Aug. 9, 1974: Nixon resigns

Thirty-nine years ago yesterday, all of America sat in front of a television and watched this:

And 39 years ago today, we were all back in front of the television and watched this:

I watched both in the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y. I was 19.

Richard Nixon was the most fascinating president of my lifetime. I’ve read more about him than I’ve read about any other leader of the free world. Biographies, autobiographies, histories and analyses. Throughout his life, he rocketed to extreme highs and plunged to extreme lows. A psychiatric sociologist would call this a bipolar political career.

Here was a guy who survived a childhood filled with poverty, death and emotional pain. He had a sense of class inferiority that was so consuming that he channeled it into a vicious vindictiveness against the elites who looked down on him. And let’s not ignore the reality that the elites did look down on him.

But, when he became one of the elite, he played on the worst instincts of America. He galvanized millions of “silent Americans” in the suburbs to distrust anyone they felt inferior to, and he instilled in them a sense of superiority that allowed them to channel their contempt and anger toward those who were worse off than they were. The “Southern Strategy” that pervades Republican politics to this day was the Nixon strategy.

But that wasn’t what put him over the top. Nixon ran for president when American was in the midst of a cultural civil war. When you read histories of the late ’60s and early ’70s, you see a nation torn by an overseas conflict, a cultural shift among the young against everything their parents stood for, and angry clashes over civil rights. The country was in the midst of armed insurrection.

Nixon won in 1968 because of riots in the streets and a demand for law and order. And he won in 1972 because the Democratic candidate, George McGovern, destroyed himself with bad choices and no control over his party. That was Nixon’s high.

And then Nixon’s minions let a group of paranoid thugs commit crimes against a political party that was never even close to posing a threat to re-election in November 1972. The Democrats did everything they could to lose that election: a disjointed convention, a selection of a running mate who went through shock therapy, and a “get out the vote” message that was essentially “I may be a bad choice, but I’m not as bad as Nixon.”

Geez, what the hell were they thinking? That was supposed to inspire Democrats to vote for McGovern?

Nixon’s “Committee to Re-Elect the President” (how could they not see the acronym CREEP in this name?) never had to lift a finger to ensure re-election. So it broke into the Watergate complex, and the results were the two speeches you see above. That was the lowest of Nixon’s lows.

This is the part I remember the most from Nixon’s farewell speech:

Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.

When you heard those words come out of his mouth, you were stunned. Because at that moment, Richard Milhous Nixon fully explained the reason why he was forced to resign as the most powerful man in the world.

Years after the resignation, the former president appeared at an event with his successors Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, a Republican, described the gathering of the three presidents as “See no evil, hear no evil and Evil.” And we all knew who “Evil” was.

But when Nixon died, Bob Dole cried his eyes out at the disgraced president’s funeral. He loved the guy.

On the night Nixon announced his resignation and the day he gave his farewell speech, I cried. And I hated the guy.

I really do have a twisted appreciation for one of the most divisive presidents in American history.

Rand Paul visits a school full of colored people

Official portrait of United States Senator (R-KY).

Sen. Rand Paul  (R-Ky.). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This past week, Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, went to Howard University in Washington to talk to students at the predominantly black university about civil rights.

Hilarity ensued.

Here’s one of the things the sopping teabagger did to endear himself to the students, according to ABC News:

He asked the group if they knew that the founders of the NAACP were Republicans. The crowd seemed taken aback with one student even yelling, “We know our history.”

Of course students at a predominantly black university would know that when the NAACP was founded at the beginning of the 20th century, the leaders would be black Republicans. The Civil War had just ended just a few decades earlier and the Republican Party under Abraham Lincoln ended slavery. Democrats didn’t even welcome blacks into the party until the 1920s, according to Black people supported the Republican Party up until the FDR’s New Deal, but even then, the GOP was getting at least 30% of the black vote well into the 1950s. When Richard Nixon ran against John Kennedy in 1960, he got 32% of the African American vote.

But to go back more than 100 years to a time when the GOP was a completely different entity and pretend that nothing has changed either shows a total disconnect with reality, or a cynical attempt at distorting the present with a completely different past.

Paul, who spoke against the Civil Rights act during his 2010 Senate campaign, asked:

“How did the party that elected the first black U.S. senator, the party that elected the first 20 African American congressmen become a party that now loses 95 percent of the black vote?” Paul asked the Howard students. “How did the Republican Party, the party of the Great Emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race? From the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, for a century, most black Americans voted Republican. How did we lose that vote?”

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe by doing things like this, and like this, and like this, and this and this? And that’s just things Republicans have done in the past six months.

Not to mention stuff like this and this and this during the past presidential campaign.

So why does Rand Paul even end up at Howard?

The absurdist cynic in me thinks he got on the Metro’s Green Line and missed his stop.

The realist cynic in me knows he’s running for president and has to tick off the “speak to hostile black people in their environment” box to bolster his right-wing-bravery cred before primary season kicks in.

RMN at 100

Richard Milhous Nixon‘s birthday was yesterday. He would have been 100 years old.

He is the most influential president of my generation. The Republican party today is the inevitable extension of his Southern Strategy in the late 1960s. That strategy worked for the GOP for almost 50 years, but it has led to a shrinking party of regional appeal.

The party has gone so far to the right, however, that Nixon would today be considered a flaming liberal.

