Nixon and Bush

August 20, 2007 by barbara

Perhansa writes:

I’m not a huge Oliver Stone fan but last night I watched Nixon, starring Anthony Hopkins. I was continually amazed at the parallels between Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. Though I don’t know how much of Stone’s movie is based in truth and how much is dramatization, it left me wondering whether history is repeating itself or if this is psychology redux. Read on.

Both men had strong, domineering mothers and strained relations with their fathers.

Both men were preceded in office by charismatic, popular Democratic presidents.

Both men won the presidency when the Democratic alternative looked to be a far more likely successor (Bobby Kennedy and Al Gore).

Both men are poor at communicating via the mass medium of television.

Neither had a particularly warm relationship with the media.

Both are poor extemporaneous thinkers.

They both experienced a number of past failures that left them with a sense of having something to prove.

Both seemed to have seen in Abraham Lincoln a precedent for their own presidential style and a justification and consolation for the turmoil, divisiveness, unpopularity and the displeasure with their hard line decisions.

Both believed historians would eventually come to admire them, as they did Lincoln.

They were both engaged in unpopular, divisive and disastrous wars.

They both became personally divisive and hugely unpopular.

Both men had an international adversary/demon they were pursuing in Fidel and Saddam.

They both surrounded themselves with sycophantic advisors.

They both had personal demons of the past to confront and deal with. Nixon lost two brothers to TB and the death of the Kennedy brothers helped open the door for him to the Presidency. W staggered out of years of drinking and debauchery before finding evangelical Christianity.

Both men saw themselves as having been “chosen,” either by history or by God, to be president during their historical time.

They both felt a sense of “destiny” that justified their gutting of the Constitution and their disdain for Congress, for oversight, and the will of the people.

They both employed Executive Privilege, lies, distortions, and cherry-picking of information to achieve their agendas.

Both dealt in secrecy and saw information as power not meant for sharing.

The big difference—and again, I don’t know how much of the Stone movie is factual—is the effect these events had on the individual. Nixon became paranoid and ill during his last year in office. He seemed to be psychologically affected by cognitive dissonance.

On the other hand, Bush continues to enjoy superior health and he sleeps well. He has no regrets. He seems either to have no cognitive dissonance, or to be completely immune to its effects.

I find myself wondering, which is worse—a president who becomes ill in the waning months of his presidency or one who lets it roll off his back? Is Bush really that shallow, or is it simply that he is not the least bit introspective? Does he feel the weight of his decisions—or is he so convinced that God is on his side that whatever he does is God’s will?

I don’t have the answers but I’m left with a lot to ponder. But I do find George W. Bush the more frightening of the two presidents.

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Comments

susan | August 20, 2007 - 12:03pm

Well, having lived through both, granny Soo speaks.

Nixon was scary, but we had a much more engaged populace. So what's much scarier now is the nation Bush leads, or misleads. Or fails to lead. The once-great slumbering nation.

Here are some differences.

Walter Cronkite was talking us through the evening news with what seemed appropriate cues of outrage and disbelief.

We were getting our first views of war, live in our living rooms, and we were horrified.

We still read more than we watched.

There was no "fair and balanced" Fox News.

People were more tuned in than tuned out -- no iPods, gameboys, webporn and "reality" shows.

No Britney. No American Idol. (The irony of coming up with such a concept when we're so clearly lacking any genuine idols deserves a whole essay in itself.)

Congress was guided by feisty orators and crusty curmudgeons who cared about government, not by gold-plated ideologues and blathering amoebae who care about power and the next election.

The middle class was a reality and the lower class had hope.

People knew we were in it together. We all do well when we all do well.

We were scarred by politcal assasinations and the violence of war, but not numb to it.

Religion and government still practiced in different venues.

A few insiders like John Dean put the good of the nation ahead of the good of the party.

The Constitution was intact, and we didn't openly support torture. We had our moral core intact.

This list could go on, so add your own.

When Nixon was president, you had the sense that most Americans knew that he was a sick, failed man -- like children of venal parents who eventually figure out at that they're not crazy, the parents are.

With Bush as president you have the sense that at any moment most Americns would line up behind him all over again if the winds of terror blow (or are manipulated) the right/wrong way -- like children of alcoholic parents who toe the line out of confusion and fear.

Nixon was called up short on his misdeeds and hauled off to oblivion. We keep waiting for that self-correction to happen with Bush and all we get is Scooter. These guys are so slimey that going after them is like trying to grab a bar of soap in a whirlpool.

