Because the Word of God lives and abides forever, there are always spiritual lessons to learn from historical, and current, events. The following article offers an opportunity for the church to engage in a teachable moment in society. The author, James S. Robbins, writes weekly for USA TODAY, and is the author of The Real Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero.
“The server fracas isn’t Watergate, yet, but the Democratic front-runner is starting to sound a little like Richard Nixon. Last month, famed Washington Post reporter and Watergate investigator, Bob Woodward, said that the email scandal engulfing former secretary of State Hillary Clinton “reminds me of the Nixon tapes: thousands of hours of secretly recorded conversations that Nixon thought were exclusively his.”
Woodward’s impression is justified, and not just by the steady drip, drip of new secrets in the latest batch of Clinton emails released by the State Department on Monday. There is also a remarkable resonance between Nixon’s statements during the evolving Watergate crisis, and Clinton’s public statements regarding her emails:
The people come first
Nixon: I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I am not a crook.
Clinton: I think it’s kind of fun. People get a real-time behind-the-scenes look at what I was emailing about, and what I was communicating about.
I want to get the facts out…
Nixon: I want the public to learn the truth about Watergate, and those guilty of any illegal actions brought to justice.
Clinton: I want it all out there.
…because they are on my side
Nixon: The facts will prove that the president is telling the truth.
Clinton: That does not change the facts, and no matter what anybody tries to say, the facts are stubborn.
There has been unprecedented openness…
Nixon: We have waived executive privilege on all individuals within the administration. It has been the greatest waiver of executive privilege in the whole history of this nation.
Clinton: I took the unprecedented step of asking that the State Department make all my work-related emails public.
… about things I didn’t know…
Nixon: I had no prior knowledge of the Watergate operation.
Clinton: I don’t know how it works digitally at all.
… at least not at that time
Nixon: No one on the White House Staff, at the time (White House Counsel John Dean) conducted the investigation … was involved, or had knowledge of the Watergate matter.
Clinton: I never sent nor received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received.
Petraeus prosecutor: Clinton has committed no crime
The last guy did it, too
Nixon: This kind of capability not only existed during the Johnson administration, it also existed in the Kennedy administration.
Clinton: Previous secretaries of state have said they did the same thing. … I mean, Secretary Powell has admitted he did exactly the same thing. … We both did the same thing.
And it was all legal…
Nixon: As far as the tapes are concerned, rather than being in defiance of the law, I am in compliance with the law.
Clinton: What I did was legally permitted, number one, first and foremost.
…At least at that time
Nixon: The first operation, begun in 1969, was a program of wiretaps. All were legal, under the authorities then existing.
Clinton: The laws and regulations in effect when I was secretary of State allowed me to use my email for work. That is undisputed.
And now I am fully cooperating…
Nixon: We have cooperated completely.
Clinton: We’re fully cooperating with [the investigation].
… but I am still protecting my privacy
Nixon: Let me explain very carefully that the principle of confidentiality either exists, or it does not exist.
Clinton: Look, my personal e-mails are my personal business. Right?
I alone can determine what will be made public
Nixon: I have spent many hours of my own time personally reviewing these materials, and personally deciding questions of relevancy.
Clinton: Under the law that decision is made by the official. I was the official. I made those decisions.
But I have no idea how things were erased
Nixon: How (the 18 1/2 minute gap on one tape) was caused is still a mystery to me and, I think, to many of the experts as well.
Clinton: Like with a cloth or something?
And no, you can’t inspect the original
Nixon: We are standing firm on the proposition that we will not agree to the Senate committee’s desire to have (the tapes).
Clinton: The server will remain private.
Besides, it is someone else’s fault
Nixon: The easiest course would be for me to blame those to whom I delegated the responsibility to run the campaign. But that would be a cowardly thing to do.
Clinton: I think there are disputes going on among agencies about what shoulda, coulda, woulda, been done four, five, six years ago. That’s something for them to work out.
Plus it’s a partisan witch hunt
Nixon: The Watergate issue has taken on overtones of a partisan political contest.
Clinton: So for the past eight years, Republicans and their allies have attacked President Obama with everything they’ve got. … But the real target isn’t me; it’s everything you and I believe in. … It’s not about emails or servers either. It’s about politics.
And the people will decide anyway
Nixon: I am confident that in those months ahead, the American people will come to realize that I have not violated the trust that they placed in me when they elected me as President of the United States.
Clinton: Now, with respect to any sort of future issues, look, I trust the American people to make their decisions about political and public matters.
Nixon: This office is a sacred trust, and I am determined to be worthy of that trust.
Clinton: People should, and do trust me.
I wish I had done better
Nixon: I frankly wish we hadn’t had a (taping) system at all, then I wouldn’t have to answer this question.
Clinton: Looking back, it would’ve been better for me to use two separate phones, and two email accounts. I thought using one device would be simpler, and obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way.”
Lessons to Learn
As a student of history, as someone who lived through Watergate while serving in the US Army, I find history repeating itself, and it is fascinating. Perhaps something can be learned. Skeptics, such as George Bernard Shaw say, “The only thing we learn from history, is that we learn nothing from history.” Hopefully, he is wrong. Certainly there are spiritual lessons to remember, or to learn afresh.
One spiritual lesson to grasp is the total depravity of the human heart. Jesus said that it is out of the heart that evil thoughts proceed (Matt. 15:19). Lying, deceiving, and twisting the truth comes from an evil heart. While it is true that no person is as bad as they can be in a given moment, every person born into this world is as bad off as they can be, and so every person is in need of salvation, and a new heart. One night, long ago, Jesus told a man named Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). The new birth brings a new heart, and a new heart longs to be righteous and to do that which is right. Richard Nixon needed a new heart, a Christian heart. Hillary Clinton needs a new heart wherein righteousness dwelleth. With a new heart the lies will stop, personal responsibility will be accepted, and there will be healing a measure of healing.
Another spiritual lesson is that what we sow we reap (Gal. 6:7). Initially, what we condemn in others, we condone in ourselves. Hillary condemned Richard Nixon with a passion, and then patterned her own behavior on his, in many way, as far as the evidence can be known. We only deceive ourselves when we think we can mock God forever by living a life of personal greed, and a life of self-interest, at the expense of all others. Abraham Lincoln once wisely observed, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” What we sow, we reap.
A lifetime of deceit and cover-up, a lifetime of deliberately destroying the lives and reputations of others, a lifetime of operating a political and personal war room of hatred and hostility, a lifetime of living in the shadows, and operating under the cover of darkness, will produce what the world is now witnessing. God has created a moral universe. The truth will come out, and it will reveal a desperate and despicable heart. But then, that revelation is good, for it gives God a chance to be God and forgive. It gives a person a new chance to change and be fundamentally, and forever, different.
Finally, the parallels between Richard Nixon and Hillary Clinton remind the nation of the need for value clarification. Americans must return to the Hebrew Scriptures to discover afresh the fundaments for life in society, or there will be continual decay, decline, and national death.
I recommend for your reading, Exodus 20:1-17. Read, remember, be renewed in your mind, and then ask God to regenerate our national leaders by the Holy Spirit, and for this reason. The conscience can be seared to the point it is not sensitive to self-destructive, and other destructive behavior. When a leader of a nation manifests a seared conscience, others are made spiritual sick. A moral infection will spread more rapidly than any pandemic disease. Imagine a society where every person does that which is right in their own eyes, like Nixon, and like Clinton. It is an apocalyptic vision of biblical proportions.