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Presidential Scandals: Nothing New Under the Sun (Pt. 2)

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  • Wallace Henley Portrait
    (By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)
    Wallace Henley is an exclusive CP columnist.
By Wallace Henley, Special to CP
May 30, 2013|5:48 am

Why is there "nothing new under the sun"?

Why don't Presidents and their administrations see the bloody smears of scandal across the history of the Executive Branch?

If there are stark examples in past presidencies, why don't subsequent holders of power learn? Why are we here again with threats of impeachment, special prosecutors, congressional hearings, administration stonewallers and equivocators, press room spinners, and all the other accoutrements of scandal?

Most of the historic imbroglios have involved sexual affairs or money. The Nixon-era transgressions, however, took a more sinister turn, that of attempting to manipulate government agencies to silence opponents, and chilling the press in its attempts to investigate and report.

In short, to use the presidency as a tyrant might use raw power.

True, such behavior has been alleged on the part of other administrations, but the scale and scope in the Nixon era were much wider. Now it seems the unfolding of the reportedly scandalous layers of the Obama regime may be every bit as extensive.

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The Nixon and Obama issues are not merely Ulysses S. Grant's bouts of drunkenness or Bill Clinton's back-room liaisons with Monica Lewinsky, or Warren Harding's Teapot Dome (to say nothing of his sexual dalliances), or Grover Cleveland's illegitimate son, or even Reagan's Iran-Contra adventures.

The Nixon and alleged Obama misdeeds are a different breed altogether. There is a huge difference between scandalous "money, sex, and power" behaviors and corrupt practices that seek to perpetuate the rule of particular regimes through oppression and threats to opponents.

If the Nixon-era was populated with would-be tyrants, it would appear the Obama-season is spawning a whole new batch. As they tread down the same old road of accusation and shame, what did they forget?

What is it the new tyrants don't know that caused them apparently to misuse the power entrusted to them?

1. The Constitution
Nixon's pragmatism and Obama's progressivism both seem to have viewed the Constitution a handy guide whose lofty principles could be set aside in the rationalizations of conserving and extending their power, necessary, in their opinion, to the well-being of the nation.

It was another progressivist president, Woodrow Wilson, who held that the Constitution was, in his own words, answerable to Darwin – not, presumably, to the Creator who endowed citizens with "certain unalienable rights." What made the rights "unalienable" was the fact they came from the Absolute Source – God Himself. But if the Constitution is an "organism," as Wilson and other progressives view it, then the source is relativistic, and accountable only to the thought and practice of evolving culture and its consensus-shapers.

So, rather than carrying a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution for ready reference, today's pragmatists and progressivists are more likely to carry a strategy book. Nixon's pragmatism saw the Constitution as stretchable, and Obama's progressivism sees it as a "living" document, evolving in the steamy soup of culture. Whatever, the outcome is the same: the ease of setting aside Constitutional principles.

2. History and its dots
The 60s and 70s-era generations that now occupy the seats of power in Washington were educated in a period that treated history with disdain. The nihilists and existentialists who wrote and taught the textbooks saw the existential moment as the important thing. Many in power today learned history has no worthwhile past, but is all about "us" in our time, not about old dead people and their cobwebbed traditions.

The new picture of history depicts random, disconnected events that carry no larger design. In short, the history many of the contemporary new tyrants learned is dotless.

Even those who cling to the notion that history is important see it as needing revision. Insignificant abstractions become truer than the great panorama of historical fact itself.

Without the dots, no one learns to connect them and produce a holistic historical portrait. Thus, it's easy to forget the lessons of the past – like how slyly and darkly the dirty tricks evolved, and the disruption brought to the nation by the Nixon administration scandals – or see no connection whatsoever between the behaviors and outcomes of the new tyrants and those of the past.

Under such a worldview, history becomes repetitive – torturously so.

3. The core worldview and its values

The original design of American government was that of the Creator granting rights to common people, and those people then having authority to establish governing institutions that would defend the rights. Authority therefore flowed from the Highest directly to the "lowest," and government was a servant of the "lowest," not their master.

The framers understood the principle of Isaiah 57:15:

For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
"I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite…"

Transcendent authority is like water, seeking the lowest level, because its powers can only be entrusted to the "lowly" and "contrite" – those who resist arrogance and understand their own flaws. Such a view produced a government "of the people, by the people, for the people," as Abraham Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address.

But the new tyrants, with their abysmal ignorance of the Constitution, history, and core worldview, are driven only by pragmatic necessity on the one hand, or progressivist passion on the other.

And that's why there's nothing new under the sun – and how we got here.

Wallace Henley was a junior aide in the Nixon White House, District Director for US Congressman John Culberson (Texas' 7th District), and a former writer for The Birmingham News. His latest book is Globequake, published by Thomas Nelson.
 

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