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Monday, April 02, 2007

Bush and Nixon


Guest post by Jack

I have written before here and here comparing Bush and Nixon. There is also an excellent blog piece about this and its present day implications written by the Existentialist Cowboy. Among his observations is that the Democrats of Nixon's day found in Watergate a way to check a lawless president, but that like today's politicians, they finally took Nixon on because he made himself vulnerable, rather than out of principal and courage. The other observation worth noting is that Bush being less intelligent than Nixon is more dangerous. Having been a college student during Watergate and an adult, more or less, during the Bush era, I like both observations.

While it is popular now to credit the Democratic Congress during Watergate with great courage and integrity, the fact is Nixon would have survived Watergate had it not been for the tapes that unambiguously revealed him to be involved in Watergate and to have lied about it. Had there been no tapes, Nixon would not have been impeached, notwithstanding the testimony of his counsel John Dean, who accused Nixon of crimes in the Watergate hearings before Congress.

Dean has recently written in his books, Worse than Watergate and Conservatives Without Conscience, that the Bush presidency, as well as the modern Republican Party, have advanced to much higher levels of abuse of power. George McGovern,who ran against Nixon in 1972, has also recently said that Bush is much more impeachable than Nixon.

Indeed, the truths spoken by the likes of Dean and McGovern seem so obvious that they must be known to the present Congress making their own malfeasance almost as bad as Bush's. Perhaps Congress is simply waiting for the equivalent of the Bush tapes by which to check the current rogue president once and for all. Sidney Blumenthal has recently written that the Purge-gate emails may be Bush's tapes. Even if they are, I would not expect this Congress to remove Bush from office. Removing Mr. Bush still leaves his Vice-President, and removing both is a political impossibility since neither Republicans nor Democrats want Ms. Pelosi in the Presidency with 2008 looming. Congress therefore will settle for slashing Mr. Bush to death by a thousand cuts.

It is a strategy that imperils us all. For Bush is indeed more dangerous than Nixon.

Nixon was dark, brooding, insecure and morally flawed, but he was complicated and nuanced. He was a war president but also wanted to be seen as a peace maker. Vietnam aside, Nixon had successes that made people breath easier. He engaged the Soviets in detente and initiated a dialog with the Chinese. He was the first to do these things in the nuclear age when the fear of nuclear war with the Soviet Union or China was very real. Nixon's overtures to these arch-enemies produced huge sighs of relief. Frankly, I can think of no presidential acts of diplomacy in my lifetime that eased the collective peace of mind more than those. Nixon was prodigious in success and failure.

Mr. Bush is prodigious only in failure. He has produced no diplomatic or foreign initiatives resulting in anything but hostility, violence, and fear, and the prospect of more hostility, violence and fear. Bush sees himself as a war president. More dangerously he wants to be a war president. It is his definition of himself. Indeed seeing him in action one senses it is the lifeline to his own reality. Most disconcerting are reports of how his vision of himself and his version of reality are positively reinforced to him. His myopic obtuseness, reinforced as visionary, suggests that the only action taken by him will always be the making of more war, either to redeem his past wars' failures, or to ensure their successes, whichever way he may see it.

For all Nixon's reputation for isolation, especially during critical junctures of his presidency and during Watergate, he does not seem to be as isolated, either by temperament or design, as Mr. Bush. Given that fact and notwithstanding all his abuses, Nixon may never have had had the potential that Bush has demonstrated for abusing his office. Nixon came from humble origins. He had no overriding sense of entitlement. He resented those who did. Nixon spent his entire professional life in Washington politics. If he was morally wayward, he was also a consummate political insider and realist. As such he was probably apt to view his boundaries as political rather than legal or even constitutional. Yet, whether he had contempt for those boundaries or not, and he seems to, he at least understood there were boundaries and intuitively, if grudgingly, accepted them as part of the game. When he exceeded them and was caught red-handed, as he did and was with Watergate, he understood the game was over, folded and left the game.

One never gets the sense that Bush acknowledges any boundaries as ever being applicable to him. By the same token it does not seem that confronted with political reality, or reality of any kind, that Mr. Bush would ever fold and leave the game. Indeed having seen Mr. Bush these past six years, it seems fair to say that he would never be able to recognize reality, political or otherwise, if it ever did confront him.

But Mr. Bush would never leave the game because he sees himself not as a player, but as the game itself. The rules are as he says, they change if they do not suit him. They belong too and are subservient to him. And so it is with reality. Reality is how he defines it. His presidency, his war in Iraq, all his wars, everything, it all belongs to him, and it is all defined by his reality, and inseparable, subservient even, in significance to him. And it is all what makes Mr. Bush so much more dangerous than Nixon.

I remember it being said after Watergate that some in Nixon's administration feared he would start some military action as a distraction or out of madness as his situation deteriorated. Such fears in the case of Mr. Nixon proved exaggerated.

Yet in the case of Mr. Bush, it would be dangerous to dismiss his ability to make more war as his own political situation deteriorates. Mr. Bush, extremely isolated, left only to his own reality, without any sense of boundaries, seeing himself, defining himself as, basking in the vision of himself as a war president, may well indeed make more war. He may in fact need to make more war, to have for himself one more hit of the swaggering and staggering sense of power and destiny it fills him with. He and not Nixon is the stuff by which madman's wars are made.