As I watched news coverage of Roger Stone emerging from the federal courthouse in Ft. Lauderdale last Friday, arms aloft and both hands flashing “V” for victory, I got the feeling that moment was a long time coming. I got the feeling that Stone has waited years for that moment, and relished it greatly.
The pose was deliberately reminiscent of the defiant post struck by Richard Nixon in the wake of his resignation from the presidency. Stone has long venerated Nixon, and famously has a tattoo of the disgraced former president’s face etched between his shoulder blades. What does Stone admire about Nixon? Indestructibility and resilience.
It takes moxie to embrace as a hero a figure as complicated as Tricky Dick Nixon, and an extra measure of moxie to devote a lifetime to pushing political boundaries to extremes that would surely make even our 37th president blush, and – for better or for worse – Stone has it. Here’s how:
Moxie emerges early.
There’s never been a time when Roger Stone wasn’t prepared to lie brazenly to advance his own power. He discovered dirty tricks at the same time he discovered politics.
As an eight year old, he influenced his elementary school’s mock election by working the cafeteria line at lunch, spreading the rumor that Nixon was in favor of Saturday school. His efforts paid off, and John F. Kennedy – his candidate of choice, as the son of serious Catholics – won the election.
Stone might have lost his love for Kennedy and turned instead to Nixon and conservative or libertarian causes, but he never lost his affinity for skullduggery.
The story of his career as a political consultant is a study in the manipulation of people, situations and the news media.
Might it have been different if he’d been called out for his first dirty trick, and disciplined effectively? Could his passion for politics have survived, and would he have been as successful?
It’s impossible to know.
Moxie makes its own rules.
It’s not that Roger Stone doesn’t follow the rules. He does. It’s just that there are the rules he designed himself. He’s written an entire book about it, and his rules frame up a Netflix documentary about him.
Among his rules:
- Attack, attack, attack. Never defend.
- Hate is a stronger motivator than love.
- To win you must do everything.
- Nothing is on the level.
- Past is f—ing prologue.
Keeping these rules in mind, think back to the bruising 2016 presidential campaign, in which Stone played a significant role.
Remember the Florida recount that ended with Bush ekeing out a win over Gore, and the “Brooks Brothers Riot”?
The Willie Horton ad?
All bear the fingerprints of Roger J. Stone.
His rules apply not only to how he guides and advises his clients, but to his own personal peccadilloes as well.
While his star was on the rise as a consultant, he was derailed by revelations that he and his wife placed a classified ad in a swinger’s magazine. Rather than admit the truth, Stone accused household help of stealing his information and placing the ad in an attack on him. He later admitted that the ad was legitimate, and that he and his wife had placed it. The scenario perfectly illustrates the mantra he learned at the knee of Roy Cohn, the mentor he shares with President Donald Trump: “Admit nothing. Deny everything. Launch a counterattack.”
While Stone’s rules seemed to have paid off for him up until now, one wonders if they will continue to work. If I were Robert Mueller, I’d be sure to hang one of those autographed “Stone’s Rules” posters in the courtroom while Stone was testifying. It might be really hard to convince a jury of one’s credibility with that in evidence.
It takes moxie to blaze your own trail, but you’d better be sure that path isn’t heading to the door of a federal prison.
Moxie has a certain clarity.
Along with his partner Paul Manafort, Stone spent years as a lobbyist for shady foreign governments. It didn’t matter how corrupt or brutal a regime was, Stone was perfectly happy to represent their interests.
Why would anyone willingly do the bidding of some of the most evil people in the world? In that Netflix documentary, Stone clearly and simply answers, “Money.”
I think the answer is actually slightly more nuanced than that. Money is simply an avatar for something else, in this case, the power and rush that comes with winning. Stone, as he clearly outlines in his rules, simply must win at all costs. It doesn’t matter to him what the game is, what the stakes are, or what the consequences might be, he must win.
There’s something admirable about those who summon incredible moxie in pursuit of a goal. But when that goal is amoral, moxie becomes beside the point.
Which brings us back to last Friday, when Stone appeared on those courthouse steps in that deliberately Nixonian pose.
He stands accused attempting to obstruct justice, tampering with witnesses and making false statements in connection with the Russian attack on the 2016 election. Those charges, while serious enough, may be precursors to even more serious charges that Stone actively engaged with a foreign power on behalf of his candidate.
It’s difficult for me to read about all the shenanigans and not feel a certain amount of despair for what should be, and for what might have been. Even if found innocent, Stone’s moxie has for decades wrecked havoc on our political system and undermined our faith in democracy. It’s made us all more cynical, and broken public trust. It’s pushed aside substantive policy conversations in favor of sensationalism, and we’re all the poorer for that. Our country would look very different today were it not for the sideshow circus antics of the likes of Roger Stone and his ilk. For me, his story is a lesson in the terrible consequences of misdirected moxie.