As I’ve said earlier, the Obama-Ayers connection fails to excite me. But if Obama is to be pilloried for his relationship with Ayers, I’m not sure why the John McCain-G. Gordon Liddy connection isn’t equally worrisome (via Yglesias). Here’s a taste of Liddy’s checkered past:
Which principles would those be? The ones that told Liddy it was fine to break into the office of the Democratic National Committee to plant bugs and photograph documents? The ones that made him propose to kidnap anti-war activists so they couldn’t disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention? The ones that inspired him to plan the murder (never carried out) of an unfriendly newspaper columnist?
Liddy was in the thick of the biggest political scandal in American history — and one of the greatest threats to the rule of law. He has said he has no regrets about what he did, insisting that he went to jail as “a prisoner of war.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, McCain has actively solicited Liddy’s political support (emphasis mine):
How close are McCain and Liddy? At least as close as Obama and Ayers appear to be. In 1998, Liddy’s home was the site of a McCain fundraiser. Over the years, he has made at least four contributions totaling $5,000 to the senator’s campaigns — including $1,000 this year.
Last November, McCain went on his radio show. Liddy greeted him as “an old friend,” and McCain sounded like one. “I’m proud of you, I’m proud of your family,” he gushed. “It’s always a pleasure for me to come on your program, Gordon, and congratulations on your continued success and adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great.”
. . . I’m not ready to believe my silence did no good. If in the end it had been of no benefit to anyone else, I’d have done the same thing. But it did help others, and if the containment strategy [i.e. the strategy of refusing to cooperate during the Watergate investigation ] – and personal code – that prompted my initial silence had been pursued by all my associates, it would have proved successful, and this book would have never been written.
Liddy’s attitude towards obstruction of justice is incredibly flippant, but that’s not the worst of it. Many of Obama’s critics feel that Obama’s connection to Ayers is damning precisely because Ayers was involved with domestic terrorism. Jonah Goldberg, for example, argues that the Ayers relationship is worse than McCain’s connection to corrupt financier Charles Keating because Keating didn’t intend to kill anyone:
Last, whatever damage Keating did to America (and I suspect not one in ten of the what-about-Keating-readers have any idea what the scandal was about or what damage it caused), I daresay that Ayers “dreamed” of doing far worse damage to America than Keating did. That is unless Keating or his accomplices built nail bombs to murder military families at a dance or openly hoped and fought for the violent overthrow of the US government.
And fair enough. But shouldn’t we apply the same strict scrutiny to the McCain-Liddy connection? Liddy is a man who willingly sabotaged and burglarized a Democratic campaign during the 1972 election. Much like Ayers, he expressed a willingness to kill for the cause, offering to murder journalist Jack Anderson at the behest of the Nixon White House:
At lunch with Hunt [another Watergate accomplice] I brought up the matter of killing Jack Anderson. He told me to forget it, from which I concluded the decision from Colson, I assume, was a negative . . .
For serious reasons of state I had offered to kill Anderson for the White House and been turned down.
I think Ayers is a pretty loathsome creature, but if I had to choose between the two, I’d say Liddy did more to damage American democracy. What’s more interesting to me are the odd parallels between the two men. Both were radicals from opposite ends of the spectrum during the Nixon Administration. Both adopted violence and subterfuge as tactics against their political enemies. In their old age, both men are entirely unrepentant – Liddy remains confident that his involvement in Watergate was right and just; Ayers has yet to explicitly disavow political violence. And despite their crimes, both remain comfortably immersed within their respective ideological camps – Ayers as a tenured professor, Liddy as a right-wing talk radio host. Their continued relevance speaks poorly of both movements, but I’m unable to single out either party (or candidate) for special condemnation.
At the end of the day, I’m simply not sure what either relationship says about the direction of a possible McCain or Obama administration. Both connections – however tenuous – are minor indictments of the candidates’ characters, but I hardly expect politicians to remain clean and sweet-smelling throughout their careers. Perhaps this speaks to my own deep cynicism, but I find it difficult to imagine an ambitious national candidate emerging without a certain number of questionable associations. And in both cases, I think it’s impossible to criticize one candidate without indicting the other.
Incidentally, the text of Liddy’s book can be found online here. If you have any questions about context of these excerpts, you can search for the exact quotations on Google Books.