Friday, August 9, 2013


How would President Nixon be judged by today’s standards?





(Friday August 9, 2013 Washington, DC)  Thirty nine years ago today disgraced President Richard Nixon resigned from the Presidency, walked across the South Lawn of The White House with his family, stepped aboard Marine One and stepped out Office and the public light.  Faced with an untenable situation and the certainty of impeachment proceedings in Congress, the 38th President of the United States departed humiliated, scorned, vilified, and a tired beaten man.  His many flaws and failings, enemies, real and imagined, as well as his character defects that drove him for virtually all of his political life have been voluminously documented, studied, and commented upon.  That he sits uneasily in our history as a tragic figure torn by dichotomies, plagued by insecurity, yet able to navigate domestic and geopolitics of a tumultuous time does not lend itself to black and white analysis and summations.  If any American President of the modern era was brought lifelong complexities and political acumen to the Presidency it was surely Richard M. Nixon.

By today’s standards, how would Richard Nixon be judged?  This is no idle question considering the fact that he remains to many scholars and historians, pundits and commentators the “Worst President” in American history.  Considering what the Country has lived through during the past 39 years, perhaps Nixon deserves an effort at reexamination; his Presidency is worthy of reevaluation.

Much to the chagrin of political scientists and historians Nixon defies easy classification.  With the perspective of 39 years through which to consider Nixon and despite all that has been written about the man and the President it was, he remains in many ways enigmatic.  He was highly intelligent and commanded a firm grasp on the thorny issue of foreign affairs during his Administration while signing into law some of the most sweeping progressive domestic policies since FDR.  Nixon during his Presidency was as much a product of that time as he was a victim. 

After serving loyally if not inconspicuously as Vice President during the Eisenhower Administration, Nixon stood poised on the threshold of a new decade to claim what he thought was rightfully his.  He did not count on being out flanked, out maneuvered and lost in the shadow of his Democratic opponent, the telegenic, charismatic John F. Kennedy.  Nixon was eternally bitter about his defeat and vowed to never again seek public office.  Yet, as that tumultuous decade neared its end Nixon was once again back on the public stage and vying for the highest Office in the land.  Nixon was courted by old hands in the National Republican Party who saw the 1960’s as a decade of decadence, chaos, upheaval, turmoil, and they were profoundly disoriented by it all.  The children of the Depression and World War II were raising their children who burned bras and draft cards, took drugs and took off to Canada to flee the draft, while having ‘recreational” sex, taking “The Pill”, listening to odd shrieking electronically enhanced sounds they called music, and general spitting in the collective faces of their parents.  Yes, the country was in the full grips of a “Generation Gap” while a vastly unpopular war was being waged in Southeast Asia.  There was violent racial strife in the streets and, to that older generation it seemed that the nation had been knocked off its moral and institutional moorings.  John Kennedy served only 1000 days as President before he was assassinated.  Assassins would claim the lives of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy before that decade’s end. 

The Presidential race of 1968 was certainly emblematic of that tortured year.  Nixon, touted as the “Law and Order” candidate won handily and with an apparent mandate to restore order to the streets of our cities; the battlefields of the Civil Rights Movement, protests against the government and seemingly uncontrollable crime, disorder and unrest.  Nixon surrounded himself with old cronies and younger operatives extremely loyal to him.  He saw his decisive electoral victory as validation for his politics and policy initiatives.  Clearly the war in Viet Nam was the top item on his agenda and he would go on to expand that ill-fated excursion into a proxy war with the USSR by bombing Cambodia and Laos in the hopes of thwarting the efforts of the Viet Cong.  Nixon’s first term in Office was a mixed bag of accomplishments, failures, missed opportunities and poor calculations but, he won in a landslide in 1972.  It was his Re-election Committee that proved to be the catalyst of his demise.

This part of the Nixon saga is well known.  A bungled burglary into the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel lead to the arrests of five men with ties to a former CIA operative who worked with Cuban √©migr√©s in the Bay of Pigs fiasco.  Soon, the press was reporting the existence of a group known as “The Plumbers” who seemed to be controlled by high placed elements in The White House.  One thing lead to another and before long the trail of money stopped with The President himself.  By the summer of 1974 the country was riveted by the televised hearings that would decide whether or not to impeach Nixon for his crimes and the sloppily arrogant manner by which he chose to cover it up.  Coming on the heels of the contentious 1960’s and all that transpired across the country, the continued engagement in an unwinnable war in Viet Nam, the country was rapidly losing its innocence, faith in the institutions of government and society, and was experiencing the first fault lines between the public good, the morals and ethics of elected officials, and the sinking realization that the government, even at the highest levels, was not above lying to the populace.  Via the diffusion lens of history and today, Watergate – as the Nixon scandal came to be known – appears far too mild a series of transgressions considering what we have witnessed in Presidential politics and Administration’s since Nixon flew back to San Clemente a broken, tragic figure.

