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Political manipulation signals a nation in trouble

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Where were you? There are still a great many Americans who can tell you exactly what they were doing on Dec. 7, 1941. And many more who will give you similar personal details regarding Nov. 22, 1963. And, of course, Sept. 11 is chiseled into all of our memories.

But I also remember July 13, 1973, and perhaps you do as well. It was the summer of Watergate and I happened to be working for a PBS television station at the time.

We were broadcasting the entire hearings. Every TV in the building was up and running. It was impossible to hide from the historical events playing out on our ubiquitous monitors.



I was standing in one of our studios preparing a set for a videotaping and only half-listening to what was going on in the Senate chambers. Alexander Butterfield, a former presidential appointments secretary, was testifying before the committee.

I don’t remember who exactly said it but someone on the set yelled, “Did you hear that?” We all gathered around the monitor in the studio and listened slack-jawed as Butterfield told the committee of the existence of audiotapes of every conversation that took place in Nixon’s Oval Office.



The moment was electric. Soon we were all offering our ill-informed opinions as to what this revelation might mean. Most of us, surprisingly, were right.

Butterfield was the straw that started the camel’s legs buckling.

I recalled that vivid memory this week while watching Richard Clark testify before the committee investigating the events leading up to 9-11. His testimony bears an eerie resemblance to what I heard 31 years ago in the studios of KYNE-TV.

I am not so naive as to believe that deception is limited to one political party. Most of us have all lived long enough to recognize that duplicity isn’t confined to either Democrats or Republicans. Such recognition may be the mark of maturity but it is also profoundly sad.

From Bill Clinton’s outrageous lying, to Justice Scalia’s inexcusable refusal to recuse himself from a trial involving his hunting buddy, the world of government seems ever more unseemly.

We wonder … Was Colin Powell confused or conniving when he appeared before the United Nations? Can it possibly be true that the White House knew long ago that al-Qaida was not in cahoots with Iraq?

Did Donald Rumsfeld and others really believe there were weapons of mass destruction or did they concoct a false scenario to hoodwink the public?

Questions like these appear ever more legitimate when faced with mounting evidence of the illegitimacy of our current political rhetoric.

My generation witnessed political deception at its ugliest during the Vietnam War.

False body counts combined with futile strategies turned a nation against its leadership. Watergate painfully underlined that political reality.

Subsequent episodes of manipulating the truth for political gain have convinced many Americans that the last place to turn to for an honest appraisal is anywhere near the Potomac.

Has there ever been a time when a politician’s word was his or her bond?

I am enough of an idealist to believe there was and still is, but I am also enough of a realist to know that a nation that ignores its founding ideals for the sake of political ideologues is a nation in big trouble.

Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday column for the Summit Daily News. He can be reached at pastormayfield@earthlink.net.


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