Scandalgate (a name that, for want of a better term, has been given to the current spate of brouhahas simultaneously hitting the Obama administration) is raising the specter of Watergate, which celebrated its 40th anniversary about a year ago.
I’m old enough to remember Watergate well; we were riveted to our TV screens (no TiVo-ing back then) watching revelation after revelation. But the biggest revelation, and the one that made all the difference in the world to Nixon’s fate—without it, I’m almost certain he would have served his full second term as president—was the news that he had taped all of his conversations. Until then, turncoat John Dean was the main witness Nixon had to fear, but it was the tapes that provided the smoking gun. Without them, Nixon’s denials might very well have held.
I have long wondered about those tapes. Why record conversations that Nixon obviously would have wanted to be off the record? And why, if those conversations had somehow been inadvertently recorded, did Nixon not make sure they were destroyed before they saw the light of day? It’s a puzzlement, but here’s an explanation.
Now you may or may not believe the story told at that site. I agree that it seems implausible. But I can’t come up with a more logical one that explains the facts as they emerged. Apparently the tapes were automatically voice-activated, and Nixon was unaware of that feature. He also apparently gave Haldeman an order to destroy the tapes, or at least some of them, and Haldeman did not comply (by that time, he may have thought they constituted his only defense against being set up to be the Watergate fall guy).
However, how could those in charge have been so stupid as to install voice-activated tapes and not tell Nixon about it in advance? But strange as it may seem, this may be the only credible explanation for the tapes’ existence, because if Nixon had known in advance, it makes sense that he would have found a way to turn them off before having the incriminating conversations, or at the very least have held those conversations in a place safe from prying recordings.
You may come up with more Byzantine explanations (the world doesn’t lack for conspiracy theories, and Nixon was a convoluted guy). But one thing of which we can be fairly sure: Obama does not have a similar device in place. I cannot imagine Obama having his conversations automatically recorded, or that his underlings would do so without his knowledge. Obama makes Tricky Dick look transparent. And without the tapes or their equivalent—or at the very least, a John Dean figure willing to spill the beans in return for a reduced sentence—I predict that Obama’s m.o. will be constant denial of any involvement (as Nixon’s was, by the way), blaming others, and posturings of outrage at the pettiness and politicization of those who would continue to even discuss the issue any more.