By Charlie Johnston
It was in late June of 1973 when I became, overnight, a Republican. The Watergate scandal was raging and picking up steam that summer. I had just finished my junior year in high school and was attending the National Association of Student Council’s Conference in Colorado Springs. When I arrived at the convention, I was largely a good, little lefty – but I had already shown flashes of a conservatism that disturbed at least a few of the elitists among my “cool kids” friends. I had been expected to be the editor of the school paper my senior year – and a very smart student who had just graduated took it upon himself to talk to me and explain that a good reporter had an obligation to be liberal. I respected the kid a lot, but his advice ticked me off – and I told him the only obligations I felt on the matter were to get it right and be fair. We finally just agreed to disagree. It all became moot when I was elected student body president and felt holding both posts would be unseemly.
Three major things led to my sudden conversion that week.
First, we had a lot of officials, both Democrat and Republican, speak to us at general sessions. As the week went on, I got more and more discomfited by the comportment of each. The Republicans who spoke were in real agony over the good of the country. They hated to oppose a president of their own party, but almost unanimously, they said the good of the country must come first. The Democrats, to a man, could not hide their glee over the political gains they expected the scandal to bring them. They seemed absolutely joyful over the country’s agony because it would benefit them. I was offended right down to my toes – and began wondering how I could make common cause with such lowlifes. Their glee made me contemptuous of them.
Midway through the week, I got into a debate with another student there, a fellow in ROTC, over whether or not we should give amnesty to Vietnam-era draft dodgers who had fled to Canada. It was a good, vigorous debate. More glib than he was, I seemed to be getting the better of him; I was certainly getting his goat. At one juncture, after he had made a solid argument, I started, “What you’re saying is…” Before I could say another word, he ambushed me in frustration. “Don’t tell me what I’m saying,” he snapped, “I know what I’m saying. You may not want to listen or consider it, but I know what I’m saying – so just stick to what you’re saying without trying to twist my words.” Boy, did that arrow ever find its mark! I was both stunned at and convicted by the justice of his words. “I’m an arrogant ass,” I thought. I realized that I usually did not listen to my opponent, but simply used his argument as the launch pad for my next argument. I was ashamed. I don’t remember whether I apologized to the young man. I sure hope I did. His angry rejoinder was, for me, one of the most important epiphanies of my life. I did not trim my sails in debate, but I have listened and considered the perspective of all honorable opponents since then – and vowed NEVER to lose sight of the humanity of those opponents. Thanks be to God for the well-timed barb of that ROTC sparring partner!
The last straw came near the very end of the week. The keynote speaker at the last general session was Gary Hart. He was not yet a senator from Colorado. The previous year, he had been the campaign manager for George McGovern’s failed bid for the presidency. He gave a maudlin, smarmy speech arguing that McGovern had lost because he was such a decent, honorable man that the corrupt people of this country could not abide him. I was enraged. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I was down at the microphone to ask a question of every speaker that appeared that week. I went down to the microphone loaded for bear on this one. “Don’t you think McGovern’s poor judgment and unreliability had something to do with it?” I asked, citing McGovern’s budget-busting plan to give every man, woman and child in America $1,000 And his statement that he was ‘1,000 percent’ behind Thomas Eagleton the day before he dumped him from the ticket. Hart conceded that there were some ‘technical’ problems in the campaign but insisted that the fundamental problem was that the American people were just not good or honest enough to be governed by a man like George McGovern. I had walked into the auditorium an ambivalent Democrat that day; I walked out a nascent Republican – not formed ideologically, but furiously determined that I would not be counted among the emotional shysters who represented themselves as Democrat officials that week.
In the fall of that year, I met my Congressman, Robert McClory, who was the second-ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, which would later consider impeachment against Richard Nixon. By the next spring, I was a campaign aide to him, driving him around the district and writing some speeches for him on the weekends and during the summer. McClory was the only Republican to write an article of impeachment (The Third Article – the Contempt of Congress charge).
I am big on reading source documents on important issues rather than relying on news reports. As the scandal burgeoned, several disturbing things became clear to me. First, Nixon’s internal abuses were watered-down versions of what had been standard practice in the LBJ and FDR administrations – and about equal to those in the Kennedy administration (though it was Atty. Gen. Bobby, not Pres. John who drove the worst of the Kennedy abuses). Second, when the tapes were released, it became clear that John Dean (who is still mysteriously considered a hero) was an inveterate liar. He had lied throughout his five days of testimony to Congress to smear colleagues and clear himself. Dean had been charged with keeping Nixon apprised of what was happening with Watergate early on and whether there were actual White House employees involved in either the burglary or a cover-up. Until March 21, 1973, he had consistently lied to the president, minimizing everything. By the time Dean leveled with Nixon, it was too late to stop the attempted cover-up.
I still supported impeachment, knowing that the blowback for systemic abuses in the White House since the 1930’s was all coming down on Nixon’s head. It was unjust to act as if he were unique – or even the worst abuser (he was, perhaps, tied for third worst). I supported it, in part, because my boss did and, in part, because I thought the thing was being played on the square – that this would end a half century’s worth of abuses and that the media would be watchdogs against such abuses re-surfacing. However well-intended I was, I was a chump – a useful idiot to the left’s insatiable lust for power.
