Different Way To Ponder Watergate Break-In 50 Years Ago Today

Though I am busy with the final stages of finishing my second book there was no way to not post about an event in history that not only energized my interest in Richard Nixon, but also one that profoundly changed the nation.

Fifty years ago tonight the Watergate break-in occurred. Five burglars were arrested at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, but what was to be uncovered in the following two years turned out to be a cast of characters best described as “white-collar criminals, hatchet men, and rogues” as Garrett Graff wrote in a Watergate: A New History.

The illegal, devious, and at times, truly absurd and comical activities would ultimately lead to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Though Nixon was well-read, educated, and to be praised for grand chess moves on the international stage, such as with the opening to China, his glaring character flaws defined his presidency. His actions and those he either condoned by others or by his conveyance of an attitude that stepping over legal boundaries was allowed proved his major ethical failing.

In 2017, more revelations were reported to underscore why a lenient tone and mindset from the Oval Office about illegal political activities gave license to others to act recklessly. It was stunning to learn Watergate prosecutors had evidence that operatives for Nixon planned an assault on anti-war demonstrators in 1972, including potentially physically attacking Vietnam whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

Anniversaries, such as the one we observe today, almost force one to reflect on the past. American politics would be vastly different had Nixon not used dirty tricks on his political opponents, or used the power of his office to attempt to thwart an investigation into wrong-doing.

But one can go a step further, as I have long argued, that had there been no stolen election in Texas that placed Lyndon Baines Johnson in the U.S. Senate the war in Southeast Asia would have played out differently. The anti-war movement and resulting violence and social upheaval might not have occurred, removing a theme Nixon used most successfully to win the 1968 balloting.

Longtime readers know of my deep respect for author and historian Robert Caro. His book Means Of Ascent about the 1948 special Texas senatorial election where LBJ’s win by 87 votes–votes that were manufactured by his backers and created from a phone book–makes the later newsreel footage of “Landslide Johnson” as it relates to Vietnam all the more biting and troubling.  

The story of Box 13 from Alice, Texas is not new by any means,   But the fully detailed and piece-by-piece unwinding of the drama over a large segment in Volume Two of Caro’s work on LBJ is not only masterly crafted but also a gut-punch even to those who know the background prior to opening the pages.  Caro submits an exhaustive amount of research in a polished manner where it seems that only intricate details are the ones fit to print.  In other words, he respects the readers he writes for, and that is most uplifting.

I had never before read the testimonies given in court by the individuals who conspired with LBJ to steal the election.  It was riveting.  The Johnson family is not fond of Caro and that is due to the writer, in grand detail providing historical evidence that coercion, lost ballot boxes, and corruption were practiced as high art by Johnson. Also, it needs noting for many decades by many Texan pols.

But the point here is that had Johnson not ‘won’ in 1948 he would not have been a national figure at the time of the Vietnam War.

In fact, had there been the lack of national angst that rose to levels of bombings and university strife and mayhem on the streets, due in large part to the Vietnam War, Nixon would not have had a natural opening to revive his political career. His loss in 1960, coupled with a spiritless race for governor in California had already removed him from national prospects for office.

The nation’s faith in elected officials, political institutions, and our standing on the world stage was tremendously impacted both by Vietnam and Watergate.

Those types of thoughts swirled around many years ago when James and I left the Jefferson Memorial and took a taxi to the Watergate. I thought perhaps there would be a coffee shop where we could catch a late lunch. Once we made the large arc of a driveway to the Watergate and were greeted by a uniformed man opening the car door I knew this was going to be even grander than I had first thought.    We asked about some food options and were seated outdoors. As you might expect, it was easy to get caught up in the history of the place.

To sit there and just take in the surroundings, while pondering the enormity of the break-in that would lead to the constitutional crisis that would envelop this nation was truly sobering.  Later that evening I would pass the courthouse where Judge John Sirica would make his rulings.

There were only a few items on the lunch menu and since visiting Washington requires carbs and calories for the constant adrenaline rushes I settled on bagels with cream cheese, lox, and capers.  It came with a side dish of fresh fruit–blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries.  And of course, coffee.

During lunch, I thought of former Wisconsin State Representative Lary Swoboda, an avid reader of books about Nixon who had many recollections about the events and mood of the nation during those tumultuous years.  He had died without making it to the famed building, so in some sense, Lary did make it to the Watergate–at least in memories.

