can have for the democratic process.