There’s no denying that both of our major political parties have had their share of cads, scoundrels and out-and-out crooks. But, in the last 40 years, we have seen nothing like the repeated attempts by select groups of Republicans to act in coordinated and often illegal fashion with the goal of better insuring that their candidate for president would prevail in a national election. This is the most egregious of all behaviors because it sought to undermine the will of the people in their choice of who would lead us.
The first of these subversive attempts involved what came to be known as the Watergate scandal. In 1972, under the direction of G. Gordon Liddy, attorney for the Committee to Re-Elect the President (Nixon), a plan was hatched to acquire by various illegal means, the election plans and strategies of Nixon’s opponent. This included a break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office complex. The idea was to use whatever information was attained to develop counter-measures and tactics, and thereby tilt the “playing field” so that Nixon could run “downhill” back into office.
The Watergate burglars were caught in the act, a turn of events that triggered a massive attempt at a cover-up, orchestrated by the original planners of the political espionage and those above them who backed the scheme. Two years’ worth of congressional hearings and criminal trials led to the resignation of President Nixon and the conviction of 43 individuals, several of whom were top officials in the Nixon administration.
Barely a dozen years later, the next Republican attempt at election theft took place in the form of the Iran-Contra scandal. At the time, Ronald Reagan was involved in a spirited election campaign which pitted him against President Jimmy Carter. Carter was suffering in the polls because he had failed to secure the release of a number of American citizens working at our country’s embassy in Teheran, Iran, who had been seized and taken hostage about a year earlier. Only after Reagan had won the election did the scandal break and threaten his new presidency.
The scandal itself involved a web of secret deals and machinations, all of which were underway as the Carter v. Reagan election contest was drawing to a close. Involved was a plan to sell arms to Iran in exchange for the release of the hostages, but only after the presidential election was concluded. The intent here was to keep the hostages in Iran, reinforce the public perception that Carter was ineffectual, and thereby promote the Reagan candidacy. The money acquired in the transaction was to be funneled to the “Contras”, a group of rebels who were opposing the Communist government of Nicaragua. The arms sale flew in the face of stated US foreign policy. The funding of the Contras was in direct violation of laws passed by Congress.
If Watergate and Iran-Contra represented insidious operations, what happened in the run-up to the 2012 election was anything but. Conducted in full public view, Republican parties in a number of states sought to suppress the vote of key Obama supporters; i.e. the young, elderly and minorities. This was done by means of the passage in GOP-dominated state legislatures of a limiting of voting days and/or hours, and voter identification requirements that predictably would have a disproportionate restrictive impact on the aforementioned blocs of voters. This pattern was especially evident in states with large numbers of Electoral College votes; i.e. Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Fortunately for our democracy, these efforts at voter suppression were largely thwarted by the Democratic Parties in the involved states, the US Department of Justice, and by a public outcry over what was going on. We will never know how many truly eligible voters were discouraged from casting their ballots. Whatever the case, it is likely that President Obama’s three million vote margin of victory would have been even larger.
In the aftermath of all this tawdry history we are left to wonder “What has happened to the Republican Party of Lincoln and Eisenhower? Where have you gone and what happened to your moral compass?”