Do the Bush Family Pols Play Dirty?

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Mr. Olshaker is a longtime freelance writer whose work has appeared in many publications including the New York Times and TomPaine.com.

“At the Republican convention in Houston, they spent two days attacking Hillary. . . . I expect them to come after Mother and Chelsea, but they must be saving that for later.” --Bill Clinton, 9/6/92

In early March, Senator John Kerry made perhaps the most surprising comment any presidential candidate has made this year—a blunt warning that the Bush machine “will attack my character and even my wife’s.” His remark did not receive the kind of coverage we would probably be seeing if, for example, George W. Bush had warned of a Democratic smear campaign against his wife Laura. In fact, it appears to have slipped by virtually unnoticed.

A look back at previous Bush family presidential campaigns—in 1988, 1992, and 2000—reveals a disturbing pattern of personal attacks on the families of their opponents, a variation on the larger theme of character assassination that also has included impugning the patriotism of opponents (Dukakis, Clinton, McCain, and Kerry) and questioning their mental health (Dukakis, McCain, Gore, and Dean). Perhaps at this point, in the middle of the fourth Bush presidential campaign, the increasingly docile media simply accepts this strategy as business as usual.

The smearing of Teresa Kerry by Bush surrogates was already under way as Kerry spoke, and has only increased in frequency and vitriol. Radio-show host Rush Limbaugh, who was praised by Bush as “a national treasure” when his drug habit got him in trouble with the law last year, has mocked Mrs. Kerry’s personal appearance and refers to the Kerrys as “Mrs. John Heinz and John F-ing Kerry” on his website. Fellow radio conservative and best-selling author Michael Savage, who has hosted Dick Cheney on his show, has spent hours fixated on the “wife who looks like a deranged lunatic,” describing Teresa Kerry as “sinister” and “spooky” because of her accent. “This is America—foreign accents don’t sell,” declared Savage, who also called the Kerry daughters “losers” and Elizabeth Edwards “a disaster” and “a deficit to the campaign.”

In what might be the first-ever racial attack on a presidential candidate’s wife, a radio ad directed at black voters denigrates the African-born Mrs. Kerry as “a white woman, raised in Africa, surrounded by servants”—essentially, a colonialist oppressor, although in reality she actively protested apartheid.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Dennis B. Roddy reported earlier this year that “an assemblage of right-wing groups is gearing up to target Teresa Heinz Kerry,” and quoted key Republican activists who were remarkably candid about their strategy of personal attack. David Bossie, head of Citizens United, declared, "I do believe she clearly will be an issue. Her and her financial resources and her corporate entities and donations – all those things need to be looked at real closely.” And Floyd Brown of the Young America's Foundation described his plans to dig for dirt in Mrs. Kerry’s past: “She's well known to be a difficult woman to deal with. I would encourage you to look up some old Heinz staffers. I think she'll undergo the same kind of scrutiny that Hillary did because she's been so active.”

The campaign of personal attacks is further fueled by extremist billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, the owner of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and financier of Newsmax.com, who once claimed that President Clinton “has people bumped off at will.” Then there's Matt Drudge, the influential channel for right-wing propaganda who called Mrs. Kerry “one whacked-out chick” on his radio show. Not surprisingly, Bush loyalist Sean Hannity warned on his popular show that Mrs. Kerry is “fair game.”

Coincidentally, “His wife’s now fair game” is what Bush adviser Karl Rove reportedly said to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews when Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV charged the administration with making false claims about Saddam Hussein seeking African uranium. Wilson’s account of how the White House punished his dissent by revealing his wife’s identity as an undercover CIA operative serves as disturbing evidence that wife-bashing is not a tactic the Bush team reserves strictly for presidential campaigns. Wilson wrote that “the administration’s attack on me deflected American public opinion from the chilling reality that this war was waged on false pretenses. And it changed my family’s lives forever. Our security is a real concern because of the bull’s-eye put on Valerie’s back by the White House, and her anonymity is forever lost.”

Wilson’s ominous picture of “a partisan Republican smear campaign” directed by an exceedingly vindictive White House is corroborated by the similar experience of Bush’s former anti-terrorism chief Richard Clarke, who in his book Against All Enemies accurately foresaw that he would be the target of retribution by an administration “adept at revenge.”

