D.C. scandals: They had Nixon ‘to kick around’
The profusion of scandals bedeviling the Obama administration has evoked many comparisons with other presidencies — particularly Richard M. Nixon. There is no evidence, however, of serious skulduggery by White House officials or members of the re-election campaign, as in the Nixon administration. More important, America’s over-excited and enticed puritanical conscience has not been mobilized to impute what Kafka called “nameless crimes” to the president as there was with Nixon.
There seems no national desire to tear President Barack Obama down. Not like with Nixon, who faced an atavistic desire to destroy a distinguished administration and scuttle its entire effort in Vietnam, in which 57,000 Americans died and hundreds of thousands were wounded. A near unanimity of national media has not suddenly formed to crucify (bloodlessly but no less effectively) the leader of the country, nor is there any pandemic of the tribal conviction that “the king must die.” These were distinctive characteristics of the Watergate and Vietnam crises.
Nixon’s Democratic opponents, Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, had plunged into Vietnam and mismanaged the war, from which he had extracted the United States while preserving a non-communist government in Saigon. The South Vietnamese had defeated the communists in the ground war ignited by the North Vietnamese offensive of April 1972, between Nixon’s return from China and visit to Moscow to conclude SALT I, the greatest arms control agreement in history.
Saigon did this without any U.S. ground assistance, though there was heavy air support, which Nixon planned to resume when, as expected, Hanoi violated the peace agreement. That is why Nixon sent the treaty to the Senate for ratification, to assure support for resumption of bombing of the North, when that time came.
Nixon’s term was one of the very most successful in the nation’s history. Nixon inherited race riots, inflation, airline sky-jackings, assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the draft and the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War. Now consider what Nixon accomplished: opening relations with China, the breakthrough in arms control negotiations, the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency and the end of school segregation without recourse to the self-destructive lunacy of court-ordered busing of schoolchildren to achieve school racial balance, irrespective of geography and the wishes of parents.
Yet the national media dragged Nixon into apparent complicity with every misfeasance by his staff and his re-election campaign. Though there is not now and never was a shred of evidence connecting him clearly to any illegality.
The House Judiciary Committee’s three counts of impeachment, when examined without the cant, emotionalism and the imperishable Bob Woodward-Carl Bernstein myth-making frenzy, are unmitigated rubbish. The last count is based on Nixon’s reluctance to comply with House committee subpoenas, though the president eventually complied with all of them, and though he had an arguable case based on executive privilege to require a court test before complying.
The first two impeachment counts, in which many Republicans, in accord with the usual granite-hard courage of politicians facing declining polls, voted with the Democrats, were largely based on the testimony of self-serving lies of John Dean, Nixon’s defected counsel — which would not have been admissible in court. There was virtually no counter-evidence from administration supporters apart from speechwriter Patrick J. Buchanan (whom the committee mistakenlyimagined they could embarrass and even turn), and was a Stalinesque launch of all the spaghetti at the wall.
After a lengthy recitation of pious puffery about the Constitution, Nixon was accused of, personally or through aides, misleading the country, offending the Constitution, “endeavouring to” (not actually doing it) violate rights or misuse government agencies, by “one or more of the following” equally vague and unsubstantiated offenses.
Obviously, nothing like this has happened with Obama, and no such fate awaits him. But that is not to say that his administration’s moral elevation and ambiance is distinctly superior to Nixon’s. It is not.
The times, however, are very different. There is no uniformity of hostile opinion — nor the potential or grounds to confect one against the administration. There is just the standoff largely created by the disaffection of the alternative media, which has grown strong and sapped the mainstream media in the aftermath of the unhappy, far-off events of Watergate and Vietnam.
But it is likely, however, that this administration was complicit in a far more serious abuse of government agencies with the Internal Revenue Service than anything Nixon did. The Obama administration has also lied about it and promised an investigation, which FBI Director Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony makes clear has not happened.
Where Nixon took decisive steps of environmental protection, this administration has tilted at the windmills of global warming, ineffectually. Fortunately, since it was Obama’s desire to give $100 billion a year to the Robert Mugabes and Hugo Chavezes of the world as a reward for their failed — and therefore relatively inoffensive environmentally — economic policies. Global warming remains a bugbear. Though there is no evidence that it is occurring or that human activity has anything to do with such climate change as there is.
Meanwhile, the administration’s feeble attempts at restraint of Iran’s nuclear program are compromising national security and the stability of international relations. The current arms control program is a mindless tumble of shibboleths and bilateral measures with Russia. We are pursuing, with inexplicable energy, policies that assure the continuation of Russia’s first-strike capacity against Central and Western Europe and encourage the degeneration of the Middle East into a bristling nuclear tinderbox.
Where Nixon, a war veteran with two battle stars, had an impeccable record of protecting American military and diplomatic personnel abroad, the Obama administration has brought more ridicule down on Washington than anything since Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs debacle, by pretending, for the crassest partisan reasons, that the murder in Benghazi of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three of his colleagues, was not a terrorist act but a reaction to an Islamophobic kook on the Internet.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was sent out to sharpen her repertoire of fabrications, like the hail of sniper fire at Sarajevo airport she imagined, with an explanation to a mystified Muslim world that Americans were not anti-Islam.
None of this merits any talk of impeachment — any more than did Nixon’s conduct in Watergate or President Bill Clinton’s peccadilloes or even President Andrew Johnson’s attempt to defend the prerogatives of the president in appointments in the 1860s). But it is shabby and contemptible — and is being under-scrutinized by the media and the Congress.
It probably also presages three years likely to give new depth and meaning to the most spavined notion of the expression “lame duck” that the presidency has ever known.
PHOTO (Insert A): President Richard M. Nixon gives his farewell speech to his Cabinet and staff in the East Room of the White House, following his resignation, Aug. 9, 1974. REUTERS/File
PHOTO (Insert B): President Richard M. Nixon boarding a helicopter to leave the White House after resigning from the presidency because of Watergate, Aug. 9,1974. REUTERS/Courtesy Nixon Library
PHOTO (Insert C): President Barack Obama at a news conference in the White House press briefing room in Washington, March 6, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed