One of the media’s favorite anniversaries – twenty-five years ago today, the Watergate break-in began the decline and fall of Richard Nixon. In a bizarre segment on NPR, some history professor put forward a ‘what-if’ theory that Watergate had, over the long run, produced an ironic outcome.
Without the distraction of the scandal, he argued, Vietnam wouldn’t have fallen and the Washington establishment wouldn’t have suffered the twin disgrace of Republican corruption and Democrat culpability in the first-ever American military defeat.
Democrats would still probably have regained the White House in 1976, he said, but the candidate would not have been Jimmy Carter, who ran and won on the basis of his ‘outsider’ status. Thus, the disastrous Carter presidency – 13 percent inflation and the hostage crisis humiliation – wouldn’t have occurred, and Reagan would not have been swept into office in a conservative landslide in 1980. And so, the prof concluded, America’s sharp turn to the right (?) would have been prevented and the liberals would not be as weak as they are today.
Yes, I can elaborate on the question mark I inserted, but I want to postpone the whole Democrat-Republican, Liberal-Conservative topic for a while because my view of it will seem eccentric, at least at first.
At the Pet Palace, I saw my first irretrievably vicious German shepherd. He was scheduled for neutering in a last ditch effort to reduce his aggressiveness and save him from being put to sleep. It took four of us to inject him with the anesthetic, and half an hour later – barely able to stand – he was still growling and snapping through the cage in the vet’s office. No surgery today. Maybe no life tomorrow.
Depressed about the dog, I drove to Patrick’s office. He was down, too. The CD player was whispering Exile on Main Street. Patrick reported that Microsoft’s Windows won’t download the new Netscape Internet product. I made a face at him. We have talked about Bill Gates and Microsoft’s business conduct before. Gates parades around the country taking credit for the computer revolution as if he were some benevolent technology seer. The reality couldn’t be any more opposite. He overtook IBM by becoming IBM and appropriating all of that company’s rawest monopolistic trade practices. Microsoft’s operating system software is junk, its application software is full of bugs, and as its market share has grown through user ignorance, the company is now, it appears, deliberately sabotaging the ability of competitive products to run in the fatally flawed DOS-Windows environment. But Gates goes on David Letterman’s show wearing a sweater and a smile, and he’s treated with the reverence that belongs by right to a man with $9 billion. But he strikes me as an old-time robber baron. J. P. Morgan in a crewneck. Neither Patrick nor I said a word more: he knows my lines and I know his on this subject.
We reviewed the status of another business venture we are trying to start. Everything is in readiness for a truly innovative service offering but we can’t find salespeople. Last weekend, Patrick ran an ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer. No response. We explored other possibilities. I suggested that we contact the placement office at Goldy Beacom, which used to be a secretarial school but – thanks to the institutional inflation of the 1970s – now bills itself as a business school and even offers an MBA. We both think that pretty women are the best substitute for actual sales ability. Maybe not all of the Goldy MBAs were being snapped up by the Fortune 500. A thought anyway.
It was one of those days when nothing is happening. Nothing good anyway. We checked on the Columbus attorney handling the collection of a large sum of money I am owed. This was the second straight week he hadn’t called after he said he would call every Monday. His secretary said he was in conference and would call back. Right. We checked on the West Chester attorney who still hasn’t called regarding my bankruptcy. He was out of town.
‘How hard is it to knock off an armored car?’
‘It can’t be as hard as trying to get lawyers on the phone,’ Patrick said.
‘Or people who want to take the risk of selling something,’ I added.
We tabled the dreary business talk. Patrick confided that his kids were undergoing state testing this week. The Raymonds have recently moved to a new house and since they home-school their kids, the local school board has been showing up on their doorstep at regular intervals. Now the Raymond children have to be formally tested by their new school district to make sure they are keeping up(?) with the public school kids.
‘Will there be a penalty because they know how to read?’ I asked.
‘Probably, ‘ said Patrick. ‘I know what,’ he added, brightening. ‘Let’s go to the cigar store.’
Driving home after the cigar expedition, I heard on the radio that New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman was again leading in the polls for reelection after a temporary slide in popularity. Voters gave her good marks for lowering the state income tax, and poor marks for controlling the rise of property taxes and car insurance rates. I guess that makes her ‘good enough.’ There followed an announcement of Carl Sagan’s posthumous book ‘Billions and Billions’ – presumably not about the money New Jersey residents are paying in taxes and insurance.
At home on CNN, there was a five-minute segment on the dangers of tobacco and young people. They previewed a weird new commercial – design inspiration Ã la Trainspotting, it seemed – in which filthy magic toilets danced around a men’s room floor yelling at kids about smoking. The punchline of the story: tobacco companies are going to be liable for billions as 36 states seek compensation for costs of smoking-related health care. On a lighter note, CNN ran excerpts of commencement speeches. Madelyn Albright spoke up against isolationism. Hilary encouraged graduates to join the Clintons in pursuing ‘the ideals we hold dear’ (including a juster’ society). Hubby Bill for everything, as usual.
A perfect day moved toward its end with another creditor call at 8 p.m. I let the machine pick it up and turned the volume higher on the TV. Then Patrick called at 10 p.m.: HBO was running a piece on the World Trade Center bombing – almost as funny as McVeigh.
‘I’m on it,’ I said. I watched for ten minutes but my heart wasn’t in it. I turned it off and tried to get some sleep.