On Washington's Birthday, inspired by a patriotic fervor to shout "the Reds are coming" and a token $3,000 fee, convicted Watergate mastermind G. Gordon Liddy spoke at Brandeis University. His appearance produced a demonstration by students against their own Student Programming Board, which had invited and paid the house-call fee for the presidential plumber. The protestors ("Drop Your Tickets, Join the Pickets") felt Liddy's presence "an insult to their moral sensibilities" as well as to their university and called for a sparse attendance, which would diminish Liddy's attractiveness on the lucrative college lecture circuit.
Those who passed the picket line saw and heard an unrepentant Liddy whose theme was that a series of "illusions" accepted by Americans is making our nation an international patsy ("a little old lady ripe for mugging"). Chief among these illusions is the failure to recognize that paranoia is the price of liberty. As an antidote he offered the "real" world of spies, assassinations, break-ins and Thompson submachine guns, which, if endorsed by the citizenry, would save us. His villains are Judge John Sirica ("dumb and hypocritical") and the heads of the CIA who allowed Congress to tame the espionage agency. His heroes are J. Edgar Hoover and G. Gordon Liddy.
It is bizarre. It is disjointed. It is The Hilarity of Evil: a stand-up comic routine held together by a sociopathic view of life, delivered by a pro whose timing and movements are as quick as his trigger finger.
Introduced to a smattering of applause and a chorus of boos, the felon who planned the bugging of the Democratic National Committee headquarters immediately goes against the grain by fumbling with the snap on the microphone and muttering: "I've got to be careful with microphones, I've had lots of trouble with them."
From there, he launches into a comparison of the military might of the United States and the U.S.S.R. Statistics cascade like a Niagra Falls of military hardware. America is dead in the water --and on land and in the air for that matter. If we're ever going to be able to fight the Russkies--and that day will come whether we're ready or not--we had better spend megabillions on defense, stop the volunteer army, which gives us mental deficients who can't operate sophisticated weaponry, and reinstitute the draft, so we can get the brain power to dispatch our messengers of death. When he senses things getting a bit too heavy, he executes a quick shuffle-off-to-Bob-Hope: "The Germans (from whom we have refused to buy tanks) have tanks made by Porsche. Ours are made by Chrysler. That's great if we have combat on an open highway."
Spying? Why the best people do it against friend and foe alike. He reveals a Keystone Cop world of operatives of all nations breaking into the secret hiding places of the others, photographing everything in sight and then digesting and exchanging information. There is an inexhaustible amount of secret information in the world, and we can't see "the big picture" till we have it all. Spying? Why Moses sent "moles" to scout out Canaan. Spying? Didn't Joshua run operatives in Jericho? "Spying (a pause to fix a serious stare) is our nation's eyes and ears." We are slowly becoming blind and deaf because legality or the Constitution to stand in the way of the world according to G. Gordon Liddy.
A man who understood the world was J. Edgar Hoover, for whom Liddy, as ex-FBI agent, worked. Hoover was a giant, but a bit quirky: For instance, obsessive about the size of margins on a typewritten page because he liked to write comments in margins. Those comments were often cryptic, but no one would dare ask for amplification. So once Hoover caught an operative cheating on the size of the margins and scrawled: "Watch the borders!" Whereupon underlings sent 50 agents to the Mexican and Canadian borders. Cuddly, adorable J. Edgar.
On to the plumbers, those clandestine operatives who met in the bowels of the White House to plan presidentially blessed felonies. Why, that was perfectly legal. National security, you know. For example, Daniel Ellsberg (Liddy broke into the psychiatrist's office) might have given The Pentagon Papers to the Russians as well as to The New York Times. And if he did that, well . . . The rest Liddy left to our imaginations. The only thing I could figure was that Pravda might have beaten The Times to publication. Come to think of it that may be national security.
Watergate: of no consequence in this spy-populated world of espionage and counterespionage.
Prison: "I told the warden: you don't bother me, I won't bother you." No deal, so Liddy, a lawyer, after rifling the warden's desk and bugging his phone, brought suit against him and had the poor man transferred. A digression to a group of Jewish prisoners who, inspired by Liddy, sued for kosher food, and won. (A staple of his act or just for Brandeis?)
Did he convince anyone? Is he anything more than a freak show? At Brandeis, I think not. But even that audience laughed at evil and warmed, if only for the duration of a speech, to an evil man. And that is worrisome.