DEMOCRATS’ ‘BATTERED WIFE SYNDROME’
By Robert Parry
April 25, 2009
http://consortiumne ws.com/2009/ 042509.html
In recent years, the Washington political dynamic has often resembled an
abusive marriage, in which the bullying husband (the Republicans) slaps
the wife and kids around, and the battered wife (the Democrats) makes
excuses and hides the ugly bruises from outsiders to keep the family
So, when the Republicans are in a position of power, they throw their
weight around, break the rules, and taunt: “Whaddya gonna do ‘bout it?”
Then, when the Republicans do the political equivalent of passing out on
the couch, the Democrats use their time in control, tiptoeing around,
tidying up the house and cringing at every angry grunt from the snoring
figure on the couch.
This pattern, which now appears to be repeating itself with President
Barack Obama’s unwillingness to hold ex-President George W. Bush and his
subordinates accountable for a host of crimes including torture, may have
had its origins 40 years ago in Campaign 1968 when the Vietnam War was
President Lyndon Johnson felt he was on the verge of achieving a
negotiated peace settlement when he learned in late October 1968 that
operatives working for Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon
were secretly sabotaging the Paris peace talks.
Nixon, who was getting classified briefings on the talks’ progress, feared
that an imminent peace accord might catapult Vice President Hubert
Humphrey to victory. So, Nixon’s team sent secret messages to South
Vietnamese leaders offering them a better deal if they boycotted Johnson’s
talks and helped Nixon to victory, which they agreed to do.
Johnson learned about Nixon’s gambit through wiretaps of the South
Vietnamese embassy and he confronted Nixon by phone (only to get an
unconvincing denial). At that point, Johnson knew his only hope was to
expose Nixon’s maneuver which Johnson called “treason” since it endangered
the lives of a half million American soldiers in the war zone.
As a *Christian Science Monitor* reporter sniffed out the story and sought
confirmation, Johnson consulted Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Defense
Secretary Clark Clifford about whether to expose Nixon’s ploy right before
the election. Both Rusk and Clifford urged Johnson to stay silent.
In what would become a Democratic refrain in the years ahead, Clifford
said in a Nov. 4, 1968, conference call that “Some elements of the story
are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be
good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have a
certain individual [Nixon] elected. It could cast his whole
administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our
So, Johnson stayed silent “for the good of the country”; Nixon eked out a
narrow victory over Humphrey; the Vietnam War continued for another four
years with an additional 20,763 U.S. dead and 111,230 wounded and more
than a million more Vietnamese killed.
Over the years, as bits and pieces of this story have dribbled out –
including confirmation from audiotapes released by the LBJ Library in
December 2008 — the Democrats and the mainstream news media have never
made much out of Nixon’s deadly treachery. [See Consortiumnews. com’s “The
Significance of Nixon’s Treason.”
(http://www.consorti umnews.com/ 2008/120808. html)]
THE WATERGATE EXCEPTION
The one exception to this pattern of the Democrats’ “battered wife
syndrome” may have been the Watergate case, in which Nixon sought to
secure his second term, in part, by spying on his political rivals,
including putting bugs on phones at the Democratic National Committee.
When Nixon’s team was caught in a second break-in — trying to add more
bugs — the scandal erupted.
Even then, however, key Democrats, such as Democratic National Chairman
Robert Strauss, tried to shut down the Watergate investigation as it was
expanding early in Nixon’s second term. Strauss argued that the inquiries
would hurt the country, but enough other Democrats and an energized
Washington press corps overcame the resistance. [For details, see Robert
Parry’s *Secrecy & Privilege*.]
With Nixon’s Watergate-compelled resignation in August 1974, the
Republicans were at a crossroads. In one direction, they could start
playing by the rules and seek to be a responsible political party. Or
they could internalize Nixon’s pugnacious style and build an
infrastructure to punish anyone who tried to hold them accountable in the
Essentially, the Republicans picked option two. Under the guidance of
Nixon’s Treasury Secretary William Simon, right-wing foundations
collaborated to build a powerful new infrastructure, pooling resources to
finance right-wing publications, think tanks, and anti-journalism attack
groups. As this infrastructure took shape in the late 1970s, it imbued
the Republicans with more confidence.
So, before Election 1980, the Republican campaign — bolstered by former
CIA operatives loyal to former CIA Director George H.W. Bush — resorted
to Nixon-style tactics in exploiting President Jimmy Carter’s failure to
free 52 American hostages then held in Iran.
The evidence is now overwhelming that Republican operatives, including
campaign chief Bill Casey and some of his close associates, had
back-channel contacts with Iran’s Islamic regime and other foreign
governments to confound Carter’s hostage negotiations. Though much of
this evidence has seeped out over the past 29 years, some was known in
For instance, Iran’s acting foreign minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh told Agence
France-Presse on Sept. 6, 1980, that he knew that Republican candidate
Ronald Reagan was “trying to block a solution” to the hostage impasse.
