In case you didn’t know, it’s called an “ad hominem” attack. From the Latin, it means, literally, “toward the man.” It is used to indicate when, during a debate, in lieu of arguing the facts, a person instead makes personal attacks on the person with whom they are debating.
It is sometimes said that the minute a side in a debate switches to an ad hominem attack they have lost. That, of course, is absurd on its face, and suggests that every time someone, say, calls Donald Trump a fool they have lost the whole debate. That’s not so, not because it isn’t true, but because Donald Trump really is a fool, and we have a million reasons how we know this.
But if ad hominem attacks are all you have got, well, then ad hominem attacks are all you have got. And it certainly seemed that way during Monday afternoon’s Congressional Judiciary Committee’s hearing featuring John W. Dean as a witness.
Of the numerous, egregious attacks on John Dean by various pusillanimous Republican members of the committee, perhaps the most egregious was committed by Jim Jordan of Ohio. It got so bad that when Jordan finished, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler felt compelled to say, “Since the gentleman from Ohio cast aspersions on the witness, I would remind everyone that after exhaustive testimony in 1973 the tapes were revealed that everything that Mr Dean said was correct and truthful.”
That statement by Chairman Nadler was played out in a dramatic sequence between John Dean and his lawyers, Charles Shaffer and Robert McCandless, in 1973. You see, until it was revealed by Alexander Butterfield that Nixon had taped all Oval Office phone calls and meetings, what Dean had testified to up to that point boiled down to a case of Nixon’s word against John Dean’s word. Schaffer and McCandless therefore watched Dean very carefully for his reaction when they told him what Butterfield revealed. For them it was a Moment of Truth, the instant when they would know for certain whether their client had been lying or telling the truth to them all along. They were gratified to note what Dean said next: “Thank God.”
John Dean is a man of honor who did a dishonorable thing, and then he honorably discharged his debt to society. He has discharged that debt over and above the call of duty these last 46 years. The disgusting attempts by Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee to cover up and absolve the crimes of Donald Trump with the political blood of John Dean was a nauseating act of craven underhandedness.
Dean explained it this way later to CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “I know the players, I’ve watched them before. I watched them badger Hillary Clinton, they’re all flamethrowers. And I did make the point [after being grilled by the Republicans of the Judiciary Committee], that many years ago when I worked at that committee, they actually accomplished things … like amending the ‘64 Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act of ‘65, the eighteen year old vote, the 25th Amendment, those are things that would never get processed in that committee today.”
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.