By assessing the rise and epic fall of Richard Nixon the aim is not to make Nixon look better through a historical lens but rather to illustrate just how badly corrupted the Office of the Presidency and Presidential politics have devolved so dramatically.  Given all that has transpired in The Presidency and Congress since 1974, Nixon appears somewhat benign a character, albeit, a cruel and vicious one at that.   His insatiable thirst for supreme power, veniality, and paranoia drove his every move, political or otherwise.  Yet, we have seen far more venial men in the Oval Office since Nixon’s resignation. We have seen far less qualified men who surrounded themselves with aides and advisors who really called the shots while the actual Commander in Chief was asleep at the wheel; sometimes completely oblivious to the machinations of his subordinates and their conduction of business in his name.

A short six years after the Republican Party scarred and bruised so terribly by Watergate they elected a former B- film actor, one time corporate spokesman and former California Governor Ronald Reagan.  Reagan was an able mouthpiece for the GOP ideology that largely capitalized on the lackluster years of economic hardship after Nixon.  Many of the same social fires of the 1960’s were still smoldering and being stoked by myriad issues at home and abroad.  Reagan was a blithering idiot from the get go buy he surrounded himself by ideologues, political operatives, and advisers who were crafting policy behind the scenes using Reagan only as a public face and voice to that legislation and foreign policy initiatives which they labored hard to put forth.  It would not be long before Reagan would find himself hip deep in a scandal of his own that in many ways was far worse than Nixon’s venality driven transgressions.  Even before he took Office his staff had established a back channel to have hostages released from Iran.  Colluding to keep the hostages captive while President Jimmy Carter was in Office, as soon as Reagan took the Oath of Office, the hostages were essentially on their way home.

Next a small cadre of Reagan’s most trusted insiders designed a covert way to fund anticommunist troops in Central America and sell arms to Iran as currency to release additional hostages.  This became known as the “Iran Contra Scandal”.  This was a far ranging violation of National and International laws the Reagan men perpetrated with impunity.  Some still debate Reagan’s involvement.  Clearly his Vice President George H.W. Bush had his fingerprints all over it and when the indictments came and the Congressional hearings began the Country was once again looking at crimes committed if not by those in The White House, they were conducted at least with tacit approval of the Oval Office.  While others in his tight circle were indicted and censured, the befuddled Reagan was able to survive the ordeal with barely a scratch to his reputation and the near reverence his fellow Republicans held him in.
As scandals go Iran – Contra was huge. The fact that George H. W. Bush was never fully been held to account for his active role in the Iran – Contra issue seems to have been a repercussion of the long “national nightmare” that was Watergate.  No one in Congress and a tired, cynical public too busy dealing with inflation, high prices for all products, high levels of unemployment, crime, and unrest had “the stomach” for another crisis involving their President and / or Vice President.

But the stain of Iran – Contra and his own inadequacies made George H. W. Bush a one term President.  Even after managing the successful “Gulf War I” by expelling Iraqi troops from Kuwait he lost his bid for reelection by a significant margin.

From 1992 through 2000 we were treated to the travelling scandal road show that was the Clinton Administration.  We are all familiar with the broad strokes and well documented outlines of his sexual misdeeds in The White House and the unrelenting pursuit he endured by a rabidly partisan Congress.  Yet, for all his troubles they did not affect public policy or his ability to be an effective President.  Had he not had a never ending series of scandals he could have accomplished so much more but his personal, private flaws lead to having Articles of Impeachment voted on in the Senate.  He survived but will forever carry some tawdry, soiled linen between the lines (and loins) of his legacy.