Telling the friendly waiter at the end of lunch how pleased I was to have had the experience and made my interest in Nixon known, she put both hands over her head–the peace sign made with fingers in each hand–and said “I am not a crook.”

It was perfect!

Madison’s Proposed Recycling Tax Must Be Rejected By Alders

As Barney Fife would say ‘We need to nip it. Nip it in the bud’.

From the early reaction to a truly up-side-down proposal for Madison to harvest more from taxpayers via a newly proposed recycling tax, it would seem that nipping is in the air as spring begins.

Some have labeled the idea as regressive taxation but one city resident I heard from simply nailed it best by calling the “Resource Recovery Special Charge” as being Orwellian-named. Last week this matter was introduced at the council meeting.

There is no doubt that the ordinance title gives no clue about the actual change being sought.  What is being asked of taxpayers, however, who reside in residential properties is an additional fee to get curbside recycling services. The intent is that Madison will set a fee that will reimburse the local government for the costs of recycling.  The anticipated total recovery is $3M for 2023 ($1.5M for 2022).

The rationale from the city government is that “Over time, the City’s costs to operate its recycling program, including the costs of collecting, sorting and recycling waste, have increased.  It is reasonable that all or a portion of the costs incurred to provide this service be recovered from those using the service, rather than all taxpayers in the City.”

This new proposed fee is a very bad idea. Even at a time when the city might be searching for more revenue.  At first glance, it seems to me people will opt to place their recyclable material into the trash and that will undercut the environmental goals that our city government strives to implement.  

The mayor and alders should not need to be told that the basics of city government, be it trash, fire, police, and street maintenance, are considered to be covered by our tax payments. No add-on fees for the basics!  Before we build public markets and do things that are perhaps nice to have, we need to make sure that the basics of city living are financed and ready to operate.

So, what’s next?  Charging for trash pick-up?  After all, not everyone gets trash pick-up (e.g., commercial properties, apartment buildings).  Once upon a time, these charges for the public good were paid for by tax dollars.

If the mayor needs to have more cash she needs to do like everyone else during the pandemic.  Cut here and there and come up with the funds.  But do not seek it from the city residents who already are knowing they have paid for the city services with their property taxes. 

As city residents are being made aware of this issue it becomes more clear as to why the mayor and alders wanted to hide this nugget from the public.  If it is such a swinging idea why has no one pushing for it contacted the local reporters to write up an article? Let the whole city know what a brilliant idea has been hatched. Why hide from the wild adulation which would surely follow!

Right?

My readers have reached out and they sound much akin to this email I received at Caffeinated Politics.

Yes, no doubt the costs have increased, BUT SO HAVE PROPERTY TAXES THAT PAY FOR THOSE COSTS.  Will fees for collecting your trash, leaves, and brush be next?  Or, to use the library?  Or, to send your child to school?

So what do you do about this truly bad idea?

I ask that you please contact the Mayor, 266-4611, and your alderperson, 266-4071, and oppose their preposterous recycling tax. And, alert your friends and family in Madison. 

The Mayor’s email is mayor@cityofmadison.com — or use this form to contact the Mayor: Contact the Mayor | Mayor’s Office, City of Madison, Wisconsin 

You can use this website to contact your Alderperson Contact – Common Council – City of Madison, Wisconsin  Or, if you want to look up who your Alder is and send a direct email address, use this link:  Find Alder by Address – Common Council – City of Madison, Wisconsin

If Barney Fife’s idea of nipping does not work to remove this proposal we might ponder what Lyndon Baines Johnson would recommend as a political tool. He was a rancher…..

And so it goes.

Ron Johnson Pulls A Lyndon Johnson And Tells The Truth, Both Men Recorded

The front page of the Wisconsin State Journal on Wednesday, September 1st, was not only an account of the latest news to be reported. Above the fold on the front page was also a reminder as to why duplicity is never a good quality to be found in our elected officials.

Reporter Riley Vetterkind wrote that Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson recently said: “there’s nothing obviously skewed about the results” of the 2020 presidential election in the Badger State.

The weight of that remark from Johnson made to Lauren Windsor, who posed as a conservative when speaking to the Senator is most important. She recorded the conversation as executive producer of the liberal political web show The Undercurrent, and also runs Project Veritas Exposed, an effort to unveil the work of Project Veritas, a conservative organization that has secretly recorded Democrats and liberals.