There are lots of stories that humanize the only president ever to resign from office. Here are a couple:

According to the Nixon Library, he met Thelma Catherine Ryan at a rehearsal for a community play in which they were both acting. According to PBS’s American Experience, he pursued her for more than two years, “even driving her to Los Angeles on weekends when she had dates with other men, then waiting around to take her home again.”

And this:

Nixon served in the Navy during WWII and, despite his Quaker upbringing (which forbade gambling), played poker to combat the boredom while he was stationed in the South Pacific. Navy Officer James Stewart told PBS’s American Experience that Nixon won between $6,000 and $7,000 playing poker, money that he would use to fund his first major political campaign four years later.

One thing about Nixon that’s still hard to figure out is how he let the Watergate scandal happen. Remember, he was running against George McGovern, who ran a horrible campaign (complete anarchy at the 1972 Democratic convention and the unfortunate pick of Tom Eagleton, who had gone through “shock therapy” for depression, as his running mate.) There was no way Nixon could have lost in 1972. But he managed to have a deadly version of the Keystone Kops working for his campaign, and everything fell apart by 1974.


Post mortem for a scumbag

In reading newspapers over a lifetime, I recall two very short headlines that captured the essence of a specific public figure.

The first was “Scumbag quits.” That probably appeared in late 1986 or early 1987. The second was “Scumbag dies.” That ran in September 1998. They both appeared in the Village Voice. They were both about George Wallace.

The Alabama governor ended his last term in January 1987. The stories in the mainstream press at the time were how the rabid segregationist of the 1960s had his come to Jesus moment later in life and admitted the venom he spouted and the hatred he inflamed was wrong. The stories, I guess, apparently tried to generate sympathy for the “fighting little judge.” I was in my early 30s then, and completely rejected that. I remembered the “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” line. I remembered the stand in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama when he tried to block the entry of the school’s first black students. I remembered the evil he inspired, how he created a political force motivated by bigotry and hatred that was swept up and manipulated by Richard Nixon and the Republican Party for political gain for decades to come. So when he ended his term as Alabama governor, the headline, “Scumbag quits” was exactly what was called for.

And then he died a decade later. And the headline was “Scumbag dies.” What else could it be?

Which brings us to last week.

Andrew Breitbart died. I had nothing good to say about him when he was alive.  I read the obituaries, the ones that played it down the middle noting that he had made enemies on the left and quoting his worshipers on the right saying he was a defender of freedom. I saw the Breitbart sympathizers say that then was not the time to highlight his controversies. Besides his family loved him.

But I was left with this feeling: Yeah, and Eva Braun loved Adolf Hitler.

Breitbart was a dishonest, lying scumbag. He destroyed honest, hard-working people. He and his minions lied about the organization Acorn, a group set up to help poor people, but in the Breitbart propaganda was a terrorist organization out to steal elections for the Kenyan usurper. He and his minions lied about Shirley Sherrod, a black woman who professed how her belief in God made her a better person, but in the Breitbart propaganda was a racist government employee out to get white people. He lied about a Planned Parenthood worker advising a pimp on how to traffic underage girls for prostitution. The worker called the police immediately after the “pimp,” a Breitbart crony, left the building.

I had to write something that explained the depths he would sink to to destroy innocent people who he considered enemies of his destructive and deluded right-wing dogma. But instead, I found the best explanation of Breitbart came from Driftglass and Blue Gal at The Professional Left podcast. Click the link and scroll down to the episode titled “Andrew Breitbart: Enemy of Democracy.” It was released on July 23, 2010. It captures the manipulation of Breitbart and his ilk, the weakness of moderate Democrats and the essence of bad decisions by people who are supposed to be good bosses.

Since Breitbart’s death, his minions are releasing a video that supposedly shows President Obama as a college student espousing some radical statements. From what I’ve seen, the only thing I can say about it is Brietbart would have done a better editing job distorting what was really going on at the gathering. The scumbag did know how to edit.

Anyway, he’s dead. Now, the only difference between him and George Wallace is that at least Wallace tried to repent for his sins.

Richard Milhous Obama

Bruce Bartlett at the Fiscal Times makes the following observation:

There is no question that Barack Obama is one of our most enigmatic presidents. Despite having published two volumes of memoirs before being elected president, we really don’t know that much about what makes him tick. The ongoing debate over the deficit and the debt limit is clarifying what I think he is: a Democratic Richard Nixon. …

… Here are a few examples of Obama’s effective conservatism:

— His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
— He continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush’s defense secretary;
— He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
— He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
— And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.

His point is that Obama is to liberals what Richard Nixon was to conservatives.

Although Republicans routinely accuse him (Obama) of being a socialist, an honest examination of his presidency must conclude that he has in fact been moderately conservative to exactly the same degree that Nixon was moderately liberal.

And no matter how much you hated Nixon, if you compare their domestic records on entitlement programs, Nixon comes out ahead. Nixon increased spending on social programs. Obama is cutting it back. Nixon expanded government regulation through the creation of such things as the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies that protected consumers, Bartlett notes. Obama is cutting federal regulatory programs and jobs at a time when jobs are scarce.

I’m not saying Nixon was a better person than Obama. His administration is best represented in Philip Roth‘s “Our Gang,” which ends with a dead Nixon (named “Trick E. Dixon”) plotting to take over Hell from Satan.

But from an economic standpoint, the poor likely stood a better chance with the fiscal policies of a scheming Nixon than they do with the fiscal policies of an acquiescent Obama.