Republicans are circulating on the Internet an article from Human Events by Texan John O’Neill, of Swift Boat Vets fame, urging conservatives not to let disillusionment prevent them from going to the polls on election day. (Human Events bills itself as “The National Conservative Weekly, the Weekly Standard notwithstanding.) O’Neill’s argument is that conservatives’ failure to vote in the 1974 Watergate election led to the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976 and ultimately extended Democratic control of Congress for many years.
O’Neill’s view of history is that there are parallels between then and now, with Nancy Peolsi and her ilk waiting in the wings: “The nation was prosperous and at peace. Within a short time, the mainstream media were able to dismember and destroy the Nixon Administration, using as their sword the Watergate affair. In the congressional elections of 1974, Republican candidates were pounded, losing 48 House seats and five Senate seats. Until the 1990s, the so-called “Watergate Babies” (i.e. left-wing Democrats) ruled Congress. As its first act after the 1974 election, the new Congress cut off all aid to South Vietnam. Within a short period of time, this led to Communist conquest of all of Indochina, the massacre of at least 4 million of our friends in the killing fields of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, and the displacement of millions of “boat people….It may fairly said that but for Ronald Reagan the days of our democracy might well have been numbered by the consequences of the 1974 election.”
I’m all for O’Neill’s exhortation for everyone to vote, but there is another view of history that is far removed from his. In particular, his characterization of Watergate, in another reference, as a “minor burglary” is off base. For the president’s henchmen to attempt to bug the headquarters of the opposition party is incompatible with democracy. It was Nixon, not the Congress, that sold out South Vietnam, by forcing our ally to agree to a peace agreement without our obtaining any of the concessions that they wanted–not that we could have done anything about what happened in Indochina, since part of the peace agreement was that we would withdraw our troops. For that matter, even if the troops had been there, we could hardly have prevented the killing in Cambodia; we couldn’t prevent it in Vietnam. And the idea that “the days of our democracy might well have been numbered” verges on the hysterical. Nixon was forced from office; Carter was ineffective and lost his race for reelection to Reagan. Far from being on the verge of extinguishment, our democracy worked exactly as it was supposed to.
Finally, I would add this: No matter which side you’re on, you have to believe two things: (1) Your side can govern better than the other side. (2) If the other side wins, the world will not come to an end. If you don’t believe those two things, you don’t believe in democracy.