SIPO, Richard Nixon, and the National Party’s Gold

Regular readers will know that one of your correspondent’s favourite quotes came from the deposed, post Presidential Richard Nixon, on the cause of his downfall and resignation: “I gave ’em a sword. And they stuck it in, and they twisted it with relish. And I guess if I had been in their position, I’d have done the same thing.

That quote has almost everything you need to know about Nixon contained within it: He was an extraordinarily self-aware man, enough to know that ultimately, his downfall was his own fault. He was also self-pitying, believing that he’d been persecuted for something that was of relatively little consequence. The Watergate Break-in, at the end of the day, probably did not meaningfully change the result of the 1972 election, in which he trounced a hapless George McGovern.  Nixon would have won that election, anyway, had he just played it straight.

But it also contains another element of his personality – because he was enough of a man to recognise a good political stitch-up when he saw it. He’d have done the exact same thing to someone else, himself, had he been the hunter, and not the hunted.

It all amounts to why Nixon remains one of the most fascinating characters of the last century – probably one of the few people to truly deserve the moniker of flawed genius. A man with a genuinely admirable record in most of his public career, ultimately destroyed by his own flaws.

But there’s a greater truth in that quote than anything simply applied to Nixon. I keep coming back to it, in relation to the ongoing soap opera of the National Party, and its gold. There is an understandable tendency, on some parts of the right, to disdain the obvious enjoyment being taken about that story by the National Party’s many enemies. My podcast co-host, the inestimable Sarah Ryan, is, like me, very far from being a National Party voter. And yet she summed the sentiment I describe up on last week’s episode, rebuking me in the process: “Why is it any more crazy than the stuff has been going on for the last few years?…. Why should I care?”

And of course, there is also the other element: The sudden splurge into life of the Standards in Public Office commission, which reliably rediscovers the ability to talk tough and puff out its chest where any perceived enemy of the establishment is concerned:

The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) has pledged to investigate concerns raised about some €400,000 in gold bars that were stored in a vault belonging to the National Party….

….Sipo said that the concerns “will be followed up to ensure proper compliance with the requirements of the Electoral Acts”.

“All matters relating to possible noncompliance with the requirements of the Electoral Acts that are brought to the attention of the Commission, are followed up and enquiries made as appropriate.”

Sipo said that in some cases, if the Commission is of the opinion that an offence has occurred, “it may refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions”.

As Sarah alluded to, for SIPO to suddenly start acting now like some bastion of public probity is more than a little bit rich. It is called, after all, the standards in public office commission – and yet when there were serious questions this year about the standards adhered to in public office by a Fianna Fáil Minister, our friends in SIPO had nothing to say for themselves. An unpopular microparty with some gold, though, and they’re springing into action. With, it should be said, no small degree of relish. Those people who roll their eyes and see an establishment that enforces rules and regulations selectively against its enemies are not imagining things.

But this is what brings me back to Nixon: Complaining about political unfairness is about as useful as complaining about the weather. You can no more change either. What you can do, in the case of the weather, is stay indoors when it is inclement. And what you can do, in the case of political unfairness, is learn Nixon’s lesson: Don’t give them a sword.

The same is true, largely, in the case of Donald Trump: You may well believe that he is being unfairly prosecuted, or that the various charges against him are being taken with a political motivation. I suspect that is entirely true. But it is also true that to charge someone with crimes, there must be at least passable evidence that crimes were committed. In at least the most recent case, that’s obviously true of Trump. It might well be true that your enemies desperately want to see you destroyed – but that does not, in my book, make it smart to make their job easier for them.

And it is true of the National Party, and its gold. That organisation’s travails are, in this case, entirely and wholly self-inflicted. Do not be surprised, when you hand your enemies a sword, and they stick it in, and twist it with relish.

Because if you are honest with yourself, like Nixon was, chances are you’d do the same thing to them.

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