During the Watergate era there was a great deal of print and comment on the allegation that there was an “enemies” list in the Nixon White House. They prepared a list of prominent people in the media and politics who they viewed as hostile to the administration on various fronts. The list was apparently made with the intent of seeing how they could make trouble for the listed people and cause them pain. One of the major allegations was that they would use the list to have the IRS audit the alleged enemies and give them untold grief. You know the grief that can be is you have ever been audited. There were a few hundred individuals on the list. It was considered by the media of the day as the ultimate outrage. Of course the “media” in those days was the three major networks and the NYT and Washington Post.
The belief was that this was a direct threat to our democratic form of government and the barbarians taken control of government. The indignation of the media was palpable. To this day I can’t recall any evidence that one person of the enemies list was actually audited by the IRS in spite of all the sound and fury. The enemies list was more an exercise in working through the frustrations of the White House with the media and political opponents of which there were many. The upper crust of the media couldn’t stomach the thought that the “Silent Majority” as the public who elected Nixon twice was called by the supporters of the President. They clearly were the majority at that time in history but that didn’t influence the intelligentsia of the left.
Of course lost in the smoke of the headlines was the fact that all White Houses for every had an “enemies” list whether written down or not. Most prior Administrations had opponents and attacked them with vigor and vindictiveness often. Lyndon Johnson for sure had people audited on his direct orders. The famous Oval Office secret recordings had been installed in fact by Johnson after some futile earlier attempts by other predecessors. If you would like a real feel for the Nixon White House during the Watergate era I urge you to read the Watergate Tapes in full, I have. In spite of hundreds of pages of transcripts you won’t find any smoking gun of conspiracy. You will find lots of bad ideas floated and then shot down and lots of wondering about the loyalty of various members of the Administration and snide comments about them.
Roosevelt wasn’t just an affable fellow in the White House looking out for the little guy as common history portrays him, he was also 100% politician and cunning to boot. He had an enemies list for sure. It may not have been written down anywhere but it didn’t need to be. Everyone in his Administration knew who the “enemy” was and that it was their job to make life a difficult as possible for them. Just as the guy in the White House today bashes business and businessmen every opportunity he gets so did Roosevelt. He hated Wall Street and all large corporations and the entire investor class even though he was from a prominent family and born with the proverbial silver spoon and never had to work a day in his life.
By 1938 the Depression was still in full bloom. There had been slight improvement in the mid ’30’s but only briefly and modestly. Then the policies of the Roosevelt White House imposed on the economy even more and it was deteriorating rapidly again. The winds of war were already blowing hard in Europe and there was another election coming in 1940. Discontent was growing and Roosevelt was always attuned to the politic meter of the moment. So it was time to attack another enemy and get the headlines on another subject rather than if his policies were working and producing jobs or merely make work temporary stints that didn’t add to the real economy.
So the attack was on again for a bogeyman causing the pain in the economy. The White House went after the financial services and insurance companies with as vengeance. Roosevelt created the “Temporary National Economic Committee” to investigate the monopolistic practices of these industries and any others that might be suspect. I am not making up that title. It is something right out of Kafka. This committee had to power to subpoena witnesses and documents and take testimony under oath with threats of perjury. They did all that with enthusiasm. It started its work in the spring of 1938 after the appropriate build up of public bashing by the President and his cronies about the evils of these people and industries.
After scores of witnesses and hours of testimony and literally thousands of records the hearings finally petered out in 1940. The War was on by then in Europe. Of course there wasn’t any proof either of the alleged attempt to create a monopoly in these industries. Its shutdown was on the back pages if that. No conclusions, no Sherman Anti-Trust actions were brought. But the executives had been publicly humiliated and the companies had been out enormous expense producing records and paying legal fees for the process. Those “enemies” were put through the ringer for no purpose other than perceived political gain by the White House. Interestingly most of the records of that long ago committee are still not open to the public. Roosevelt held a public witch hunt but then buried the true facts of the hunt from public view. Another alleged hero with clay feet if not down right dirty feet. Makes Nixon seem rather tame in his rants against his enemies.
“Private enterprise is ceasing to be free enterprise.” FDR www.olcranky.wordpress.com