Senior Carter administration officials, such as National Security Council
aide Gary Sick, also were hearing rumors about Republican interference,
and President Carter concluded that Israel’s hard-line Likud leaders had
“cast their lot with Reagan,” according to notes I found of a
congressional task force interview with Carter a dozen years later.
Carter traced the Israeli opposition to him to a “lingering concern
[among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs.”
Israel already had begun playing a key middleman role in delivering secret
military shipments to Iran, as Carter knew. But — again for “the good of
the country” — Carter and his White House kept silent.
Since the first anniversary of the hostage crisis coincidentally fell on
Election Day 1980, Reagan benefited from the voters’ anger over the
national humiliation and scored a resounding victory. [For more details
on the 1980 “October Surprise” case, see Parry’s *Secrecy & Privilege*.]
GOP’S GROWING CONFIDENCE
Though much of the public saw Reagan as a tough guy who had frightened the
Iranians into surrendering the hostages on Inauguration Day 1981, the
behind-the-scenes reality was different.
In secret, the Reagan administration winked at Israeli weapons shipments
to Iran in the first half of 1981, what appeared to be a payoff for Iran’s
cooperation in sabotaging Carter. Nicholas Veliotes, who was then
assistant secretary of state, told a PBS interviewer that he saw those
secret shipments as an outgrowth of the covert Republican-Iranian contacts
from the campaign.
Veliotes added that those early shipments then became the “germs” of the
later Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.
But the Republicans seemed to have little to fear from exposure. Their
media infrastructure was rapidly expanding — for instance, the right-wing
*Washington Times* opened in 1982 — and America’s Left didn’t see the
need to counter this growing media power on the Right.
The right-wing attack groups also had success targeting mainstream
journalists who dug up information that didn’t fit with Reagan’s
propaganda themes — the likes of the *New York Times* Raymond Bonner,
whose brave reporting about right-wing death squads in Central America led
to his recall from the region and his resignation from the *Times*.
This new right-wing muscle, combined with Ronald Reagan’s political
popularity, made Democrats and mainstream journalists ever more hesitant
to pursue negative stories about Republican policies, including evidence
that Reagan’s favorite “freedom fighters,” the Nicaraguan contras, were
dabbling in cocaine trafficking and that an illegal contra-aid operation
was set up inside the White House.
In mid-1986, when my Associated Press colleague Brian Barger and I put
together a story citing two dozen sources about the work of NSC official
Oliver North, congressional Democrats were hesitant to follow up on the
Finally in August 1986, the House Intelligence Committee, then chaired by
Democrat Lee Hamilton and including Republican Rep. Dick Cheney, met with
North and other White House officials in the Situation Room and were told
that the AP story was untrue. With no further investigation, the
Democratic-led committee accepted the word of North and his superiors.
It was only an unlikely occurrence on Oct. 5, 1986, the shooting down of
one of North’s supply planes over Nicaragua and a confession by the one
survivor, Eugene Hasenfus, that put the House Intelligence Committee’s
gullibility into focus.
The plane shoot-down — and disclosures from the Middle East about secret
U.S. arms sales to Iran — forced the Iran-Contra scandal into public
view. The congressional Democrats responded by authorizing a joint
House-Senate investigation, with Hamilton as one of the mild-mannered
co-chairs and Cheney again leading the GOP’s tough-guy defense.
While the Republicans worked to undermine the investigation, the Democrats
looked for a bipartisan solution that would avoid a messy confrontation
with President Reagan and Vice President Bush. That solution was to put
most of the blame on North and a few of his superiors, such as NSC adviser
John Poindexter and the then-deceased CIA Director Bill Casey.
The congressional investigation also made a hasty decision, supported by
Hamilton and the Republicans but opposed by most Democrats, to give
limited immunity to secure the testimony of North.
Hamilton agreed to this immunity without knowing what North would say.
Rather than show any contrition, North used his immunized testimony to
rally Republicans and other Americans in support of Reagan’s aggressive,
The immunity also crippled later attempts by special prosecutor Lawrence
Walsh to hold North and Poindexter accountable under the law. Though
Walsh won convictions against the pair in federal court, the judgments
were overturned by right-wing judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals citing
the immunity granted by Congress.
By the early 1990s, the pattern was set. Whenever new evidence emerged of
Republican wrongdoing — such as disclosures about contra-drug
trafficking, secret military support for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and those
early Republican-Iran contacts of 1980 — the Republicans would lash out
in fury and the Democrats would try to calm things down.
Lee Hamilton became the Republicans’ favorite Democratic investigator,
because he exemplified this approach of conducting “bipartisan”
investigations, rather than aggressively pursuing the facts wherever they
might lead. While in position to seek the truth, Hamilton ignored the
contra-drug scandal and swept the Iraq-gate and October Surprise issues
under a very lumpy rug.
In 1992, I interviewed Spencer Oliver, a Democratic staffer whose phone at
the Watergate building had been bugged by Nixon’s operatives 20 years
earlier. Since then, Oliver had served as the chief counsel on the House
Foreign Affairs Committee and had observed this pattern of Republican
abuses and Democratic excuses.
