It appears that the Republican Party and the conservative chattering classes are determined to identify Barack Obama with every famous conservative disaster of recent history. BP’s Gulf Oil spill, we are told incessantly, is “Obama’s Katrina,” presumably because of the common geographic location, and now we hear that the silly, contrived “scandal” over alleged job offers to Democratic primary candidates will be “Obama’s Watergate.” What’s next: Obama’s Iraq? Obama’s U.S. Attorney Scandal? Obama’s Plamegate? Obama’s Illegitimate Election? (Oh, sorry, I forgot, Republicans have already used that one!).
In any event, the “Watergate” analogy is insane, unless maybe you are too young or too poorly read to remember what Watergate entailed. As Joe Conason explains at Salon:
“Watergate” was the place where the president’s henchmen staged a “third-rate burglary” of the Democratic National Committee headquarters on a June night in 1972, but its historical definition is the vast gangsterism of the Nixon regime. Watergate involved no political job offers, but a series of burglaries, warrantless domestic wiretaps, illegal spying, campaign dirty tricks, and assorted acts of thuggery by a group of goons whose leaders included G. Gordon Liddy and the late E. Howard Hunt. Watergate meant a coverup of those felonies with more felonies, set up by lawyers and bureaucrats who collected cash payoffs from major corporations and then handed out hush money and secret campaign slush funds. Watergate implicated dozens of perps, from Hunt and Liddy all the way up to the president, his palace guard, and his crooked minions at the highest levels of the Justice Department, the FBI and the CIA.
The allegations against the White House today involve alleged discussions of administration jobs for Democrats running in two Democratic primaries, who turned them down without consequences. Does that sound like Watergate in any way, shape or form?
But that even assumes there was anything wrong with the discussions, other than their political clumsiness. Yes, one defense is that the same thing has been done by federal, state and local executives from time immemorial, but even that concedes too much to the critics. The federal statute being invoked by conservatives in this situation makes it a crime to offer a job in exchange for “a political act.” But in this case, “the political act” is simply taking the job. If that’s illegal, then it’s illegal to offer appointments to anyone who is or might be running for office.
It’s not surprising that Republicans are seizing on this silliness, enabled by a bored press corps; not only does it contribute to the constant drumbeat of charges that Obama’s imploding politically and doomed to disaster in 2010 and/or 2012, but it’s also a handy weapon to use against Joe Sestak, who is well-positioned to beat one of the Right’s true heartthrobs, Pat Toomey, in November.
That’s all politics-as-usual, of course. But let’s not get hallucinogenic by comparing this to the wide-ranging use of federal power to raise money illegally and intimidate “enemies” characterized by Watergate.