Bush's Nixonian legacy

T.A. Barnhart

I've been watching the Olympics as much as I can.  I love the Olympics, especially the Winter Olympics.  I used to ski, back in high school; I've also skated, sledded and cross-country skiied.  I've jumped on skiis, I've gone racing around on ice like a lunatic.  I've spun in circles.  There's not much they do at the Olympics I haven't done at some point in my life.  I've fishtailed a Fiat Spider at 50 mph on an icy country road in Montana, a half-spin one way, a full circle the other, and then half-way back again the first way; and I kept it in a straight line.  The Winter Olympics are something I enjoy hugely, and it's hard not to get jazzed by the sight of Italians winning gold medals at home and being amazed at how wonderful the experience is.  I love the Olympics.

But tonight, in a lull in the coverage, I switched channels and gave up the Olympics to watch a two-hour PBS show on Watergate.  As compelling as the right-now drama of the Olympics is, the story of Watergate is the most powerful and incredible episode of American history since the Civil War.  With the White House tapes now not only so fully available but cleaned up and enhanced, the interweaving of present day interviews, tv coverage of the Senate hearings, and the tapes presented an unfolding of history I simply could not stop watching. I was a bit too young to grasp the enormity of Watergate back then; sadly, I recognize it's current Damien offspring too well.

And what I recognize is not the paranoia of Nixon, the perverse pseudo-patriotism of Haldemann and Erlichman, or the gleeful thuggery of Liddy; I recognize a President who believes himself to be above the law.  I see a President who interpret his role as commander-in-chief to give him free rein to wiretap Americans, to spy on them, to make enemies lists and use these to destroy lives and careers.  I see a White House with no doubt as to its power to do whatever they want and that those who oppose them, in any way whatsoever, are traitors and enemies of the country.

Nixon, of course, makes Bush look like a piker.

Nixon possessed and never relenquished a total, ferocious belief in what he was doing -- in who he was.  He was probably insane, but damn, he was a true believer.  Bush only believes in Jesus, and not much of a Jesus at that.  Listening to and watching the tapes and video of Nixon thirty years ago, and then comparing it to Bush, and the comparison is brutal.  Nixon was power-mad, and probably just plain mad, but there was substance there.  That substance contained hate, fear, and a lot of nasty things best left untouched without a forty-foot pole and a team of biohazard specialists; but it was substantial.  Whatever else Nixon was, he was powerful.  He compelled the string of crimes we now call Watergate.  Bush and his pals are just a bunch of pissant white-collar crooks with a lot of tools at hand.  They are compelled by greed and a self-serving religiosity whose depth is filled not with conviction but avarice.  Like Molly Ivins has said all along, Bush is all hat and no cattle.  A Texas Leaguer to Nixon's Ty Cobb.

Lowell Weicker, I think it was, said that the lesson taken from Watergate was not to get caught (the wrong lesson, to his mind).  Howard Baker said the lesson was to 'fess up quick when you get caught.  Bush appears to have learned neither of these lessons, because the lesson he did learn is the one Nixon should have engraved on his tomb:  I am President, I am the Law.  My hero from this review of the Watergate history is Sam Dash, committee counsel to the Democrats.  He put the problem succinctly:  Nixon and his gang had a patriotism with no view of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.  Bush has learned that patriotism as well.  When Nixon was dragging out Vietnam to help win re-election, Bush was going AWOL.  That's the full story of Watergate and whatever-the-hell-gate the multitudinous Bush crimes collapse into.  The motto of both Presidents is the same, and we see the country in peril as a result:  "To hell with the Constitution."

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    Liz's 7th grade humanities class is doing an entire unit on the relevance of Watergate to the current questions about civil liberties and presidential power. The similarities are obvious.

    Intellectually, I agree with your observation that Bush is a piker compared to Nixon. On the other hand, there are actually times I find myself waxing nostalgic about the good old Nixonian days. There were at least a few good things that happened during Nixon's administration. If you give me a few days, I might be able to name a few of them. On the other hand, you could give me three years and I wouldn't be able to think of a single good thing Bush has done.