One need not have a long familiarity with American history to be acquainted with the epic misdeeds, arguably crimes, lies, obfuscations, and almost Messianic certitude that fueled the Administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.  Actually their two terms in Office are more appropriately designated as the Cheney / Bush Presidency.  Dick Cheney who in his position as Chair of the search and vetting committee tasked with finding a suitable running mate for the simple mined Texas Governor, actually came to the conclusion that he himself was the only qualified candidate for the Vice Presidency. 

The Cheney / Bush ticket did not win the popular election nor did they capture sufficient Electoral College votes to claim a victory.  After much legal wrangling the Supreme Court stepped in and handed them the reigns.  There has probably never been a more unqualified man to occupy The White House than George W. Bush.  While Cheney was the master string puller behind the curtain Bush hired a group of interventionist neo-conservative, Zionist, far Right-wing zealots and installed them in positions of power in his Administration at every level from the Department of Justice to The Pentagon.  They came to Office with a specific agenda in mind, a plan to reconstruct the world in their own delusional design.  No matter how egregious Nixon’s transgressions were his actions never killed anyone, did not roil the world in turmoil or lead to the largest economic collapse at home since the Great Depression.  Compared to Bush, Nixon was a jaywalker.

After ignoring all the threats portending an imminent terrorist attack on US soil, Bush was at the helm when al Qaeda struck.  Rightfully so he inserted CIA operatives and Special Forces into Afghanistan where the ruling regime of the Taliban was providing safe haven for Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda forces.  By the end of November 2001 our military had bi Laden trapped in the rugged mountainous region of Tora Bora close to the Pakistani tribal regions. Despite numerous please from the commanders on the ground Cheney / Bush and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, had already began to plan for the military action that drove them -  a preemptive war of choice to oust the long time ruler of Iraq, Saddam Hussein.  The Administration literally abandoned our troops in Afghanistan, outsourced closing the border region to Pakistani forces loyal to the Taliban and bin Laden ideology, and redirected military resources to their planned invasion of Iraq.

We all know the story of the “cherry picked”, selectively manipulated “intelligence”, the false proclamations about Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction”, their desperate efforts to somehow implicate an Iraqi role in the September 11, 2001 attacks, and their lack of planning after the invasion was successful.  What these men did was not only forever alter our military history, they turned the Middle East and the Subcontinent upside down.  If George W. Bush was not the worst president in history one would be hard pressed to identify who was.

We have lived through much as a Nation, as a People in the last 39 years.  We have seen good times and bad; prosperity and economic catastrophe.  We have produced a generation of warriors and walking wounded we have a responsibility to tend to.  Bush left us with a cracked and broken economy, staggering debt, and a government more bloated and top heavy as it has ever been.  His foreign policy “doctrine” was primitive, narrow minded, self-righteously aggressive and short sighted.  His policies and actions lowered the standing of our Country in the eyes of the world and helped spawn new waves of terrorists-in-waiting.  Cheney / Bush have more blood on their hands than time will wash away. 

The fact of the matter is that our politics have changed since Nixon’s era.  In the Republican Party of today Nixon would have a slim chance of ever being selected as their standard bearer for President.  In today’s light Nixon would be seen, at best, as a moderate Republican, a “small C” Conservative.  There appears to be no room for or tolerance of any degree of moderate candidates in the modern GOP.  If anything the Republican Party on every level is highly retrogressive, exclusive, intolerant, biased, bigoted, and fixated on fringe social issues at the expense of addressing the issues that ought to be at the top of their agenda.

That Nixon used the power of his Office for political gain is not in dispute. It has been more than amply documented how he was driven by his demons and paranoia.  As glaring and illegal as his crimes were they literally pale in comparison, are almost completely dwarfed by the crimes Bush and Cheney perpetrated.  They abused their power in such overtly subversive ways that every branch of the government was in some form or fashion corrupted during their disastrous two terms. 

When questioned about his legacy shortly before leaving Office, George W. Bush said he is “unconcerned” about it and that “history is written by historians”.  These two statements tell us much about the man and the mind that Bush is.  In a separate interview he could not name one “mistake” that he’d made.  Perhaps that is the most telling response of all.  As President it was as if Bush snuck into The White House, broke everything he could find and left like a thief in the night leaving in his wake such governmental and geopolitical wreckage that it will likely take years to repair the damage he wrought.  There is a cautionary tale in Bush’s Presidency and it is simply that as long as Americans will be complacent and ambivalent about politics we will see another President like Bush again and that is as sad and frightening a thought as one might entertain while considering future Presidential politics.

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