The accounts by Wilson and Clarke are remarkably similar to President Bill Clinton’s recent revelation of the threats he received when he was considering a presidential run. In My Life, Clinton describes a 1991 phone call from the Bush White House’s Roger Porter, threatening to destroy him if he runs: “We’ll spend whatever we have to spend to get whoever we have to get to say whatever they have to say to take you out.”

Looking at subsequent personal attacks by the Bush machine, it appears that Clinton was not exaggerating. Four years ago, after Senator John McCain defeated Governor George W. Bush by a shocking 19-point margin in New Hampshire primary, a follow-up victory in South Carolina might have propelled McCain all the way to the nomination had he not been stopped by an intense campaign of dirty tricks.

“They know no depths, do they? They know no depths,” McCain said at the time, reacting to the misleading ads being run against him. Yet the negative ads about his voting record were a minor matter compared with the smears of McCain’s family. In an article for the Boston Globe, McCain campaign manager Richard H. Davis recalled:

It didn't take much research to turn up a seemingly innocuous fact about the McCains: John and his wife, Cindy, have an adopted daughter named Bridget. Cindy found Bridget at Mother Theresa's orphanage in Bangladesh, brought her to the United States for medical treatment, and the family ultimately adopted her. Bridget has dark skin.

Anonymous opponents used "push polling" to suggest that McCain's Bangladeshi-born daughter was his own, illegitimate black child. In push polling, a voter gets a call, ostensibly from a polling company, asking which candidate the voter supports. In this case, if the "pollster" determined that the person was a McCain supporter, he made statements designed to create doubt about the senator.

Thus, the "pollsters" asked McCain supporters if they would be more or less likely to vote for McCain if they knew he had fathered an illegitimate child who was black. In the conservative, race-conscious South, that's not a minor charge. We had no idea who made the phone calls, who paid for them, or how many calls were made. Effective and anonymous: the perfect smear campaign.

According to a report in Newsweek, the smears went even further, including attacks on McCain’s wife:

…Voters were told that McCain was a liar, a hypocrite, a philanderer and a jerk. They were told he was not a hero at all but a Manchurian Candidate, brainwashed or broken in captivity and sent home to betray his comrades in arms. They were told he had had affairs, illegitimate children, that he infected his wife with a venereal disease and that he had sex with hookers. The Bush team protested that their hands were clean. The dirty tricks were all locally generated, the Bush camp said, and if anything they tried to discourage low-road attacks by independent groups. But McCain's advisers were sure that Bush and his men were hiding behind “plausible deniability”: they may not have wanted to know exactly what the assassins did, or even who they were, but they were satisfied with the outcome.

The negative attacks were also aimed at McCain's wife Cindy. Her addiction to prescription painkillers years earlier had been dug up during the campaign by dirty tricksters and the night before the South Carolina primary a man appeared outside a McCain event with a stack of leaflets calling her a drug addict and a “weirdo.” When Cindy and her husband sat watching the exit polls the next night, Cindy began weeping when it became evident McCain had lost, her loud sobs breaking the silence in the room. McCain tried to stop her tears, telling her it was part of the game. “Think of how the Bushes felt two weeks ago in New Hampshire.” Cindy turned to him sobbing. “We never called his wife a weirdo.”

McCain staffers pointed to Rove as the source of the ugly attacks, according to a report in the New Yorker { May 12, 2003). And in the recently released, Fraud: The Strategy Behind the Bush Lies and Why the Media Didn’t Tell You, author Paul Waldman recalls how Bush gave his blessing to the dirty tactics that eliminated his opposition: “At one event in South Carolina, a supporter came up to Bush and complained, ‘Y’all haven’t even hit his soft spots’ urging Bush to get vicious with McCain. ‘I know, and we’re going to’ Bush responded, but noted that the smear campaign would be below the radar: ‘I’m not going to do it on TV.’”

The smearing of Cindy McCain in 2000 was reminiscent of the strategy the elder Bush’s campaign employed at the 1992 Republican Convention, where speaker after speaker tore into Hillary Clinton. The following Sunday, the panelists on ABC’s "This Week" expressed surprise at the treatment of Governor Clinton’s wife, with all agreeing that this attack on a candidate’s wife during a presidential campaign was unprecedented.

