Former Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon and Watergate co-conspirator Chuck Colson died this weekend. Besides being a criminal and an intolerant far-right evangelical, he's perhaps most famous for saying, "I would walk over my own grandmother to re-elect Dick Nixon."
The exact wording of the quote has been disputed through the years, but the spirit behind it is unmistakable—one of the most depressing sentiments ever uttered in the English language. Colson didn't say it out of naiveté; he knew exactly what he was getting with Dick. His declaration was like someone pledging to trample an infant into the grave for a York Peppermint Patty, even if one knew ahead of time they were made of ash and roofing nails and tasted like "boiled AIDS." That was Colson, a public thug for forty years, who changed a burglar's black turtleneck for preacher's robes.
That said, there's almost something quaint about Colson in retrospect. His rumpled shirts and blue blazers set him apart from the modern conservative's gray power suit and blue-or-red tie ensemble. If anything, he looked like a northwestern academic, a lived-in thinker type—like George Will, if he were a human being. Even his crimes have started to seem quaint.
There is, of course, Watergate, which has no peer in history, but for which he shouldered little blame compared to E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, who planned and executed the burglary. Colson's arranging a break-in to Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office to smear the Pentagon Papers' source as dangerously unstable is almost the sort of thing one can slough off today, as we watch the New York Times, Think Progress' Alyssa Rosenberg and Democratic pundit Joy Reid, who have labeled Wikileaks source Bradley Manning as someone with "delusions of grandeur," emotionally disturbed and possibly conflicted about being gay, and a personally troubled anarchist. Unlike Ellsberg, Manning hasn't even allegedly leaked top secret information. But who cares? The world doesn't need Chuck Colson's talents when the liberal commentariat will do his job for him.
Then there's the matter of his post-Watergate evangelizing career, which thankfully few people failed to notice as a conversion to the status of God's Own Ratfucker. His anti-gay, anti-liberal rhetoric—and unscientific and ahistorical demonization and smears—never veered from the toxic and odious, but one could hear it lustily reaffirmed by almost every GOP primary candidate this season. His Manhattan Declaration, that devout Christians should reject laws at odds with the Bible, is merely the most prominent articulation of unconstitutional Dominionist hogwash. Further, this kind of personal rejection of the rule of law is overwhelmed by a current GOP climate where it's been translated into a war on birth control for women, while public officials muse unapologetically about secession and nullification.
Even his Prison Fellowship crusade to convert convicts to Christianity in a war against the spread of Islam in prisons now reads like a faint call to arms compared to the actions of Norway's Christian-nationalist terrorist Anders Breivik, who, as author Jeff Sharlet points out, was inspired by the same concerns. Breivik—who was also whipped up into a paranoiac nativist fervor by clowns like Pamela Gellar and Robert Spencer—merely took right-wing rhetoric about the existential threat of Islam and the inability to negotiate with or persuade an unreasoning, murderous cultural army and provided its natural conclusion: When they understand only force and desire only to destroy, exterminate the brutes. Breivik himself neatly predicted how the American right-wing would inevitably have to embrace some of his conclusions which, unsurprisingly, Pat Buchanan obligingly did. Colson left a snowball on a hill, and there were no shortage of people willing to help push it down.
So if the passage of time and the accelerating nastiness of contemporary events have rendered him more of a hateful dirty-tricks curio, try to look on the bright side. Pause, for just a moment, and cherish the legacy Colson offers us. Unlike, say,
- Henry Kissinger, Nobel Peace Prize winner, who illegally negotiated against U.S. interests in Vietnam as a private citizen, who as noted by historian Robert Dallek, knew full well that Vietnam was unwinnable and continued to prosecute it anyway, who bombed Cambodia and engineered Pinochet's Chilean coup, who was called in to advise the Bush administration as late as 2002 and who even today has to be careful what sort of plane he boards lest he touch down some place that might charge him for crimes against humanity;
- Georgie and Dickie, who violated the Geneva Conventions to indefinitely detain and torture human beings (on the advice of flunkie counsel from Addington, Bybee, Gonzalez and Yoo—the last of whom teaches at fucking Berkeley), who not only propped up the sclerotic autocracy of our Cairene Dracula Hosni Mubarak but shipped B-grade Muslim shitkickers to be tortured in his electrode game room, who fed disinformation to the press to fabricate a casus belli in a war of opportunity and exposed a CIA officer to remove a political inconvenience, and who today spend their time collecting hearts like building up "health" in a side-scrolling video game and pocketing the equivalent of 200 dishwashers' annual earnings to give thirty-minute keynote speeches of unapologetic mendacity;
- our current White House occupant and resident constitutional scholar, who even at this moment is probably drone-roasting some Yemeni collateral damage alive like a piece of shit-out-of-luck shawarma, who dispatched America's former Public Enemy #1 with a summary dark-room "double tap" to the brain, and who had an American citizen executed without due process;
unlike those ghouls, Chuck Colson committed crimes against the American conscience and in service to what then proved to be the most secretive and imperial presidency in history—and we sent his ass to prison for it.
When he was still presidential special counsel, Colson used to keep a framed picture on his wall, reading, "When you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow." Well, in a stranger time in this republic, congressmen and federal judges still youthfully smitten by the rule of law took Chuck's balls and were about to nail them to the fucking wall when the weasel pled guilty. Keep the memory alive; the courage of our contemporaries won't remind us of it any time soon.