Fred Thompson - Howard Baker

Republicans who put country over party: TBD

On the evening of March 4, Saturday Night Live ran a parody movie trailer of a film about the next “stand-up Republican.” It seems that the old meme, “Democrats fall in love; Republicans fall in line” has never been more relevant. Despite all the criticism that Donald Trump took from other Republicans during his campaign for the GOP nomination, all seems to be forgotten as Republicans are once again playing “follow the leader.” No matter how much noise and reason that Democrats in Congress and mainstream-to-progressive media make about what is happening, change is doubtful without a little help from Republicans in Congress. And thus the parody called, “The T.B.D. Story:”

It hasn’t always been the case that Republicans would be oblivious to wrong-doing, hypocrisy and national need. No one could have been more sensitive to these concerns than our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. Several decades after Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt stood up for the common good. And barely 40 years ago, Republicans lined up to be part of the solution to the Watergate scandal  and related transgressions by the Richard Nixon Administration.

In 1973, the U.S. Senate recognized the importance of the investigative reporting about Nixon’s alleged transgressions. The Senate established the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. It was made up of only seven members, four Democrats and three Republicans. Yes, the Democrats held the power, but Chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC) was determined to have the committee act in as bi-partisan a fashion as possible. Vice-chair Howard Baker (R-TN) agreed, and he became one of the most effective and important interrogators on the committee. It was he who asked the famous question to White House Counsel John Dean, “What did the President know and when did he know it?”

Baker could not have asked it to a better witness, one who happened to be a Republican. Dean had an encyclopedic memory and he disclosed the litany of transgressions by Nixon and his collaborators. Dean’s testimony was confirmed and validated when the secret White House tapes were later revealed.

Also on the committee was Senator Lowell Weicker of Connecticut. As described in a 2010 Occasional Planet post, “the select committee would have collapsed from inertia and internal bloodletting had not the least likely junior senator from Connecticut, Lowell P. Weicker Jr., personally taken charge. … Like no other member of the committee, Weicker was prepared. Before the panel was even formally announced, Weicker had formed his own investigative unit that interviewed scores of former and current White House employees and campaign officials.”

Baker and Weicker were what might be called fact-based Republicans. They were investigatory and wanted to solve the puzzle. In fairness to today’s Republicans, it might be said that Baker and Weicker’s commitment to getting to the bottom of the story was something that would win the adulation, both nationally and within their states. Today’s Republicans seem to narrow-cast to their constituencies, currying only the favor of conservative and extreme-right voters who protect them in primary season.

But Watergate was a seminal period in American history in which most of the country came together against corruption, deviousness and perhaps most importantly, concerns about the mental health of the president. In one important sense, it was less threatening than today’s concerns about Trump because with Watergate, there were no alarms of international malfeasance on the part of the president.

Weicker came from a largely Democratic state, Connecticut. Baker was from Tennessee, which was part of the old Confederacy that turned Republican in the 1964 Lyndon Johnson – Barry Goldwater election. But Baker truly was a southern gentleman who could bring out the best in his constituents.

When Republican Gerald Ford became president following Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974, Ford addressed the American people and said, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” For our current nightmare with Donald Trump to be over, we are going to need:

  1. A Republican star to be born, the person we stay tuned for in “The T.B.D. Story.”
  2. Democrats to gain control of one or both houses of Congress in 2018, a task that will be particularly difficult because of the numbers that year.
  3. Mike Pence to take a few lessons from Gerald Ford’s playbook about how to bring the country together.

No matter how good the current Democrats in Congress and members of the inquiring press are, together they have no subpoena power. That power is what made the Senate Watergate Committee work in 1973-74, particularly when they were working with a special prosecutor with subpoena power, a prosecutor who had been appointed by the Attorney-General.

We have a long way to go. The outcome is T.B.D.