But it was not unprecedented. The targeting of Mrs. Clinton was a continuation of a pattern, and clearly “business as usual” for a Bush presidential run. When George H.W. Bush was confronted with a formidable primary challenge from Senator Bob Dole in 1988, his campaign had raised ethical questions about Elizabeth Dole’s blind trust, prompting a furious Bob Dole to confront Bush on the Senate floor and demand an apology, which he never received.

Later that year, one day after Bush told a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that his running mate Dan Quayle was an excellent choice because he “damn sure didn’t burn the American flag,” a Bush campaign surrogate alleged that the same patriotic standard had not been met by the wife of Bush’s Democratic opponent. Senator Steve Symms of Idaho claimed to have been informed that there was a photograph of Kitty Dukakis burning an American flag at an antiwar rally in 1970—a false accusation that succeeded in engraving a powerful negative image in voters’ minds.

Bill Clinton’s reaction to the Hillary-bashing of the 1992 Republican Convention—“I expect them to come after Mother and Chelsea, but they must be saving that for later”—was surely intended as nothing more than wry hyperbole, but a month later it proved to be a stranger-than-fiction prophecy when Bush aides were caught searching for dirt in the passport files of Clinton’s mother. The response by Clinton’s communications director George Stephanopoulos serves as an eye-opening reminder of the “honor and dignity” to which the Junior Bush would later pledge to return us:

At long last, have they no shame?

Today's revelation that senior State Department officials personally searched the passport files not only of Governor Clinton but of his mother blows the lid off the Bush administration's dirty tricks and denials.

Make no mistake. This is a monumental abuse of power, an invasion of Mrs. Kelley's privacy, and clearly a willful violation of the Privacy Act and the State Departments’ own rules. There is no excuse for a U.S. government agency investigating a citizen who has done nothing wrong, solely for the purpose of assembling a political smear.

When caught red-handed in an abuse of power, Bush's aides have responded with a series of evasions and denials…

This is the smoking gun—proof of a taxpayer-funded dirty tricks campaign. Not since the Nixon campaign of 1972 has there been such a pattern of misuse of government agencies to smear an opponent.

Curiously, the media frequently used the term “character problem” during the 1992 campaign—but only in reference to Clinton.

Not long afterward, Bush White House sleepover guest Limbaugh showed Chelsea Clinton’s picture on television and called her the “White House dog,” fulfilling Bill Clinton’s prediction of personal attacks by the Bush Administration and its mouthpieces on three generations of Clinton women—“hitting the trifecta,” so to speak. Limbaugh would later be rewarded for his efforts when he was featured as keynote speaker at the 1994 “freshman orientation” for newly elected Republican representatives, who eagerly lined up to have their pictures taken with him. (Limbaugh was not the only prominent Bush loyalist who felt a need to attack Chelsea Clinton. Jerome R. Corsi, currently enjoying the spotlight as co-author of the anti-Kerry bestseller Unfit to Command, revealed a similar obsession when he posted catty remarks about “Chubbie Chelsea” on the Internet shortly after the 9/11 tragedy, at a time when the overwhelming majority of Americans, both Republican and Democratic, had more important matters on their minds.)

Although much of the public might have forgotten by now, it was Reform Party candidate Ross Perot, not Bill Clinton, who was originally the senior Bush’s most formidable challenger in 1992. At mid-year, Perot led Bush in the polls, with Clinton in third place. Vowing to “do whatever it takes” to be re-elected, President Bush desperately needed the Perot threat removed, and his wish was conveniently fulfilled when the Texas billionaire shocked the world by dropping out of the campaign. (He would later re-enter, but as a weakened candidate who trailed both his rivals.) Perot alleged that Bush operatives had threatened to besmirch the reputation of his family by disseminating a fake, computer-generated photograph of his daughter and even disrupting her wedding.

Perot claimed to have “received multiple reports,” while admitting he lacked solid evidence. But the alleged reports, combined with his belief that the Bush machine was indeed capable of dirty tricks, led Perot to conclude that staying in the race “was a risk I could not take.” It now appears that Perot was not alone in considering it a “risk” to cross the Bushes.