Within hours after the close of presidential balloting across our nation in November 2020, a concerted effort started so to create a climate where a final and decisive outcome, within the minds of some voters, was not possible. There has never been such an unseemly display before in our country where the continuous peaceful handing off of presidential power was attempted to be thwarted.

The all-out attempt to delude and utterly confuse a sizable segment of Donald Trump’s conservative base into believing that chicanery and out-right illegal actions had prevented Trump from prevailing remains the darkest hours of his term. Those actions still pose a danger to the country.

To undermine a legally and unambiguous victory to the winner of the 2020 election remains a dangerous dagger to the heart of our democracy. Overtly adding doubt and fomenting chaos when an election is over erodes the faith in elections that must be retained by the citizenry.

Yet that is precisely what Ron Johnson did.

Johnson has elevated theories that have cast doubt on the election’s results.

In December, after Trump’s campaign had lost its Wisconsin election lawsuits in both state and federal courts, Johnson held a hearing where he invited one of the president’s lawyers, Jim Troupis, to testify. Troupis proceeded to assert the same theories that had been rejected in multiple courts.

Troupis testified that “more than 200,000” Wisconsin residents did not vote legally in Wisconsin, a number that included more than 170,000 residents who voted early at their local clerk’s office using a form that had been in place for more than a decade. Troupis himself was among those voters.

The duplicity can be then proved in Johnson’s recorded comments to Windsor.

“There’s nothing obviously skewed about the results,” Johnson told the woman. “There isn’t. Collectively, Republicans got 1.661 million votes, 51,000 votes more than Trump got. Trump lost by 20,000. If Trump got all the Republicans, if all the Republicans voted for Trump the way they voted for the Assembly candidates … he would have won. He didn’t get 51,000 votes that other Republicans got. And that’s why he lost.”

When I read the newspaper article I thought of another Johnson who talked publicly to the nation with one set of words, and then privately, also in a recording, had a much different view on the topic of the day.

President Lyndon Johnson was determined not to lose Vietnam on his watch to the communists. He made it clear to the nation he was going to be committed to victory. But in private Johnson was honest and knew he playing a losing game with the lives of the Marines he was then sending to South East Asia.

On Feb. 26, 1965, when Johnson orders his secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, to launch Operation Rolling Thunder, which will drop more bombs on the North Vietnamese than on all of Europe in World War II, he is melancholy. “Now we’re off to bombing these people,” he says. “We’re over that hurdle. I don’t think anything is going to be as bad as losing, and I don’t see any way of winning.”

A week later, when he decides to send Marine battalions to Vietnam, Johnson gloomily tells Senate Armed Services chairman Richard Russell, “The great trouble I’m under [is that] a man can fight if he can see daylight down the road somewhere. But there ain’t no daylight in Vietnam. There’s not a bit.”

I realize we ask a lot of any elected official. We want them to respond with helpful advice concerning constituent problems, support our views on the complex issues of the day, and arrive on time for the summer parades in our communities. We know that these men and women are human, and make mistakes.

But there is no way to rationalize away or pretend otherwise when it comes to the unconscionable way Johnson has played so loose and fast with one of the essential threads of the fabric which binds our democracy together. Being forthright and honest is a virtue that we try to impart to our children. It is certainly one that we must demand when it comes to a United States Senator.

History shows what happens when duplicity replaces honesty and candor.

And so it goes.

Congressman Glenn Grothman Could Learn From Lyndon Johnson

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One of the first news articles I read this morning was written by John Nichols regarding how Wisconsin’s Congressman Glenn Grothman is vying for attention with Senator Ron Johnson over who can stoop lower with racist statements. With the all-out openness that the Republican Party now exhibits their racist statements and sentiments it should come as no surprise there is competition over who can get deeper into the muck when playing to the base.

But there is another way to use competitiveness in politics other than going deeper into the basement. As such, I offer an idea for Grothman. As the Cap Times article makes clear the congressman needs some solid advice, as his image is needing repair.

On Wednesday, during the debate on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Republicans were struggling to come up with justifications for opposing necessary relief for Americans who have been hit by a pandemic and an economic downturn. So Grothman, an awkward communicator with a penchant for convoluted reasoning, was allowed to speak.

The Glenbeulah Republican made two arguments against the measure.

“First, one of the things that hasn’t been mentioned, the increase in the earned income tax credit for single people has a marriage penalty in it. I bring it up because I know the strength that Black Lives Matter had in this last election. I know it’s a group that doesn’t like the old-fashioned family,” Grothman said, claiming to be “disturbed that we have another program here in which we’re increasing the marriage penalty.”

