Paying attention to the written output of people with opposing political views is important for several reasons. Primarily because it forces you to evaluate arguments against your own position and, where those arguments have merit, modify your views. From a liberal perspective, at least, I would also argue that it’s important because the people holding those views are still people, and worthy of being taken seriously as people if not as debaters.
A further reason for paying attention to written output in particular is that, especially in the era of the internet, it becomes part of the “knowledge framework” which provides a backdrop for people of that political bent, within which their ideas continue to evolve. And so it is worth examining two recent RedState articles dealing with the current IRS affair and relating it to the Watergate scandal.
Both these articles make much of Nixon’s “18 missing minutes” of tape (though, revealingly, they actually refer to “Obama’s 18 missing minutes of tape”). The contention is that the apparently unrecoverable emails in the IRS affair constitute the same kind of evidence of cover-up as in the Watergate case, where 18 minutes were found to have been erased from Nixon’s White House audio recording system.
The validity of the comparison, and the alleged different level of interest shown in the two instances of missing data by the press, is somewhat interesting in its own right, but the subtle key to these articles is the way in which they attempt to recast Nixon’s threatened impeachment and resignation as being about these missing minutes.
In fact, and as neither article mentions, Nixon was obviously implicated in the Watergate cover-up by existing audio from the tapes, including extracts which prompted the original use (?) of the term “smoking gun”, and which decimated his political support in congress, making impeachment apparently inevitable. The missing audio was certainly unhelpful to him, but it’s not implausible that if the remainder of the audio had revealed nothing of interest, Nixon might have remained in office. Both RedState articles, however, make it seem as if Nixon was undone by an allegation of having destroyed evidence, which is not really the case.
This is obviously very important in the context of contemporary Republican efforts to insist that lack of positive evidence is in fact evidence of malfeasance (as in the insistence on seeing Obama’s “real” birth certificate, unsurprisingly brought up in the comments to the RedState articles). As the first article puts it:
If the current President were a Republican, the media would have already drawn an inescapable conclusion based on this evidence alone: a cover up is occurring here and it’s the media’s job to leave no stone unturned until the President can prove his lack of involvement in it.
In fact, Nixon’s involvement in Watergate was definitively proven by the tapes, and the “18 missing minutes” became an interesting footnote. However, the quote above is a startlingly accurate representation of current Republican operatives’ attempts to find evidence in the absence of evidence itself, and to justify such an approach in an appeal to history, appropriately re-written.