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Nixon and Obama: Compare and Contrast

Tuesday, May 24, 2011, 12:53 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

All Presidents tend to have an “us vs. them” attitude. Whether they brought that attitude with them to Washington or developed it while in office, it seems to be a common trait, to varying degrees, from one administration to the next. Usually it’s a partisan thing, with the chief executive allying himself with the Congressional leaders of his own party in opposition to the other party and their agenda. Sometimes, as during times of war, it’s broader, with “us” being the country as a united people and “them” being whomever we’re fighting. (Two of the best known examples in the last century are Franklin D. Roosevelt’s post-Pearl Harbor declaration that “the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory” and George W. Bush’s post-9/11 proclamation that “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.”)

Our current president has embraced a different version of “us vs. them.” To Barack Obama, “us” is himself, and “them” is whoever opposes him. Even since the campaign, it was clear to me that in everything, he saw the political as personal, and he instilled this in his fans. That’s why Obama apologists reflexively label any opposition to the President’s actions or policies as racist; to them as to him, policy is orders of magnitude less important than Obama himself.

Narcissism is one thing; anyone who survives a career in politics for long enough to arrive at the summit that is the Presidency must have at least a nugget of it. But Obama has raised it to an art form, and with his magnified sense of self-importance and irrational notion of perfection has come the necessary companion, a pathological sense that anyone who doesn’t think as he does must be out to get him personally.

I’m not the only one to find in Obama’s attitude echoes of a previous president also unusually obsessed with his opponents. Richard Nixon was infamous for his preoccupation with those he perceived as his enemies. Not his adversaries. Not the loyal opposition, as they say in Britain. Enemies.

Washington Post columnist Mark Thiessen has made that analogy clear in his piece yesterday entitled, “Richard Milhous Obama?”

[A] proposed [executive] order [being prepared by Obama] would require businesses to furnish, with each contract proposal, a list not only of their contributions to political candidates and committees, but also their contributions to groups that do not under current law have to reveal their donors. The president’s order would force anyone seeking a federal contract to declare whether they are a friend or an enemy — excuse me, “opponent” — of the Obama White House. Worse still, it would set up a central database listing those contributions at a federal government Web site — creating what amounts to an electronic, searchable “enemies list.”

Why is this a bad idea? Recall that in August 1971, Richard Nixon’s White House counsel John Dean penned a confidential memorandum in which he proposed creating a list of “our political enemies.” The purpose of the exercise, according to Dean, was to “determine what sorts of dealings these individuals have with the Federal Government and how we can best screw them (e.g., grant availability, federal contracts.. . . etc.)” Since then, enormous steps have been taken to clean up the federal contracting process and ensure that government contracts are granted solely on the basis of merit. Obama’s proposed executive order would undermine that progress, reverse years of effort to remove politics from contracting decisions and create incentives for impropriety.

Well, yes. But Obama’s plan is so stunning not only because of what it does, but because of how brazenly and overtly it does it. When it comes to taking politics personally, Barack Obama is Richard Nixon on steroids. If you don’t think he would use politics and policy to punish his enemies and reward his friends, remember that he is already doing just that in the form of the hundreds of waivers exempting unions and well-connected corporations from the burdens of his medical insurance plan. Add to all that Obama’s grandiosity and hypocrisy, not to mention his utter lack of skills for the job, and you get someone far more dangerous than Nixon ever was. Consider:

  • Nixon was a brilliant politician with many years of service in many elected offices; Obama thinks he’s brilliant despite no real accomplishments besides getting elected.
  • Nixon had years of foreign policy experience and used it in groundbreaking ways; Obama thinks foreign policy is making a speech.
  • Nixon ended the war in Vietnam; Obama (after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, ironically) escalated the war in Afghanistan and started another war—excuse me, kinetic military action—in Libya.
  • Nixon installed a secret taping system in the Oval Office; Obama just keeps secrets, despite his repeated promises of “transparency.”
  • Nixon tried to hide his corruption; Obama flaunts it.
  • As Thiessen points out, Nixon kept a secret enemies list; Obama wants to create an enemies list by executive order.

Why anyone still supports this man is beyond me. No, he hasn’t been a complete disaster. He did manage to be sitting in the White House when the Navy Seals got Osama bin Laden, but even this got bogged down in his own selfishness as he embarrassed himself on national television taking much more personal credit than he deserved. I also agree with him about sending more armed forces to Afghanistan, something I believed should have been done under Bush but wasn’t. And I don’t begrudge him golf or vacation time, realizing that the Presidency is a 24-hour job from which recreation doesn’t really separate him. But that’s about all the good I have to say about the man.

I wish I could say I had hope that Obama would come around, but I don’t. Barack Obama is nothing if not a narcissist, and narcissists by nature are incapable of seeing their flaws. They aren’t smart enough to know what they don’t know. And so we have at least another year and a half of Obama doing what’s good for Obama and screwing anyone who disagrees, the way his campaign pulled out all the stops to smear the voter known as Joe the Plumber for saying something Obama didn’t like and causing Obama to say something in response that the country didn’t like. Remember that? It was somehow Joe’s fault that Obama said we should “spread the wealth around.”

That’s why it isn’t enough for Congress to oppose Obama. Congress has no power over executive orders. We need to make Obama a one-term president, something we didn’t have the good sense to do with Nixon.

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