"We're not going to have another Watergate in our lifetime. I'm sure."
"History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."
--Attributed to Mark Twain
Check your calendar. Is this 2013 or 1973? Is the president of the United States named Barack Obama or Richard M. Nixon? Because the latest series of unfolding scandals in Washington looks, sounds -- and smells -- awfully familiar.
Last week a cache of emails was uncovered that reveals this administration's hectic attempts to cover its tracks on Benghazi, tracks that lead straight to the White House -- with a stop at the State Department.
More of these candid emails will surely become public before all the official investigations and committee hearings are concluded. It's a safe bet that the revelations have just started.
Shades of Watergate -- updated to fit the computerized times. No more clumsy tape recordings with their 18 1/2-minute gaps, but emails that are proving the equivalent of the Nixon Tapes.
Now we get this era's version of Mr. Nixon's infamous Enemies List, too: The director of the division of the IRS that oversees tax-exempt organizations apologized last week for targeting those that have suspicious words like Tea Party or Patriot in their names.
To quote Director Lois Lerner: "We made some mistakes; some people didn't use good judgment. For that we're apologetic." Right. Just some mistakes. Or as Ronald Reagan would say, slipping into the passive voice for once, Mistakes Were Made.
Surely it was only a coincidence that the IRS didn't target organizations with words like Progressive or Ninety-Nine Percent in their names. Just as the Enemies List compiled by Richard Nixon included only left-wing types -- or those he thought were left-wing in his all-consuming paranoia. These days it's a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, to use Hillary Clinton's term, that draws special attention from the IRS.
Don't worry. This administration's flacks and hacks can explain everything. Just as convincingly as poor Ron Ziegler, press secretary and general obfuscator, had to change his story every time an old one fell apart as Watergate unfolded. ("This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.")
When it first emerged during the congressional campaign of 2012 that the IRS was targeting conservative groups for audits, the story was denied outright: "There's absolutely no targeting." --IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, March 2012. Ron Ziegler couldn't have put it better. Or worse.
This era's R. Ziegler is poor Jay Carney, spokesman for the White House. He, too, has an impossible job, though he tries hard. And the harder he tries, the harder his job gets and the more tangled his conflicting explanations grow, mainly because they conflict with the truth. By now his statements invite a skepticism that grows stronger with his every press conference.
After last week's revelations, Mr. Carney tried to dismiss the little matter of Benghazi (Cont'd and To Be Cont'd) by saying: "There's an ongoing effort to make something political about this." Indeed there is, and it started immediately after the terrible news from Benghazi arrived -- indeed, as the terrible news from Benghazi was arriving. And the highest officials in this administration began sending out emails in a vain attempt to get their conflicting cover stories straight.
Echoes of Watergate reverberate as this administration, too, is caught with its alibis down -- and opts for what John D. Ehrlichman, a prominent member of the Nixon Gang, once dubbed "the modified limited hangout route."
At this early point in the unraveling Benghazi story, one can only imagine some of the things being said in the West Wing. (Expletives deleted.)
The apologies -- and apologias -- may have only begun. Now the IRS is doing its modified, limited part to repair the latest breach in its stonewall by issuing a kind of apology: This was all the fault of some low-level employees who just went off on their own without any supervision. (Like the Watergate plumbers?) Mistakes were made but somehow no one made them -- at least no one identifiable who can be held responsible for them. How convenient.
Anyone who went through the long national nightmare that was Watergate (R.M. Nixon, producer and director) might think he'd stumbled into a time warp. To quote an earlier and wiser commentator: The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Memo to Director Lerner: apology not accepted. Not without a full report, including what corrective -- and disciplinary -- action is being taken and by whom. Just who gave these low-level employees this very bad idea? Just the facts, ma'am. Like just who at the IRS suggested targeting outfits with subversive names like Tea Party and Patriot.
Talk about deja vu: Those names also drew suspicion -- and retaliation -- from the authorities during an earlier hullabaloo in American history, the one circa 1776.