on Enemies

“This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly—how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” Memo from John Dean to Lawrence Higby, where he explained the purpose of President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” (August 16, 1971)

On August 9, 1974, President Richard Nixon became the first American President to resign from office.  Less than a month earlier the House Judiciary Committee recommended that the House of Representatives impeach Nixon for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and refusal to relinquish the Watergate tapes that recorded his illegal activities in detail. Some of his transgressions included: giving political favors to powerful business groups in exchange for campaign contributions; misusing public funds; deceiving Congress and the public about the secret bombing of Cambodia; authorizing illegal domestic political surveillance and espionage against dissidents, political opponents, and journalists; and attempting to use FBI investigations and income tax audits by the IRS to harass political enemies who were on the his now infamous “enemies list.”  In other words, the President, who was the most powerful man in the free world, tried to bring all the power at his disposal to continue the centralization of government around himself.

Nixon’s behavior and the eventual publishing of this enemies list appalled the nation. Presidents, like Senators and Congressman, hold a sacred trust. However, unlike legislators, they have far more access to incredible powers- the power to jail, fine, and bankrupt utilizing the bureaucracy at their disposal- all of which requires incredible restraint. In the wrong hands, men of lesser character could easily use them to become tyrants and bully those who disagree politically with them into submission. Nixon’s betrayal shook Americans to their core, and broke the trust of a nation. This is why Presidents from both parties have carefully tried to avoid the practice ever since.

Until now that is. This past week one of President Obama’s campaign websites posted an ad entitled “Behind the curtain: A brief history of Romney’s donors”. In the ad the Obama campaign called out eight private citizens who had donated to the Romney campaign. In the ad they accused these private citizens of having “less than reputable records”, claimed that quite a few had been on the “wrong side of the law”, were “betting against America” and were profiting at the “expense of many Americans.” Paul Schorr and Sam and Jeffrey Fox are investors who were accused for the crime of having “outsourced” jobs. T. Martin Fiorentino was demonized for working for a firm that forecloses on homes. Louis Bacon, a hedge-fund manager, Kent Burton, an energy lobbyist, and Thomas O’Malley, the CEO of Premco Oil refineries, were accused of profiting from oil. Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of a home-products firm, is also mentioned as a “bitter foe of the gay rights movement.”

These may be wealthy individuals, but they are also private citizens. Not one of these men holds elected office, and none of them are convicted criminals. But most importantly, these are Americans who don’t hold even a sliver of the status or the power of the President of the United States, who was publicly assaulting them.  This President – who has the power of the IRS, the DEA, the EPA, the Justice Department, the SEC, the INS and a host of other regulatory agencies at his disposal – has effectively put citizens on notice that he is watching them. If the President takes the time to single you out, how comfortable would you feel supporting something that he does not? Would you think twice before putting yourself, you family, your property or your business at risk?

However, it is not just about those who politically oppose the President. He has also demonized those that stand in the way of his agenda. Insurance companies, oil companies and of course, Wall Street, have all been threatened with, as well as experienced, political or regulatory retribution. He has criticized the Supreme Court for determining that companies have the right to free speech, and falsely accused the Chamber of Commerce of taking foreign money donations to use towards political campaigns. The White House is also planning to release a new executive order that requires companies who bid for government contracts to provide a list of all those to whom they gave campaign contributions. So, how fair a shake do you think those companies will get if they gave to the GOP?  Or even worse, how many companies will hesitate in the future to exercise the Constitutional right of freedom to associate if they happen to be with entities that oppose the agenda of the President? But, I guess that’s the point though, isn’t it?

Politics is a dirty, nasty business. But a President is supposed to transcend the typical rough behaviors of an ordinary candidate. He took an oath to protect liberty, not restrict it. Americans entrust their sovereignty to him when they elect him to that office, and it is a sacred trust. We have a right to partake in democracy, standing up for those things that are important to us, without fear of reprisal or intimidation from our own President when we do so. President Obama is following a dangerous precedent, one that caused an earlier President, of the opposite party, to resign in disgrace. It is no small matter to abuse the power on loan to you from the American people by frightening them with that same power; it is not only a violation of the oath of office, but sets us up on a path to tyranny. And, as history has already shown us, the lust for power and domination is not limited to political party, nation, or religion – it first begins in the hearts of men.

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