Clearly, a competitive streak and the need for attention are at the heart of what Grothman is doing. Johnson, however, has a larger ball field from which to play his race cards so it would seem Grothman must find another way to stand out.

The leaders who have stood out in their own place and time are those who contributed mightily to bending the arc of history towards progress. Such names come to mind as Peter the Great, Benjamin Disraeli, Abraham Lincoln, and Lyndon Johnson. Now, I am not suggesting Grothman place aside his harsh Darwinian thinking and walk upright into the 21st century. I am not even suggesting he entertain overly enlightened thoughts.

But instead of offering the racist echoes of Ron Johnson why doesn’t Grothman place meaningful legislation into the congressional hopper? How about competing in the arena of ideas rather than racist rhetoric?

When President Johnson was elected in 1964 he wanted to be more than just a mere election winner. Rather, he wanted to achieve more than his political hero and mentor, President Franklin Roosevelt. As such, he was determined to have more bills passed in the first hundred days than was achieved in 1933. Granted, FDR was urging action in the midst of a depression while LBJ was working for laws in the midst of prosperity.

But at the end of the hundred days, Johnson had passed 12 bills, while FDR had passed 11. When it came to the thrust of the measures most historians place the scales being heavier in 1965. Then as we know on August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the voting rights bill into law. On the same day, it needs to be noted a hundred and four years earlier, President Lincoln had signed a bill emancipating black slaves who had been conscripted to fight in the Confederate Army.

Competition can be a very creative force, and when used artfully one that can achieve a great deal. Instead of going for the racist lines, Grothman could instead earn headlines for ideas that brought people together.

Now I very well know Ron Johnson is no FDR, and Glenn Grothman no LBJ. But would it not be nice if they strived, even at the margins, to be better men and elected officials than they are now showcasing to the state and nation?

History offers advice how it can be achieved.

And so it goes.

Historical Moment In America With Peaceful Protests, Republicans Need To Heed Call For Justice

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There is no way not to be moved emotionally, filled with pride, or awed by the historical moment that has filled our streets with peaceful protesters.  The vast majority of the protesters are peaceful but justifiably angry over the number of black men who have died at the hands of police.  There is no way to witness the death of George Floyd and not be resolved to make a change in the nation.  We all need to be determined at working to end the behavior we witnessed by the police officers in the video of Floyd’s death.  That type of officer shames all the men and women who wear blue uniforms around our nation.  AND IT HAS TO STOP. 

Over the long arc of our history protest movements have had measurable effects on the citizenry and have swayed elections.  President Lyndon Johnson is proof of that fact. History also shows that riots can play to a political use that allows for some candidates to use the fear card.  President Richard Nixon is proof of that fact.

Both of those men can claim the same year, and events, as proving those points.

A peaceful protest is a right, even when a president wants to make them disappear for a photo op. What Trump authorized this week against protesters outside the White House was disgusting and deplorable.

But a riot and the destruction which follows is not a right.  The riot places a huge ugly blemish over the work the peaceful protesters are doing.

Marching and shouting are basic constitutional rights.  Looting a merchant’s store is a crime.  That’s not just the law, it’s how most people, and most voters of all races, understand our nation to operate.

Our nation must address in a meaningful way the deaths of so many black men at the hand of officers who are clearly racist and in dire need of anger management classes. Our nation also needs to address the racist words, either out loud or through ‘dog-whistles’ which comes from Donald Trump and so many of his conservative brethren.  If they do not denounce his words they are as culpable as if they said them.  For too long the Republican Party has sided with the most despicable elements in order to secure balloting success.

It was not so long ago we saw a prime example of how Americans should behave when presented with vile racism. Senator John McCain was running for president on the Republican ticket. 

A woman at a McCain rally said, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him, and he’s not, he’s not — he’s an Arab.”

Her comment prompted McCain to immediately shake his head and take the microphone from her.

And with that action, and the following words, he made a point about what makes this nation solid, and how to move forward as a people.

“No ma’am,” McCain said. “He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

Republicans need to shed their racist words and deeds and strive for higher ground.  Our national story gives them the light to see that path…all they need to do is find their inner compass to again be the Party of Lincoln.

And so it goes.

“Working” (On Labor Day Weekend)

At age 83 Robert Caro remains one of the most admired and respected writers and historians in the nation.  He gives insight into the timetable for the much-awaited fifth volume (tome) of his biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson within the pages of his 2019 book, “Working”.

