Obama’s “scandals” aren’t worse than Watergate or even as bad as Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra affair
Despite suggestions from such conservatives as Charles Krauthammer and Newt Gingrich to temper their rhetoric, more than a few Republicans these days are claiming that the so-called scandals that currently beset the Obama administration are the worst in American history.
Let’s knock down that nonsense with just two examples of past scandals, shall we?
For starters, the notion that Obama’s problems are worse than Watergate hardly merits discussion. Richard Nixon, after all, needed a presidential pardon from his successor, Gerald Ford, to keep him safe from criminal prosecution.
There is no evidence that Obama has committed any crimes, much less Nixonian offenses.
So, for our purposes here, let’s concentrate on the Iran-Contra scandal during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
This messy business, which first came to public light in November of 1986, involved efforts by certain government officials to secretly sell weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of seven Americans held hostage by Islamic extremists.
Eventually, the scheme was expanded to divert financial profits from the weapons deal to help fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, thereby circumventing a federal law restricting U.S aid to the Contras.
How deeply was Reagan himself involved in this stuff? Well, according to handwritten notes by then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Reagan knew that an arms-for-hostages deal was in the works and knew that “he could answer to charges of illegality but couldn’t answer to the charge that ‘big strong President Reagan passed up a chance to free the hostages’”
But when the arms deal was made public, Reagan went on TV and said that, yes, weapons had been transferred to Iran, but he denied that it was an arms-for-hostages arrangement.
A subsequent congressional investigation of the matter was impeded when large numbers of pertinent documents were destroyed or withheld by the Reagan administration.
Eventually, however, 14 administration officials were indicted, resulting in 11 convictions, some of which were overturned on appeal. And some officials who had been indicted or convicted were later granted presidential pardons by George H.W. Bush.
My favorite part of the Iran-Contra scandal was when Reagan addressed the nation on March 4, 1987, and said this:
A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.
Imagine how the right-wing noise machine would respond to any similar statement from Barack Obama.
Or imagine the reaction if Obama introduced that confession with this kind of stuff we heard from Reagan:
For the past 3 months, I’ve been silent on the revelations about Iran. And you must have been thinking: “Well, why doesn’t he tell us what’s happening? Why doesn’t he just speak to us as he has in the past when we’ve faced troubles or tragedies?” Others of you, I guess, were thinking: “What’s he doing hiding out in the White House?” Well, the reason I haven’t spoken to you before now is this: You deserve the truth. And as frustrating as the waiting has been, I felt it was improper to come to you with sketchy reports, or possibly even erroneous statements, which would then have to be corrected, creating even more doubt and confusion. There’s been enough of that.
Would remarks like those, if made by Obama, incite deafening calls for his impeachment? Of course they would. But hardly anyone called for Reagan’s removal from office, though he still had 22 months left in his presidency.
Today’s partisans who see Obama’s current difficulties as equal to Watergate and Iran-Contra, if not worse, simply don’t know their history. They may sense that Richard Nixon was an unsavory character, but their thoughts about Ronald Reagan are colored by notions that he was the patron saint of modern Republican conservatism.