Bush and all that brought him to power, and all that will fall out from his reign of terror, is far and away the scariest thing to happen to America in my life time. No, that Americans let happen in my lifetime.

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barbara aka babs (not verified) | August 20, 2007 - 3:01pm

You know what? (Okay, that's a ridiculous question.) This post and Susan's response underscore with great clarity why we are in an essentially hopeless situation. We are.

I try every day to manufacture hope. To pretend that we're going to climb out of this stinking pit somehow. And every day, we sink deeper and deeper in BushCo fecal matter.

The matter of public apathy is so huge that it completely boggles my wee mind. It's a systemic thing, firmly rooted, and there is no real way to transplant it.

Witness 9/11. Oh the horror! And it was. We were more or less united on that day and in the weeks that followed. But then it lost its lustre and the channel flipping began in earnest, i.e., "I'm tired of this. Old news. Druther watch something else."

America the beautiful is morphing into America the ugly. During our time in Scotland and Ireland, we saw over and over again the sad faces of the Scots and Irish with whom we conversed (also some Brits, Belgians, Germans, Austrians, South Africans, Dutch, French) as they tried to understand what has happened to America. Smart people, by the way. But the underlying (though unspoken) question was, "How could you let this happen?"

"This," of course, is all things BushCo. There was nothing much to say. Because we did let it happen. I am complicit. So are you.

Silence is assent, as they say. No matter how much we shoot off our mouths on the blogs, it's not enough. Not even close. Our audience is comparatively small, and for the most part, is made up of people who already abhor BushCo and everything that has been damaged in their wake.

As noted by Susan above, that would include the U.S. Constitution, civil rights, privacy, the Geneva Conventions, fair voting, national infrastructure, the environment, the future of young Americans who will be saddled with monstrous national debt, the U.S. military for starters.

Oh. And trust. Not just trust in Republicans. That's elementary. But also in Democrats who have seemed absolutely incapable of rising to the occasion and fighting off the forces of darkness. And evil. Yup. I really believe that now. A significant difference between Nixon and Junior, I think. Nixon was motivated by power. Bush is motivated by power, greed and a broad stripe of pure evil.

But Junior is now painting himself as a prophet without honor in his country, calling himself a dissident in America. Like he's some kind of hero. And Rovula is portraying himself as Moby Dick (I hear antibiotics can cure that) and Beowulf's nemesis Grendel. Creatures (that much is accurate) being relentlessly pursued by obsessed human hunters.

Whatever.

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MLS (not verified) | August 20, 2007 - 6:49pm

Both Nixon and Bush were (are) bad politicians, like, BAD. The difference is how the media reported on these two leaders and how it covered the propaganda/lies that both leaders fed the media.
Americans digest what we read and what we hear.
In the 1970's the media was not afraid to pursue investigative journalism (i.e., Woodruff and Bernstein) and we read and we listened. Hence, in August 1974, Nixon resigned from office. Good riddance.
In the 2000's the media, more often than not, has held back from investigative journalism. Hence, Americans read and listen to what the Administration feeds the journalists. Is it no wonder that Bush is still in office?
Bottom line, we believe what we choose to read, and hear what we choose to listen. In this respect it appears that GWB hit a home run even though in reality he hit a foul ball. Amen (says George).

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susan | August 20, 2007 - 10:45pm

Nixon may have been a bad politician, but I don't think Bush is. He -- or the architect -- mastered a savage form of politics. So they won elections but were clueless when it came to governing, or even understanding what government is supposed to do.

But politics means different things to different people. So some roll their eyes and say, "Oh, it's all just politics" and I understand their frustration and what they mean by that, but really, politics can be the noblest profession, as one of the Greeks once said. (Aristotle? Plato?)

But what passes for politics today is rarely noble, and in that sense I agree, George Bush is a bad politician. Or is bad for politics. (And I guess it wasn't exactly noble back when it denied women and blacks and just about everyone -- except for fully digited American-born white males -- the vote.)

But we're stuck with politics to operate our democracy, unless we want to reinstate the monarchy, and crown George our king.

So what's needed is a total makeover of politics, the tawdry and tired system we use to elect our leaders. It's as if the founding fathers sent a pure little servant called politics out to accompany the more worldly democracy they'd created, trusting future generations to look after her. But over time we've sullied her and made her perform for money and the results ain't purty. And despite what Hillary says about lobbyists (and some of my best friends are . . .) they're the pimps in this deal. Politics should be the noblest profession, not the oldest.

