Kenneth Dahlberg: Stuck in the Middle With Nixon

Kenneth DahlbergI have a certain fascination with Kenneth Dahlberg. He raised money for Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign and was a critical player in the Watergate scandal. After the break-in was discovered, investigators found that a $25,000 check from Dahlberg had been deposited in the bank account of one of the burglars. As is documented (apparently quite accurately) in probably the most exciting scene in the film All the President’s Men, Dahlberg simply gave the check (a bundle of smaller donations) to Maurice Stans, the head of finance for Nixon’s Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP, which everyone who didn’t like Nixon called “creep”).

Maurice Stans was an interesting character. He was Secretary of Commerce from the beginning of 1969 to the beginning of 1972, when he stepped down to help out on Nixon’s campaign. He was basically an accountant. He had worked in the Eisenhower administration. Now he claimed throughout his very long and pampered life that he didn’t know where the money was going. But I find this hard to believe. CRP had a huge slush fund. Nixon had a million dollars in the White House safe. Now if I had been chair of finance for CRP, I think you could rightly believe that I had no idea because I’m clueless. But Stans was an accountant. As it is, it seems that everyone at the Washington CRP office knew something was going on, even if they didn’t know what.

Regardless, Stans was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, but never convicted. He pleaded guilty to reporting violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act and had to pay a small (for him) fine. And that was the end of that.

So here is Dahlberg, who is a Republican at a time when it didn’t mean you were a horrible or just deeply ignorant person, who is helping to get his party’s president re-elected. It’s a patriotic act. He believes in the Republican agenda. He isn’t doing it for his direct personal benefit. He’s being a good citizen. And he finds himself in the middle of a criminal conspiracy. It’s just amazing.

Of course, Dahlberg was never indicted or anything. I think that everyone knew all along that he didn’t know what was going on. But it’s kind of interesting that CRP would not deposit the donation into its slush fund and rather just sign over a campaign check to a criminal. This could have been done because they thought Dahlberg was a patsy. But I suspect they did it out of a combination of hubris and incompetence. As Deep Throat says in the film, “Forget the myths the media has created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys.” (Remember during the George W Bush administration how everyone talked about how brilliant Karl Rove was, but he turned out to be a mediocrity, just like them all.)

What I found interesting was that Kenneth Dahlberg was a World War II hero. He was a fighter pilot in Europe and was credited with 15 aerial victories. In the course of all of that, he was shot down three times himself. He got a ridiculous number of metals, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award the army gives out. He had a very eventful war. He was also a very successful businessman — one who actually made things (in particular, hearing aids).

I think it all fits a certain kind of profile of a man who, though very much not like me, was a decent man — trying to do what was right.

Afterword: Theoretical Kenneth Dahlberg

Beliefs are cultural. I think Kenneth Dahlberg was a good and noble man in terms of his business dealings and his politics. He was 55 in 1972, so I think he was, if anything, naive. But if he had been born 40 years later, he would be the same kind of outsourcing, “greed is good,” “demagogue everything for the sake of my tax cuts” jerk that is the Republican Party today. But as the man he was in his own time, he was good — even a hero.

The Right Way to Attack Bernie Sanders

Brian BeutlerTomorrow, I will publish an article on how not to attack Bernie Sanders, Who Cares About Bernie Sanders’ Healthcare Plan? Today, I’m going to discuss the right way to attack Bernie Sanders.

Brian Buetler wrote a really good article this morning, Bernie Sanders Will Be Unelectable If He Keeps This Up. And it gets at a really important point about the Sanders campaign. One thing I’ve liked about the Democratic campaign thus far has been the mutual respect that the two main candidates have shown, and how it has been all a question about the best way to achieve our shared liberal goals.

Let’s not forget that the most important liberal policies are widely shared. When it comes to economic matters, people are for a far more fair system than we now have. And when it comes to reproductive rights, people come down firmly on the pro-choice side. (This is often obscured because the anti-choice movement is good pushing the discussion to the edges of the issue: intact dilation and extraction and fetal tissue.) These are not just things that Democrats agree on; they are things that Republicans largely agree on — especially on the economic side.

Attack Bernie SandersSo the greatest mistake we can make is to turn this into a primary about purity. Screw purity! A huge issue for me is the minimum wage. Sanders is pushing for a $15 minimum wage. Clinton is pushing for a $12 minimum wage. These are not ideological positions. I’m with Bernie: $15 is what we should be going for. It represents a living wage. But $12 is a worthy goal too. And for people working minimum wage in California (where it is, high by American standards at $10 per hour), $12 would be a very big deal. My concern is that asking for $12 does not get you to $12. But regardless, the issue is not ideological.

And this is especially true when there is a large and growing movement in the Republican Party that we should have no minimum wage at all. Based upon their very primitive libertarian thinking with their Frédéric Bastiat thought experiments, all our unemployment problems would go away if only people could take jobs for a buck fifty a day. So it’s really important that we not lose perspective here.