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The short version is it will be a few more years.  But then with a passion, he allows readers to know why that is so; his painstaking process of researching and discovering the story that needs to be told takes time.  Lots of it.

When writing the first volume, published in 1982, he and his wife, Ina, spent three years living in the Texas Hill Country.  While his books concerning Robert Moses and LBJ are large attempts to show how power is amassed and then used, he also delves deeply into the times in which his main characters live.  As such, the arduous life of women on the frontier was a powerful and pertinent portion of Caro’s narrative.   To have a solid foundation of the complex and connected elements to Johnson’s life allows for a better understanding–if one can ever truly attain it–of the man himself.

This Labor Day weekend the slim and easy to read 200 pages of “Working” has made for entertaining moments, pondering thoughts, and a better realization of how complicated the task is to which Caro has set as his mission.

The process of writing, and the way be constructs his thoughts, make for a strong defense of the depth of his work and the many years it takes him to research and write his books.  I marvel at his passion and his continuous fashioning of ideas regarding the storyline of the man he is wishing us to know better.

In the meantime, if Caro ever needs a break and a quiet lake to look upon with a great cup of coffee—I have just the spot.  I can not promise his coffee companion will be as still as the lake—but I suspect he likes a spirited conversation.

Until the next LBJ book is published this blogger sends all the best to Robert Caro.

 

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Waiting (Impatiently) On Robert Caro To Finish Beloved Series

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I made room on my bookshelves, in the appropriate place, for the fifth volume in the Robert Caro series about the life and times of Lyndon Baines Johnson.  The fourth volume came out in 2012.  The first book in the series was published in 1981.  The space allotted is wide enough for another 800 page treasure.   And treasures, they are!  Millions of readers can attest to that fact.

I was just entering broadcasting school when Caro alerted the world to his research talents and powerful skills narrating the LBJ story.  I then worked in radio broadcasting, a decade in the Wisconsin State Capitol, met the the love of my life now in its 19th year, and still there is no final volume of the must-read series.

I understand the extent to which Caro makes every effort to get his conclusions correct.  He lived for months at a time in the Texas Hill Country so to better explain and feel the climate and geographic features which impacted Johnson.  Each step along the way Caro dives deep so to convey the very essence of what made Johnson, and in turn what Johnson made of his life.   I do appreciate the all-out manner which Caro goes to in order to present the multi-faceted Johnson to his readers.

But I do wonder about the final volume.

This morning on the bottom half of The Wall Street Journal the headline read, Robert Caro Has Chronicled LBJ For Decades.  Fans Fret He Will Never Finish.  

Caro at age 83 allows us room to ponder that headline.  Another book by Caro, Working, is slated for release this spring.  That book is about the way he researched, reported, and wrote his Johnson books.  I am thrilled to read background having often commented about the depth of research that makes the LBJ books the most impressive biography series ever published.  As soon as the news of Working was made available James pre-ordered the book from Amazon.

That is all fine and dandy, as the saying goes.  But what about the fifth volume of the series, that in 1981, rocked the publishing world on the one hand, and readers of history and politics on the other?  As the Journal quoted Paul Bogaards, a Knopf spokesman, “This is the literary equivalent of the Sistine Chapel, although Michelangelo was probably a faster painter than Caro is a writer”. 

I love Caro, and Lord knows what a conversation could be had were he to stop by for a cup of coffee!  But if that were to limit his efforts at making sure the LBJ Vietnam War years were to finish ‘on time’ then I  would do the following.   Still have him over and chat–but just give him a smaller mug so to move him along for the task that needs completing. 

LBJ Bull Trivia

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During the two week 1963 holiday vacation at the LBJ ranch in Texas, the month after the assassination of President Kennedy, a most witty and memorable line was made by a well-known reporter.

President Johnson piled reporters into his large white Continental convertible so he could show off his large ranch .   The president honked on the bullhorn–a large moaning sound akin to a bull in distress at the touch of a button on the dashboard–in an attempt to encourage cattle to get out of the way as the group veered off the dirt track.  At one point LBJ stops the car, gets out, and d engages bulls on foot.

Noting that the Speaker of the House was next in line for succession (there was no vice-president at this time) if Johnson died, Tom Wicker of The New York Times, wrote that this “entertainment arouse in those who see it visions of John McCormack in the White House”.