When he warned that the Bush team had threatened to “smear” and “sabotage” his family, Perot was widely derided as “kooky” and “delusional,” and the labels stuck, to the point where the Perot-as-lunatic storyline is now accepted history. Perot’s allegations were regarded as simply too outrageous to be true. Yet, was Perot’s “delusional” allegation of threats against his family any more outrageous than what was done in reality to Joe Wilson’s wife by a vindictive Bush White House? (And are Perot’s allegations of a threatened physical “disruption” still unthinkable, in light of the well-orchestrated Republican violence that shut down a lawful vote recount in a Florida precinct in 2000?)

Looking at the Wilson case and the history of Bush presidential campaigns, remembering the attacks on Kitty Dukakis and Elizabeth Dole, and focusing especially on all that transpired after a much-ridiculed Perot quit the 1992 race—the ruthless targeting of Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton’s mother, John McCain’s wife and adopted daughter, and John Kerry’s wife—perhaps there is justification for asking a question that challenges the conventional wisdom: Is it possible that Perot was telling the truth?

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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

The facts are important, even if it takes multiple postings to get them all out.

Maarja Krusten - 10/22/2004

Ralph Luker in Cliopatria provides a link to an interesting article by Rick Perlstein in the Village Voice--http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0442/perlstein.php .

I asked in one of my comments above about a "moral compass" in campaigning. Perlstein writes:

[BEGIN EXTRACT] "It used to be that we could count on the conscience of conservatives to protect ourdemocratic institutions. The modern conservative movement was founded by idealists, who defined themselves in opposition to the one man most indelibly associated with the anything-to-win, image-is-everything excesses of the Republican Party's moderate wing, Richard Nixon.

One of those idealists was Richard Viguerie. He pioneered the use of political direct mail back in the days of Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign. He's still at it. "A nine-hour day at age 71 is a short day for me," he says in his Manassas, Virginia, office. He admits that, yes, some Bush campaign tactics have been downright Nixonian; shown the famous flyer with "BANNED" stamped on an image of the Bible, then the words "This will be Arkansas . . . if you don't vote," his face curls in disapproval. "I mean there, there is so much material—legitimate, credible, honest material—to use against the Democrats." That flyer was put out by the Republican National Committee, though he's quick to assure that movement conservatives—the idealists—would never do such a thing.

There are two problems with this picture. The first is that plenty of such material is sent out from return addresses belonging to Viguerie's direct-mail customers ("That kind of stuff is his stock-in-trade," Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates laughs, before faxing the Voice a letter from the Traditional Values Coalition, with which Viguerie has a five-year, multimillion-dollar contract, that claims "babies are being harvested and sold on the black market by Planned Parenthood Clinics"). The second problem is that, sadly, it's hard to take any protestations of good faith from a conservative seriously these days." [END EXTRACT]

Although, as someone who started her support of Presidential candidates by wearing a Goldwater button at the age of 13, I disagree with Perlstein that "it's hard to take any protestations of good faith from a conservative seriously these days," his further explanation of why things have changed since 1964 is interesting. Check out the article to see his reasoning and conclusions.

Maarja Krusten - 10/19/2004

X-ref: please see my post at http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=44762#44762 on the Cliopatria blog for musings on the "broken window theory" and how it relates to Presidential records and the National Archives.

Here's a tip for history buffs. Listen to H. R. "Bob" Haldeman's question and answer session at a scholarly conference in 1984, available at
http://millercenter.virginia.edu/scripps/diglibrary/forums/nixon.html . I found Nixon's former White House chief of staff to be reflective, intelligent, very articulate, and with glimmers of wry humor, just as I did when I met him in 1987.

Listening to his comments again today made me wonder what advice Bob Haldeman, the pragmatic former advertising man from the Walter Thompson agency, who rose to be White House chief of staff, would give a president now. In the audio clip from 1984, Bob notes that Nixon wanted a chief of staff who operated as an honest broker, a role I believe Haldeman generally filled.

In fact, Haldeman mentions in the audio clip that Nixon set up many of his White House offices to operate in a deliberately adversarial fashion, so options and alternative viewpoints would be considered and weighed properly. He said Nixon did not want "pre-conceived views" leading to the crafting of "pre-conceived" positions. If you set aside Watergate--abuses which I believe Nixon condoned or permitted because he thought that was how his predecessors as President had operated--historical records at the National Archives confirm that the Nixon White House actually had a surprisingly moderate and rational mode of operation. This may surprise those who caricature Nixon as evil incarnate, a label I do not believe he deserves.

