Friday, July 18, 2014

Obama: the New Nixon?

Scholars continue to find President Nixon to be a complex and intriguing figure. Possessing both keen insight into policy and an excess of personal ambition, Nixon alternated between brilliant political maneuvers and tragically self-defeated power-grabs.

When he discovered that his campaign staffers had broken into, and attempted to steal information from, an office in the Watergate building complex, his pride prevented him from simply turning them over to the police. Had he done so, he might have retained the presidency. But instead, like Shakespeare’s MacBeth, his ambition and pride led him down the path to destruction.

But the Watergate scandal was merely the occasion for further investigations into, and revelations of, improprieties in the Nixon administration. His use of the IRS to bully his enemies was troubling. The press labeled his administration “the imperial presidency” because of his overbearing and officious attitudes and expectations. Matt Kibbe writes:

In January 1973, Richard Nixon ended the military draft in the wake of a series of high-profile draft-card-burning protests by antiwar activists. (That’s right, a Republican ended the military draft. And it was Nixon.) His presidency would soon enough end ignominiously, though, in part due to his eagerness to use the IRS to selectively punish his political enemies. The Democrats, the Republicans, the left, and the press were all outraged by this remarkable abuse of executive power.

The parallels between Nixon and Obama are striking: the use of the IRS to harass political enemies; the “imperial” attitude; illegal monitoring of telephone conversations and other information intercepts for political, not policy, purposes; the staff’s functioning as a White House “under siege” administration; and a growing psychological distance leaving the president “out of touch.” Matt Kibbe continues:

The current IRS scandal, where the agency systematically targeted moms organizing their communities to defend constitutional principles like the freedom to associate and peaceably assemble, elicits no such outrage from Democrats or the many tentacles of leftist activist organizations. Few seem willing, or even interested in, defending everyone’s civil rights and the First Amendment protection of political speech those guys. How sad.

Obama may be spared Nixon’s fate, however, because the media are either inclined, or required by their employers and owners, to be less critical of Obama, and because the machineries of Congress have either been neutralized or are controlled by Obama’s partisans.