I don’t like to see tweets like this from the Sanders campaign yesterday:

It was followed up with a series of even worse tweets of the form, “Most progressives I know don’t…” This was responded to cogently by Alex Katz, “Most progressives I know supported the Brady Bill and common sense gun control. Not #BernieSanders.” Now it just so happens that I care far more about economics because I believe economic inequality kills far more people than guns or cars or anything else you can mention. But this is madness to claim that the progressive issues I care most about are what make me pure while I apologize away my heresies.

Brian Beutler’s article is not really meant to attack Bernie Sanders. For one thing, I think he’s highly sympathetic towards Sanders. But he’s providing some excellent reminder to the Sanders campaign that this is not how you win primaries — not to mention general elections.

Recap: How to Attack Bernie Sanders

We know how not to attack Bernie Sanders. Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman have shown us the way to their eternal shame. But Beutler summarized David Roberts’ criticisms:

Sanders would be far and away the oldest president to take office; he has self-identified as a socialist for most of his career, undeterred by the media’s inability to distinguish between social democrats (what he is) and Leninists (what Republicans will say he is); he supports a higher tax on middle-class labor, which is politically and substantively the worst way to finance a welfare state expansion.

I would add to this that I do think it is a problem for the Democratic Party to not nominate a woman. The last time we nominated a woman, it was Geraldine Ferraro, 32 years ago — for vice-president. This too concerns me.

None of this means that I now support Hillary Clinton for president. I wear my Bernie Sanders shirt proudly. I will almost certainly proudly cast my vote for Sanders on 7 June (after the primary is effectively over). But I don’t want to see this turn into a purity contest. I’ve written before, Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Real Liberal. Now let’s get back to the real substantive campaign that we have thus far had.

Morning Music: Hood’s Branches Bare

Hood - Cold House - Branches BareIs Hood a sadcore band? I don’t know. Like I implied before: its too eccentric a concept to be clearly defined. In addition, I’ve come to think that there aren’t so much sadcore bands as there are sadcore songs — even albums. I mean, listen to American Music Club’s song Can You Help Me. Sure, the lyrics are depressing, “A century of my tears wouldn’t even fill a thimble.” Yet I don’t know of a song that makes me feel better. The whole refrain is, “Can you help me to believe?” Today, we listen to Hood’s not at all uplifting “Branches Bare.”

“Branches Bare” is off their fifth studio album, Cold House. What’s unusual about them is that while mostly, sadcore comes at music from a kind of folk perspective, Hood is essentially an electronic band. Sure, they are usually pretty down. But you know they not only listened to Kraftwerk, they also really liked it. To me, Kraftwerk was one of those bands that was clearly good and interesting and all of that — but which I just hated listening to.

Branches Bare Analysis

The song has a sorta kinda rap section toward the end of the song. It’s interesting, but doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The rest of the song couldn’t be clearer. Some people are going through the house and all the stuff left by a recently dead person. It’s a reflection on the meaning of our lives. One of the people asks the other:

Will the memories be lost
When we lose you
When they clear the house
You lived so many years?

Sad to say, yes. I’ve thought about this a lot. I have no children. I will never have any. In a century, one of my distant relatives will dig into the family history as people do. And they will say, “There was this curious fellow — wrote some odd books — quite the eccentric it seems like.” And that will be it. That will be my legacy. But don’t misunderstand: it thrills me to think that someone might look back and know that there was this curious fellow. When you get right down to it, that’s all I’ve ever expected from life.

Anniversary Post: Chief Justice John Marshall

John MarshallOn this day in 1801, John Marshall was sworn in as the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His greatest legacy is Marbury v Madison. It’s important because it is more or less where the Supreme Court being the ultimate arbiter of the meaning of the Constitution came from. When I first read about this in school, I thought it was great, because we were in that period when had a decent Supreme Court. But as is well documented in Ian Millhiser’s excellent book, Injustices, the Supreme Court has generally used its power in the most pernicious of ways.

The Supreme Court found itself in a difficult situation. Jefferson was president (Madison was Secretary of State). The administration was wrong to deny William Marbury his appointment as Justice of the Peace. You see, Adams had appointed him, but there was a mix-up, and Marbury never got his papers. Well, since it was an Adams appointment, and he and Jefferson were basically at war with each other, there was no way he was going to make good on it. The problem was, if the Court found for Marbury, Jefferson would just ignore it, turning the Court into a powerless bureaucracy.

So John Marshall came up with a trick: the Court didn’t have the authority to do anything to help Marbury (even though it claimed that the actions of the administration were wrong), but it did have the authority to interpret what the Constitution meant. So the Supreme Court managed to increase its power at the same time that it claimed it couldn’t help a relatively little guy caught in the middle of a fight between titans. Is that not America in a nutshell? We can always find ways to help the powerful become more powerful. But the weak must make it on their own.