As Haldeman correctly points out, one sees balance in Nixon's reliance on a Patrick Moynihan (Democrat) and an Arthur Burns as aides on domestic policy. And, in Nixon's speechwriting shop, in the balancing of Pat Buchanan, whom Bob described as being the one on the right, with Ray Price in the middle, and then, as Haldeman laughingly describes, William Safire "then" being the "liberal" during the 1970s.

Bob mentions that Nixon only considered people enemies if they actively worked as enemies against him. Just not agreeing with someone was not enough to make one an enemy. (Bob is somewhat right--released records show that Nixon could get very worked up about issues but sometimes would just said, ok, in the face of bad news. More importantly, Haldeman knew him well and, unlike some presidential aides, knew when to follow orders and when to disobey them, dragging his feet until Nixon gave up indicating, just as well, it was a bad idea.) In fact, Bob says that Nixon did not mind hearing from people who did not agree with him--but the key was, they HAD to be knowledgeable people.

In re-reading the many released Nixon tape logs and transcripts on the Internet, of White House tapes I first listened to during the 1980s, I was reminded again of the extent to which President Nixon read and considered history in dealing with current events. Setting aside the abuses lumped under the term "Watergate," an adminttedly big chunk to set aside, much of what Nixon did, both in substance and tone, seems so moderate and well ordered to me now, especially when viewed in the light of the harsh rhetoric we are enduring during this year's bitter election campaign.

Maarja Krusten - 10/19/2004

If you are interested in looking at specific topics in the hundreds of Nixon conversations posted at the http://www.ssa.gov/history/Nixon/nixonwhtapes.html site, try googling various search terms. For example, you can bring up some hits by typing "ssa.gov/history nixon demonstrators" or "ssa.gov/history nixon irs" or "ssa.gov/history nixon leaks." There are some interesting transcripts and logs that go back to the time the Pentagon Papers were leaked to the press by Daniel Ellsberg. There are transcripts that cover handling of antiwar demonstrations by Vietnam war veterans and by students and the public at large.

I guess it is a sign of how I view Washington, a place where I still work, that I'm playing it safe by not mentioning some of the prominent people who are still around and who are mentioned in the transcripts and logs. I and other National Archives' employees spent years fighting off attacks by Nixon's advocates which began in 1992, and, despite the fact that I published several letters to the editor in the Washington Post to defend my colleagues, I'm actually doing okay. But I'm under no illusions about how historians or archivists are regarded by former Presidents and their associates.

If you're interested, check out the historical logs and transcripts yourself to get a sense of how dissent and opposition were handled during the Nixon years.

Be forewarned however, that there only are a few transcripts and they do not give a full picture of the Nixon presidency since they were prepared for court cases or during investigtions. They certainly do not give a full picture of H. R. "Bob" Haldeman's role during the Nixon administration.

When I met Haldeman while working at the Archives in 1987, he had mellowed and seemed very different from the man with the crewcut seen on TV screens during the Watergate hearings. He appeared refreshingly candid and remarkably introspective, even courageous. Haldeman clearly had given a lot of thought to lessons learned from the events which had led to his downfall. Perhaps that is why he had a genuine interest—unusual among Nixon’s associates—in getting at the truth and in seeing as much information released as possible about the Nixon White House. In 1987, Haldeman was working on a project to publish the diary he kept while working for the President. When he was stricken with stomach cancer in 1993, he and his family saw to it that his diary was published posthumously after his death. A real gift to historians.

Maarja Krusten - 10/18/2004

See http://www.ssa.gov/history/Nixon/nixontapesfa.html
for excerpts from some of the Nixon tapes, in tape logs, transcripts, and a few audio segments. For some reason, the Social Security Administration's history office decided to post some of this material at the site above, after getting the materials from the National Archives.

If you look at the National Archives' logs of the Nixon conversations, you'll see some of what I worked on during the 14 years I spent as an employee of the National Archives. Hour after hour of listening to presidential tapes, and jotting down topics as they occurred during the conversations. Then, after we had determined what was on the tape reels, I and my colleagues listened to the tapes again to see what could be disclosed to the public. Fascinating job.

See www.ssa.gov/history/Nixon/OVAL-725.rtf
for the types of logs I used to prepare. In fact, I helped develop this log format and trained archivists in how to track conversations.