So let's show some tender mercy towards this abused old politics and put her to rest. And then construct a vibrant new form of politics that can't be bought, sold or corrupted. After all, if the Iraqis can do it . . .
Never mind.

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barbara aka babs (not verified) | August 21, 2007 - 7:14am

"After all, if the Iraqis can do it . . ." CSS. (Chuckling softly to self)

You're right about Junior (and the whole Bush clan) being bad for politics, ergo, bad for America. The Prescott Bush years set the stage for all that has followed.

Apart from the fact that Junior blindly pursues his self-serving agenda, places his party above the country across the board, has no leadership skills, exhibits total disregard (yea, verily, contempt) for the peasants (i.e., 90 percent of the population), finds the Constitution an irritant, possesses not one iota of diplomatic ken nor interest in same, and comes to Minnesota this very day to raise money for Norm Coleman, he's probably not half-bad.

Blah, blah, blah. I am SO sick of BushCo, stated here in case that has gone unnoticed.

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perhansa (not verified) | August 21, 2007 - 10:37am

Now I'm a bit sorry I raised the ghost of corruptions past.

If our small sampling of minds are right and the "system" is totally FUBAR, fixing it isn't going to be easy or fast and time's running out. I'm left with a couple thoughts,

1) Is it triage time? Is it likely we can identify the most urgent priorities and make the changes needed, e.g., global climate change, global terrorism? Or is there no way to marshal the focus, energy, and resources in which case we may as well eat, drink, and be merry for soon it's all going to hell (or extinction).

2) It's only been barely over thirty years since Nixon. What convergent forces have led to such a catastrophic collapse in our "political system" in such a short time? If we don't understand it, can we really fix it? Is it special interests and money? Is is consolidation and privatization of the media? Is it psychological fallout of the Vietnam experience? Is it the predominantly one-way nature of mass media (as Al Gore proposed in The Assault on Reason? Is it the bleeding of fundamentalist religion and politics? Is it a few bad apples (Bush, Cheney, Roves, etal)? If a galvanizing event like 9/11 couldn't bring us together, what will?

None of the crop of Presidential candidates generates much hope for change. I'm getting bored with the race already and I'm afraid most Americans will check out long before November 2008 too. Most Americans already know what the Petraeus/BushCo September report will be--stay the course until the military is exhausted in which case we'll have to start drawing down some time in the spring of 2008. The Dems won't push back and risk being painted as surrender monkeys. Iraq will continue to simmer and move to the middle section of the paper. Bush is dead in the water. Other than the sychophants in the rightest of the Right bemoaned the loss of Karl Rove. There's a remote possibility BushCo won't give up the throne in 2008--they're raising a mercenary military power behind the scenes in Iraq that is raking in huge profits from the war and could be the foundation for America's first coup d'etat...on and on

Must be the gray skies...not a very hopeful day.

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Anonymous (not verified) | August 25, 2007 - 9:08am

Spot on analysis and accompanying comments. Two important differences: Nixon was, it seems to me, at least symptomatically, if not literally, bipolar, whereas Bush seems primarily brain-damaged by his serious substance abuse; and Nixon was knowledgeable, whereas Bush is, as has been frequently observed, amazingly incurious, or from my perspective, genuinely, intentionally, criminally ignorant (it strikes me as criminal for someone that ignorant to occupy the White House, since his ignorance has contributed mightily to a criminal presidency).

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Anonymous (not verified) | August 25, 2007 - 10:19pm

Regarding the civil body politic dysfunction in which we find ourselves, I trace it to the Reagan administration, although the current debacle foisted on us by the White House is mostly gratis a gang of Nixonites who were nurtured under Reagan and then nurtured/pardoned under the actual president for foreign and clandestine policy, including the war on Central America, George W. Bush. The reason I trace it to Reagan is because he gave iconic status to the "magic of the marketplace," living as he did in his own movieand somehow conflating economics and Fantasia. The phrase that is our undoing is "Let the markets decide." Under this simple-minded banner, we effectivel abrogate our social/political civic responsibilities to what is all too often the invisible hands of unrestrained corporatism. As I read recently somewhere, we live not in a society but an economy, with social concerns subserving to economic dictates, rather than economic forces being required to operate under rules that prevent those wielders of economic power from all the activities that are detrimental to the common good, including the destruction of the global ecosystems on which all life depends.

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