Ironically, on the domestic side, Nixon was the most liberal Republican president we ever had. His Keynesian economics and social justice prattling contributed mightily to the dislocations in the economy and society that were not re-stabilized until Reagan came. He was, however, one of the greatest geo-political thinkers to ever hold the office of president. Besides the opening of China, making it a counter-balance against Soviet ambitions, he also brought most of the Arab Middle East out of the Soviet orbit and into the American – despite having rescued Israel from annihilation in the 1972 Arab sneak attack on it. Led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Arab Middle Eastern countries were working quietly with Israel, trusting Nixon to be an honest broker, to stabilize the region on terms acceptable to both Arabs and Israel. While Egyptian President Anwar Sadat eventually made peace publicly with Israel during the Carter administration, the vitality and movement of the broader Mideast Peace Initiative was lost after Nixon’s departure. Who knows what would have happened? – but I have come to think this was a high price to pay for making Nixon the scapegoat for at least five decades of executive abuses.
Let us review a few things: Nixon tried to weaponize the IRS to go after his powerful enemies. The IRS refused. That effort played a large role in impeachment efforts. Obama DID successfully weaponize the IRS – not just to go after his powerful enemies, but to go after ordinary people who dared to disagree with him…and the media and Democrats decided there was not a smidgen of corruption there. The Watergate burglary was a failed attempt to spy on Democrats. It was the nexus of impeachment efforts. Obama successfully spied on reporters and opponents in office – and the campaign of his successor. Staffers in the Nixon White House worked to cover-up their involvement – and to keep Nixon in the dark about it until March 21, 1973. The whole Deep State apparatus has perverted the Justice Dept., FBI and Intelligence community into a cover-up machine to protect Democrats from accountability for their abuses. Obama sent an obscure video-maker to jail for a year to prop up his cover-up of administration failures in the Benghazi tragedy. The media covered for him. The Nixon administration’s crimes were, literally, like jay-walking compared to the massive systemic abuses under Obama.
I should have drilled deeper into the insights I gleaned from that conference in 1973. Christians believe that wisdom and truth are their own justification. We believe that “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil 4:8) We believe this because these are the things of God – and God is the objective standard of morality – so when we find ourselves apart from God, we seek to amend ourselves and our attitude so as to align ourselves with the Author of all righteousness. The left believes that power and the pursuit of it is its own justification. Law, justice, morality…all of these things are useful only when helpful in pursuit of power for the left. When they are not, they are to be ignored. There is NO stable, objective standard of anything. In the early days of Lenin’s reign over Russia, the dictator redefined truth itself: his dialectic (paraphrased) was that any lie which helped enhance communist power was truth – and any fact which damaged communists’ hold on power was a lie. That is the ethos of modern leftist neo-fascism.
Of course, when you abandon God, the only thing left is the pursuit of transient pleasure and power. Yet these things do not give life meaning. So you have leftists struggling mightily to maintain the power that has brought all – including them – nothing but an ever-growing misery. Power is a tool to be used in the service of God and man, not an end to be sought for itself.
It is not just leftist officials and activists who have been exposed as craven, hollow men. The media clearly does not believe its job is to report facts. It believes its job is to act as offensive tackles defending Democrats and defensive ends seeking to sack Republicans – regardless of the facts. But it has entered into its “Baghdad Bob” phase – where ordinary people can see its falsehoods right before their own eyes. I can’t say I was ever a big fan of Carl Bernstein – half of the Washington Post team that brought the whole Watergate scandal to light. He was too selective in his outrage even then. But I am absolutely disgusted to watch him opine on news shows now that abuses much greater and more cynical than he once fought are no big deal – because they were committed by Democrats. Bill Maher hopes for an economic collapse so it might bring down Trump. I suspect some lefties were hoping for North Korea to nuke us so as to embarrass Trump. It is insane – but is the logical end of the belief that the pursuit of power is its own justification.
I once thought that both sides of the cultural divide ultimately wanted the same things – peace, prosperity and objective standards of justice. I was wrong. The truth is that all of the left – and a lot of the right – simply want power. If a guy they hate brings peace, prosperity and objective standards of justice, they still hate and want to bring him down, damn the consequences. Everything takes a back seat to their pursuit of power.
Now all things are being revealed, laid bare for all to see. So comes the time for choosing. Lenin’s toxic dialectic has completely taken hold of the western world. Those of us who believe in honor are in a much better situation than we were two years ago. The left can feel the ground crumbling beneath their feet and are panicked by it. Remember, though, that in their minds, power is its own justification. They are not concerned with whether things are true, or honest, or pure, or lovely. Their only concern is whether a tactic will work to preserve their power. So even as the ground crumbles beneath their feet, we should be prepared for a final assault – and the assault will be on faith, family and freedom, for those are the primary obstacles to ascendant leftist neo-fascism.
If I had it to do over again, I would oppose Nixon’s impeachment while supporting systemic reforms of long-standing executive abuses. My hopes for Donald Trump were limited: I hoped he would be a mediocre president who would, nonetheless, defend Christians and conservatives from the war of extermination the left had mounted against us. Instead, he has been a godsend. I think the campaign and the presidency have been a road to Damascus for him, both to his and our benefit.
But a great challenge still looms before us – between virtue and power. There is no room for compromise on this. One side must win and the other lose. Jesus used the image of leaven to illustrate how a tiny group could influence a whole society. He used it interchangeably to describe both good and bad effects (though, notably, more often for bad effects). He spoke of the leaven of the Pharisees as an example of how a small group of religious elites could corrupt an entire culture. But in Matthew 13:33 he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened.” This is our choice. Will we contribute to the leaven of corruption, of power, which has perverted almost the entire modern world – or the pure leaven of honesty and truth; of faith, family and freedom which can renew the world? The battle is before us, not behind us. I’ll give you a spoiler alert: God wins. Our choice will affect the trajectory, but not the outcome, of the battle. We cannot choose whether God is on our side, but only humbly choose whether we will be resolutely on His side. Be the pure leaven of truth and honesty. Use the talent God has given you to win ten more talents to His purpose. May we all work to herald the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart and all things made new in God.