We did not do transcripts as we found attempts to do so in the Dellums litigation during the late 1970s led to some 300 staff hours of effort to produce 1 hour of transcript. However, there are transcripts for a few tape segments done for court cases. See for example

See also the National Archives' own website, specifically http://www.archives.gov/nixon/

Maarja Krusten - 10/18/2004

From where I sit, as someone who spent 14 years working with Nixon's tapes and files, political dirty tricks is a scary topic. I think the author of the article posted above probably is ok. I don't know if it is safe for anyone else to delve very deeply into these issues right now. I can't think of any entity that would do it, anyway, except perhaps the press. However, these days it is harder and harder to find journalists who are acceptable to left, right and center. Everyone seems vulnerable to being called a Republican propagandist or a Democrat propagandist.

I worked at the National Archives between 1976 and 1990, screening and preparing for release Nixon tapes and documents. My field of specialty was "abuse of governmental power" (Watergate). After I testified in Stanley I. Kutler's Nixon tapes lawsuit (Civ. A. 92-0662-NHJ), Nixon's lawyers attacked the reputations of the Archives' employees in an effort to delay disclosures from the White House tapes. Fortunately, the Archives' employees could point to the "outstanding" performance ratings they had received from superior officials.

However, I learned after I testified that some of the colleagues I had left behind at the National Archives actually were afraid their telephone calls at the office were being monitored. That tells you something--some of the people working with safeguarding the as yet unreleased historical records of government abuses of power feared they themselves were targets. (I tend to think their fears were exaggerated, but I could tell that some of them really did have genuine fears.) I don't know what if anything can be done to prevent a scenario of attack and anxiety from playing out in the future with other archival records. The Nixon archival problems have received so little attention, I tend to think the patterns may be repeated.

Since I do not want to talk about the substance of the article above, I only will address the issues of dirty tricks retrospectively, by using the Nixon example. Nixon's operatives got in trouble for their handling of campaign finances as well as for campaign practices and for the misuse of federal agencies. What do you think would keep the abuses that occurred during the Nixon administration from recurring, time and again, under various presidents? If the goal is to beat the opponent, no matter what, is there even a moral compass in campaigning?

I don't think the threat of historical revelation is effective. For one thing, political and governmental activities are supposed to be kept separate. In fact, once a President is running for re-election, White House counsel are supposed to ensure that even travel expenses are treated differently, depending on whether an event is purely political or presidential. The National Journal had a good article on this on April 22, 1995. It noted, "when the President officially becomes a candidate, the rules change. If the President makes any campaign appearances during a trip, 100 per cent of the
travel costs for nonessential personnel must be paid by his campaign, even if only a small part of his time during the trip is spent on political activities." The NJ noted that the government pays for Secret Service and essential personnel.

A campaign operative, such as Donald Segretti during the Nixon administration, may work in a state geographically far removed from the White House. White House files may or may not reflect some recorded contact with him. Since the operative is not a government employee, and is not engaged in official government business, his files, if any, do not go to the National Archives under the presidential records statutes. Absent appointment of an Infdependent Counsel, much of what he does may never be scrutinized, by anyone. For all intents and purposes, you can be as nasty as you wannabe.

Where, then, are the checks and balances to come from in political campaigning? Who draws the line at what is ethical and what is not permissible? The voters bear some responsibility. If they hear of dirty tricks, but shrug and say, hey, if it helps my guy win, so what, then they are part of the problem. If there is hue and cry, a candidate may repudiate a reported action, but it is more likely he may keep quiet and try to tough it out, hoping that other considerations prevail.

I hate to sound so pessimistic, but I really don't see how the types of abuses that occurred during the Nixon administration (using Secret Service for surveillance, using the IRS to audit potential opponents, wiretapping their staff suspected of leaks, as well as the reporters, doling out money from slush funds, etc.) can be prevented. Even harder to prevent are dirty tricks during campaigns. It would take an unusually ethical and honorable and courageous candidate to clamp down on his political operatives and to insist that the campaign be run as cleanly as possible. Unfortunately, the mantra in recent years has been, do it to them, else they will do it to us first. Win at all costs seems to be the goal.

