Memo To: Bob Woodward, Washington Post
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Nixon and Clinton
I heard your old partner, Carl Bernstein, on CBS radio last night, talking about the differences between Watergate and Lewinsky. What a jerk, if you don't mind my saying so, Bob. I did not mind him saying that President Clinton only lied about sex, so it is no big deal. He's entitled to that opinion, shared by many. What made me ill was his description of Nixon. He called him "a criminal President, who ordered firebombings, break-ins, and the hiring of goon squads and thugs to disrupt election campaigns," etc. He ran on at the mouth about the pure evil of Nixon in an outrageous caricature of the Watergate scandal. He should have his mouth washed out.
The biggest differences between 1974 and 1998, and between the Nixon presidency and the Clinton presidency, is that we were up to our ears in the Cold War back then, still up to our ears in Vietnam, and had a domestic economy that was in the toilet because of the rotten economic ideas foisted upon the Nixon White House by Ph.D. economists of the Keynesian and monetarist flavor. When Nixon went to work every day in the Oval Office, he was confronted with an impossible three-dimensional chess problem, compounded by national security leaks by do-gooders in the government who hated his guts. He was no criminal President. To this day, I think he died believing he would have won a Senate impeachment trial, a belief shared, I think, by his lawyer/confidant at the time, Leonard Garment. Nixon threw in the towel because he "lost the Mandate of Heaven."
That is, the people of the United States went to a great deal of trouble to elect Nixon to the presidency, choosing him over all other available possibilities. What he did that was wrong was not evil or criminal, in exactly the meaning of his defense that when the President does it, it isn't illegal. Throughout history, national electorates have permitted their top leader an extra degree of freedom, to be able to deal with unanticipated eventualities that threaten the realm or the nation. It is indefinable, except for the Chinese phrase, the Mandate of Heaven. That is, if you exercise your extra degree of freedom, you better show a positive return, or the Mandate will be withdrawn. President Nixon quit when he'd lost the capacity to manage, and knew the country could not be without a manager for the two years it would take for a Senate trial.
When I watched the President last night, I was not at all sure whether it added or subtracted from his Mandate. My wife Patricia was definite in believing that he would lose the Mandate of Heaven. Her argument was that "the people who shop at Wal-Mart will not swallow his now admitting he had sex with a 21-year-old intern, and still blame Ken Starr." There are a great many people I know who believe he should resign, and that this incident is only one of many such acts by a criminal President. I'm not sure. It will take awhile for me to think about this, whether it is better or worse for the nation to let Clinton lose the Mandate and force him out of office. There are so many problems facing the country and the world, and Al Gore makes me nervous.