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    mr f, i can name one: Bush has made Nixon look good.

  • al (unverified)

    One thing that struck me in watching the PBS program was the Nixon staff's justification for doing the things they did -- basically that Nixon's foreign policy mission was so vital. Several pointed out that "we were at war" and that "everyone" believed in the domino theory (I'm old enough to remember that a lot of people didn't). And now, we hear that "everyone" believed pre-invasion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (even though there were many who said they didn't). It's just that those voices weren't broadcast via the large corporate media ... just like those in the 1960s who disagreed with the domino theory.

  • geno (unverified)

    Watergate was a watershed in our recent past. Makes one wonder about second term republican administrations. My personal perspective was that of a progressive highschooler who just escaped the draft lottery by one year. All of my negative thoughts about the Nixon admin. were confirmed during the hearings which I must admit, gave me cause for hope. That hope was fueled by the thought that similar mistakes would never be allowed to fester. Oops, guess I was a little too optimistic once again. I think what those in our current admin. learned from the fiasco was to make a more concerted effort to better disguise such behavior. Can’t wait for the next Woodward, Bernstein, and Deep Throat, to surface soon.

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    I watched that show too (although it was a repeat from 2003). The thing that struck me about comparisons was that Nixon got himself too focused on kicking against the pricks to simply steam ahead with his foreign policy goals. Bush isn't taking the step of eliminating political opposition via lies and dirty tricks; he's using the lies and tricks to get his foreign policy goals ENACTED. Perhaps the key difference is that Nixon existed under Democratic Congressional control; whereas Bush has no powerful 'enemies.' So he doesn't get bogged down in denuding the opposition; he simply does what he wants and does what's necessary to defend himself after the fact.

    But the very same insular, groupthink sentiment that "any means necessary" are legitimate means if the ends are deemed important enough, existed in both presidencies. Listening to John Mitchell claim that getting Nixon re-elected was important enough to do the things he did, "because of the alternative"--McGovern--was frightening. Reminds me of Cheney declaring that a vote for Kerry was a vote for the terrorists. That's the way they think.

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    TA, you were watching the Watergate special and not Sasha Cohen?! How can you call yourself a fan? Actually, my wife and I were battling last night for the channel. On commercials, following yet another skater's failure to make it through the program without touching behind to ice, I'd switch to Watergate, then see how long I could watch before switching back.

    I think your comparison is not quite apt. You hint at a better analogy in your comparison of Nixon's crimes with Bush's "pissant white collar" infractions: Nixon was a thug and he hired thugs. Bush is all white collar racketeering. While Nixon's tale is fascinating, it was a Plaid Pantry robbery compared to Bush's careful manipulation of fact, the press, Congress, and voters. Okay, so it's mostly Bush's team, not the Prez himeself.

    But while Nixon was trying to get away with pocket change, Bush, like all great white collar criminals, is making out with billions.

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    i'm not the ice skating fan a lot of people are. in fact, since Torvill & Dean got perfect 10s for Bolero in ice dance in 1984, it's been downhill since. that was the epitome.

    i agree with you about what Bush and his cronies are doing. but Nixon was more than a thug. he was brilliant, and he was a great liberal in many ways. he did not stop the EPA from being formed, and he did not let old hatreds prevent him from going to China and the USSR. Nixon's secret ambition, i think, was to conquer the world. he had far grander plans than anything Bush can dream. in Bush's goals, God rules the world thru human agents (and the non-devout Bushies simply come along to enslave Mammon). Nixon was Alexander the Great in his own mind. his goals transcended things as trivial as money (as he stated on his own on the tapes: no one made money from what they did). he's not better than Bush for that, of course, but his scope was far greater and grandiose.

    and he eventually did have a plan to extract American troops, even if it was "load the choppers and run like hell!"

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