I feel like I have to begin with an apology everytime I post these days. Forgive me, again. No Oliver Stone today. Not even a real thoughtful post on my part, I'm just spreading this fine (and funny) editorial from The Idaho Statesman.
David Adler: For many people former President Nixon was Darth Vader
In the space of several days, answers to two great mysteries that had fascinated Americans for 30 years were revealed: the identity of Deep Throat, and the explanation of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. There are parallels here, and while they can be exaggerated, it is true that for a good many Americans Richard Nixon was Darth Vader.
President Nixon was Machiavellian to the core. For the Watergate president, the Constitution was an object of contempt, an inconvenience to be hurdled in the pursuit of his goals. His abuse of power and the criminality of his administration set his presidency on a trajectory that soared beyond the constitutional violations and contretemps of his predecessors.
It is fair to say that the Nixon presidency represented a genuine threat to the Republic. His administration's broad program of domestic surveillance, wiretapping and infiltration of organizations violated fundamental First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and assembly. His efforts to suppress publication of the Pentagon Papers constituted a grave threat to freedom of the press. If he had prevailed in his effort, that crucial liberty might well have been gutted.
Nixon's assault on the constitutional governance of foreign affairs was breathtaking, and it marked the emergence of the "Imperial Presidency." His usurpation of the warmaking and foreign affairs powers vested in Congress by the Constitution laid waste to the doctrines of separation of powers and checks and balances. His penchant for secrecy and covert operations, indeed, for a "shadow government" in foreign policy that was unaccountable to Congress and the nation, betrayed American ideals and undermined U.S. interests abroad. His claim to an absolute executive privilege to conceal his criminal activities, policy errors and various misdeeds amounted to the claim that the president was above the law. Readers may well recall that Nixon did claim, in a 1977 interview with David Frost, that the president is sovereign and that he may violate the law and authorize aides and subordinates to violate the law in the nation's interests.
There is little exaggeration in the observation that Nixon's conceptions of the presidency and his instincts to use power to achieve his ends, with no regard to the means, represented a grave threat to the Republic. Ironically, his efforts, programs and policies were, in large measure, exposed and thwarted by two Idahoans. We have long known of Sen. Frank Church's pivotal contributions to the exposure of the CIA's illegal acts, and now we know that another Idahoan, Mark Felt, became Deep Throat. As Yoda might have put it, fortunate the United States has been, for their patriotism.
David Adler is a professor with the department of political science at Idaho State University in Pocatello.
Printed in The Idaho Statesman 6/1//05