Oliver said: “What [the Republicans] learned from Watergate was not
‘don’t do it,’ but ‘cover it up more effectively.’ They have learned that
they have to frustrate congressional oversight and press scrutiny in a way
that will avoid another major scandal.”
THE CLINTON OPPORTUNITY
The final chance for exposing the Republican crimes of the 1980s fell to
Bill Clinton after he defeated President George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Before leaving office, however, Bush-41 torpedoed the ongoing Iran-Contra
criminal investigation by issuing six pardons, including one to former
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger whose cover-up trial was set to begin
in early 1993.
Special prosecutor Walsh — a lifelong Republican albeit from the old
Eisenhower wing of the party — denounced the pardons as another
obstruction of justice. “George Bush’s misuse of the pardon power made
the cover-up complete,” Walsh later wrote in his book *Firewall*.
However, the Iran-Contra investigation was not yet dead. Indeed, Walsh
was considering empanelling a new grand jury. Walsh also had come to
suspect that the origins of the scandal traced back to the October
Surprise of 1980, with his investigators questioning former CIA officer
Donald Gregg about his alleged role in that prequel to Iran-Contra.
The new Democratic president could have helped Walsh by declassifying key
documents that the Reagan-Bush- 41 team had withheld from various
investigations. But Clinton followed advice from Hamilton and other
senior Democrats who feared stirring partisan anger among Republicans.
Later, in a May 1994 conversation with documentary filmmaker Stuart
Sender, Clinton explained that he had opposed pursuing these Republican
scandals because, according to Sender, “he was going to try to work with
these guys, compromise, build working relationships. . . .
“It seemed even at the time terribly naïve that these same Republicans
were going to work with him if he backed off on congressional hearings or
possible independent prosecutor investigations.” [See Parry’s *Secrecy &
But the Democrats — like the battered wife who keeps hoping her abusive
husband will change — found a different reality as the decade played out.
Rather than thanking Clinton, the Republicans bullied him with endless
investigations about his family finances, the ethics of his appointees –
and his personal morality, ultimately impeaching him in 1998 for lying
about a sexual affair (though he survived the Senate trial in 1999).
After the impeachment battle, the Republicans — joined by both the
right-wing and mainstream news media — kept battering Clinton and his
heir apparent, Vice President Al Gore, who was mocked for his choice of
clothing and denounced for his supposed exaggerations.
Though Gore still managed to win the popular vote in Election 2000 and
apparently would have prevailed if all legally cast votes had been counted
in Florida, the Republicans made clear that wasn’t going to happen, even
dispatching rioters from Washington to disrupt a recount in Miami.
George W. Bush’s bullying victory — which was finalized by five
Republican partisans on the U.S. Supreme Court — was met with polite
acceptance by the Democrats who again seemed to hope for the best from the
newly empowered Republicans. [For details on Election 2000, see our book,
Instead, after the 9/11 attacks, Bush-43 grabbed unprecedented powers; he
authorized torture and warrantless wiretaps; he pressured Democrats into
accepting an unprovoked war in Iraq; and he sought to damage his critics,
such as former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Now, after eight destructive years, the Democrats have again gained
control of the White House and Congress, but they seem intent on once more
not provoking the Republicans, rather than holding them accountable.
Though President Barack Obama has released some of the key documents
underpinning Bush-43’s actions, he opposes any formal commission of
inquiry and has discouraged any prosecutions for violations of federal
law. Obama has said he wants “to look forward as opposed to looking
In dismissing the idea of a “truth and reconciliation commission,” Obama
also recognizes that the Republicans would show no remorse for the Bush
administration’ s actions; that they would insist that there is nothing to
“reconcile”; and that they would stay on the attack, pummeling the
Democrats as weak, overly sympathetic to terrorists, and endangering
On Thursday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs admitted as much, saying
that Obama rejected the idea of a bipartisan “truth commission” because it
was apparent that there was no feasible way to get the Republicans to be
“The President determined the concept didn’t seem altogether workable in
this case,” Gibbs said, citing the partisan atmosphere that already has
surrounded the torture issue. “The last few days might be evidence of why
something like this might just become a political back and forth.”
In other words, the Republicans are rousing themselves from the couch and
getting angry, while the Democrats are prancing about, hands out front,
trying to calm things down and avoid a confrontation.
The Democrats hope against hope that if they tolerate the latest
Republican outrages maybe there will be some reciprocity, maybe there will
be some GOP votes on Democratic policy initiatives.
But there’s no logical reason to think so. That isn’t how the Republicans
and their right-wing media allies do things; they simply get angrier
because belligerence has worked so well for so long.
On the other hand, Democratic wishful thinking is the essence of this
political “battered wife syndrome,” dreaming about a behavioral
transformation when all the evidence — and four decades of experience –
tell you that the bullying husband isn’t going to change.
–Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the
Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, *Neck Deep: The
Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush*, was written with two of his
sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook. com. His two
previous books, *Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq* and *Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press &
‘Project Truth’* are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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