Opinion

The Great Debate

Why Nixon matters

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Forty years ago, on August 8, Richard M. Nixon made unprecedented constitutional history when he resigned the presidency amid the disgrace and scandal of Watergate. He cannot escape that legacy — for he left an indelible record of his deeds in a treasure trove of tapes and papers that continue to fascinate us with revelations.

Alas! Watergate is Nixon’s spot that will not out. The break-in, the ensuing revelation of what Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, called the “White House Horrors,” the congressional and prosecutorial investigations that considered those travesties and Nixon’s eventual resignation laid bare unprecedented instances of presidential abuses of power and yes, criminality.

Watergate was a major constitutional crisis; the promiscuous use of the suffix “gate” only trivializes it. Alexander Butterfield, who revealed the existence of the White House taping system, described Nixon as a man always conscious, if not obsessed, with history and his role in it. How ironic then that he left rich historical documentation, a self-inflicted wound as it were, that has so sullied his record and reputation. YouTube Preview Image

Yet Nixon endures. He stands as the commanding figure of American political life since the end of World War Two. His style, achievements and failures range over the political landscape and persist nearly two decades after his death. As a rising politician, as an opposition figure, as president and in his 20 years of “retirement,” Nixon greatly influenced his time. Today his impact is still apparent in so much of U.S. public life. He survives to praise or “kick around.” Either way, Nixon matters.

Nixon’s history was not pretty. Beginning with his first campaign for Congress in 1946, Nixon honed the practice of wedge politics, which he has bequeathed to later politicians. His 1950 Senate campaign raised “Red-baiting” to an art form. When former General Dwight D. Eisenhower selected him as his running mate in 1952, Nixon deftly turned the controversy over his political funds to his advantage with the “Checkers” speech, inaugurating a new era of political television. As vice president, he stirred partisan conflict while Eisenhower seemed above the political fray.

Time for a serious deficit plan

 President Barack Obama pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. But because he focused on political gimmicks, rather than real reform, we’ve seen trillion-dollar deficits and nearly $6 trillion added to the debt instead. Based on what we heard from the president at a news conference Tuesday, his unserious attitude is likely to continue.

That’s worrying. Unless we can get a handle on Washington’s overspending, and quickly, it will continue to undermine our economy and jeopardize our children’s futures.

Sadly, the White House is not yet serious about doing that. Instead, it has predictably suggested politically driven tax hikes as appropriate offsets for the sequester, including a tax on corporate jets. If that sounds like a poll-tested P.R. gimmick rather than a serious solution, that’s because it is. A permanent tax increase like that would take 10 years just to raise enough money to replace one week’s worth of the sequester.

from For the Record:

After the warm glow, telling the cold, hard truths

dean-150Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Standards. Any opinions are his own.

The president was inaugurated in front of adoring crowds and positive reviews in the media. As the unpopular incumbent sat on the platform with him, the new Democratic chief executive took office as the nation faced a crippling economic crisis. The incoming president was a charismatic figure who had run a brilliant campaign and had handled the press with aplomb. The media were ready to give him a break.

That was 1933, and in Franklin Roosevelt’s case, the media gave him a break.

For Barack Obama, the honeymoon was shorter.

Less than 36 hours after Obama took the oath of office, the White House denied news photographers access to the new president’s do-over swearing in, instead releasing official White House photos of the event. Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse protested and refused to distribute the official photos (which nevertheless showed up on the websites of a number of large U.S. newspapers).

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