Maarja Krusten - 10/18/2004


Maarja Krusten - 10/18/2004

I have to run off to work now but want to add a quick note. Under the Nixon Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (1974) and its implementing regulations, information about Nixon's "private-political association" potentially is removable from government custody and returnable to him and now his heirs. Only the "abuse of governmental power" portions of such information may be retained in government custody. So researchers going to the National Archives cannot get a full picture of how Nixon and his associates ran their presidential campaigns. Portions of the deleted tape segments and documents on "private political associaiton" could only will be released to the public if Nixon's family, which takes over custody of them, decides to open any of them for research.

The law also requires release of information in Nixon's record that is of "general historical significance," but only if it relates to Nixon's governmental (rather than personal political) activities and is not otherwise restrictable for privacy, national security etc. More on this anon, gotta run now.

Maarja Krusten - 10/18/2004

And you wonder why so few current government employees post messages on HNN, LOL!

This is an interesting area of inquiry. Very few history books have focused on campaign tactics and dirty tricks in the modern era. Even educated people often fail to see tactical or strategic connections between what they read in newspapers every day and how negative stories come about.

This past June, the Saint Petersburg Times ran a story about a Bush campaign official who was researching past President's papers. See http://www.sptimes.com/2004/06/02/memo/graphic.shtml which described how

"Two years ago, White House political czar Karl Rove sent Matthew Dowd on a secret mission.Dowd, a top Republican strategist, was sent to the libraries for presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George Bush to study old memos, polling reports and organizational charts. His goal: to help the Bush-Cheney campaign learn the lessons of the past.

. . . Dowd studied incumbents' campaigns rather than open races, figuring the incumbents would have the most similarities with the Bush-Cheney campaign. He focused on Republican presidents so they could get more cooperation from the libraries. Some material was in the public collection of the libraries. To see the rest of it, they got permission from the top officials in the Ford, Reagan and Bush presidencies."They were happy to help," Dowd said."

The link to the newspaper story includes a reproduction of a document from the Gerald R. Ford Library.

Dowd may well have been focusing primarily on the cleaner aspects of campaigning, we don't kinow and I do not suggest he was looking for hints on dirty tricks. However, when I commented on this story on an archival listserv this summer, some readers, who seem to have held history degrees, wrote back to question why I thought an operative would get access to materials which would not be released to the public. They assumed anyone could access such archival documents. Here is part of my posted reply:

"You asked why I doubted the public would receive different treatment in attempting to access campaign records than did a Bush operative.

Based on my experiences in working . . .with the Nixon tapes and files, I think there are many aspects of campaigning that politicians would prefer remain concealed from the public. It is highly unlikely that an historian or run of the mill researcher would get the same access to records that a President's political operative would.

Consider what campaign records can cover. Because of [Watergate] the law required the National 'Archives to screen Nixon's tapes and files for materials related to "governmental abuses of power." I was one of the [Archives' employees] doing such screening during the 1980s. The ten categories for which we screened are listed at http://www.archives.gov/nixon/tapes/abuse.html Note that they include "campaign financing," "campaign practices" and "misuse of federal agencies."

You don't have to travel to the National Archives at College Park to find out what is on the 200 plus hours of "governmental abuse of power" tapes that the agency released to the public in the 1990s. Professor Stanley I. Kutler published transcripts of many of these tapes. Check out the reviews of his book on Amazon and you get a sense of some of what is discussed on the tapes. For example, the tapes include discussion of Nixon's use of the Secret Service to spy on Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a potential candidate in the forthcoming 1972 presidential election. Several reviews of the Kutler book are excerpted at

Did the public know in 1972 that the White House was using the Secret Service to spy on Kennedy in the hopes of picking up dirt on his private life? Of course not. I suppose there are people who think that what happened during the Nixon administration was an aberration and that there is little abuse of power by other Republican and by Democratic presidents. . . while I may not assume everyone is just like Nixon, I doubt that many other politicians' campaign records are totally clean and can be readily released to the public at large."

Interestingly, representatives of the private Nixon Foundation have referred to Professor Stanley I. Kutler as "dean for life of the Nixon haters." They often refer to him as a liberal and an outlier. Considering the fire Kutler has faced, is it any wonder that few presidential historians have focused on campaign practices or dirty tricks, to the extent any of that can be traced through the public record and archival documents or oral history interviews? Or that the public in general largely is so ignorant of these issues?