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Washington Post Death Spiral Watch (Yet Another David Broder Edition)

Matthew Yglesias reads David Broder:

David Broder: I have not worried about the fundamental commitment of the American people since 1974. In that year, they were confronted with the stunning evidence that their president had conducted a criminal conspiracy out of the Oval Office. In response, the American people reminded Richard Nixon, the man they had just recently reelected overwhelmingly, that in this country, no one, not even the president, is above the law. They required him to yield his office. That is not the sign of a nation that has lost its sense of values or forgotten the principles on which this system rests...

And Yglesias worries:

Matthew Yglesias: I don't think anyone can seriously dispute that the current President of the United States violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or any number of legal commitments to refrain from torture. Some people think these violations were good policy. Many of those who regard those violations as good policy, also maintain that higher constitutional principles grant the President the right to break the law. Which is precisely what you could say on behalf of Richard Nixon.... But Bush won't be hounded out of office. I'm not exactly sure what accounts for the difference.... I have a vague sense that at that time America's elites operated with some sense of conscience and dignity, and it was taken for granted even among Republican leaders that one couldn't just break the law. These days, a misleading deposition taken in the course of a frivolous lawsuit aimed at avoiding the revelation of an affair is a grave national crisis, but it's taken for granted that only a lunatic would believe that Bush or any of his henchmen should be held accountable in any way for repeated violations of the law. I don't really know what changed, or why David Broder and other gatekeepers of elite consensus can't see that something's gone wrong here, but I'm not happy about it...

I think Matt is (a) right to be worried, but (b) wrong in thinking that things were very different back in 1974. His problem is that he assumes that David Broder does not casually lie--that back in 1974 David Broder really was pleased at the prospect of "the American people remind[ing] Richard Nixon... that in this country, no one, not even the president, is above the law..." and really was worried "about the fundamental commitment of the American people," but has not been worried since is simply a lie.

Broder wasn't.

He seems to have thought that it would be exciting if impeachment would fail, and looked forward to the prospect of Richard Nixon getting his political revenge.

Let's roll the videotape:

David Broder, July 10, 1974: David S. Broder (1974), "If Congress Refuses to Impeach..." Washington Post (July 10), p. A 30: [T]he case of Richard Nixon is moving... toward... the House vote on impeachment.... Suppose... few Republican defections... enough Democrats cross the line to exonerate Mr. Nixon...?... The cloud over Mr. Nixon's future would disappear... go back to being a full-time President. Congress could go back to legislating. Messrs. Doar, Jenner, and St. Clair could return to their firms.

But politically, the fireworks would just be starting.... [T]he anti-impeachment majority [would] lash... out against the Judiciary Committee members for spending $1.5 million and uncounted thousands of manhours.... [T]he tidal wave of public sentiment... sweep over the Congress... the White House charge [that the impeachment investigation was nothing but a partisan assault on the integrity of the presidential office] would surely have been proven.... The President's supporters in the country would cry vengeance....

Democratic candidates would find themselves on the defensive... a 93rd Congress which did little but posture on impeachment.... Resurgent Republicans... vindicated President... predictable public reaction against the press and the Democratic Congress....

Republican congressmen... who had broken ranks to vote for impeachment would find themselves pariahs.... If they managed to escape repudiation by the voters this year, they would be guaranteed strong pro-Nixon primary opponents in 1976. Many of them would undoubtedly wonder whether there was any way to remain in public office as Republicans.... Political scientists would... [ask] whether the friends and foes of President Nixon would not constitute themselves into separate parties, obliterating past affiliations.

All this is well within the realm of possibility. All that has to happen is for the House to exonerate the President by voting no bill of impeachment.

Note what Broder does not say: he does not say that it would be a bad thing for a majority in congress to vote that Nixon's crimes--illegal as they were--did not warrant impeachment, and thus to vote that the president was in a sense above the law. He doesn't say that at all. If he was worried "about the fundamental commitment of the American people" back in 1974, he did not think those worries were worth sharing with the Washington Post's readers.

When dealing with the Post these days, you simply have to fact-check everything.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?