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Gary Horton: ‘Tricky Dick’ should be accountable

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: June 9, 2009 6:17 p.m.
Updated: June 10, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Go rent the movie, “Frost/Nixon.” Whether or not you think Nixon was evil personified or a misunderstood saint — hit Blockbuster or e-mail Netflix.

See the movie, because our days today resemble much of those days back then, and a refreshed comparison gives us balance and insight as to what to do next.

“Frost/Nixon” is of course, just a dramatic movie. In most ways, however, it stays true to facts and actual transcripts.

It certainly catches the flavor of those times, much of which I still personally remember.

Paranoid for power, Nixon ran a break-in, cover-ups, pay-offs, and manipulated the IRS to intimidate enemies.

But Nixon never stood impeachment hearings, sidestepping that humiliation by resigning and retreating to his beautiful San Clemente mansion to nurse his phlebitis and ego.

Newly installed President Gerald Ford underestimated America’s passion for justice.

With his pardon of Nixon, the country lit anew with indignation. More marches, more protests. We were left hanging when it was Nixon we wanted to see twisting in the wind. We felt compromised and abused. No closure; no national cleansing of sins.

Along came congenial Australian talk show host David Frost. Perceived as “no threat,” Nixon sold a series of long interviews to Frost for $600,000 — a substantial sum at the time.

The interviews went swimmingly for Nixon until their final encounter.

Frost had boned up and encountered Nixon on a melancholy day. Catching Nixon in a series of lies and pressing him hard, Nixon momentarily lapsed and coughed up what would be his closest thing to admission and apology:

“When you’re in office, you have got to do a lot of things. Some thing that are not always in the strictest sense of the law, legal. But you do them because it’s in the greater interest of the nation ... I’m saying that when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.”

Frost couldn’t believe his own ears, and neither could the country.

Here was both Nixon’s admission of guilt and his audacity to hold himself above the law. The Frost/Nixon interviews boiled down these key moments, and the drained Nixon faded out of our public view. We never got our trial, but reluctantly settled instead for a talk show sense of closure.

Many Americans distrusted the other Tricky Dick from his first days. With Nixon-like secrecy, Dick Cheney held private “energy meetings” with industry insiders.

We were never let in on the details, but shortly thereafter our electric bills ascended to the heavens, followed by skyrocketing gas bills. Whatever transpired in those secret meetings certainly didn’t benefit the American pocketbook.

Then, we invaded the world’s second-most oil rich country. Today, western oil majors again control Iraq’s oil industry.

Greasing the way, we heard lies of “yellow cake” and “mobile weapons labs” and “weapons of mass destruction programs.” We were bamboozled, and 4,500 American kids and 100,000 Iraqis paid the ultimate price, while the rest of us now bear a continuing financial burden.

Like Nixon, Cheney went into hiding. Not in the Oval Office, but in his secret bunker, and waiting it out, pulling the levers of government behind curtains. There were talks of trials and hearings, but the clock ran out, and Bush and Cheney got a pass.

Sensing a renewed commitment to law and openness, many again call for justice against Cheney, sounding much like the American public looking for Nixon’s trial. “We were torturing people to shake down sound bites to sell the war,” goes the outrage.

Tricky Dick Cheney recently hit the airwaves attempting a redo on his legacy.

He came out swinging hard, and in early interviews seemed to score points. But as with the Frost/Nixon interviews, persistent questions and revealed information are taking their toll.

Military leaders cross Cheney with facts. His lies get called out and exposed. Cheney has been losing his cool.

Two weeks back, he slipped and admitted there was no link between Iraq and 9/11, directly contradicting his emphatic sales job leading to the war.

Without directly intending to do so, Cheney confessed to misleading the public to war.

But a Frost/Nixon-like confession won’t satisfy many Americans. This time, it wasn’t just a burglary coverup or misuse of the IRS. It was a war under false pretense that killed more than 100,000 and ruined nations.

President Obama finds himself in a Gerald Ford moment. He desperately wants to move America progressively ahead. We have more than enough problems and there’s no time to waste.

But in moving forward, past Cheney, Obama would bypass America’s sense of accountability and rule of law.

Judging from the reclusive Cheney’s image rehabilitation project, it appears Tricky Dick II may worried that hearings may come.

Time will tell how Congress responds. But Obama himself won’t be derailed. He’ll leave surrogates in Congress to press the heat, while he continues focused, driving the “Change Train.”

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.



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