Ten Miles Square

Blog

August 14, 2013 12:32 PM The Fun of Nixon/Obama Comparisons

By Jonathan Bernstein

George Will trots out the lame argument today that Barack Obama is a far more serious crook than Richard Nixon ever was. Jonathan Chait does a takedown, and it’s fine, but I get the sense that he’s not really into it…perhaps because Will puts so little effort into his own column.

I mean, really.

Will’s big case is that the Obama Administration has selectively implemented the ACA. This is picking up steam among conservatives…but Will (as Chait notes) doesn’t really argue it; he merely asserts it. Truth is, it’s at about the level of “he has czars!” All presidents, all executive branch agencies, need to interpret laws while they implement them. Have some agencies during the Obama presidency crossed over the line between “interpret” and “rewrite”? Probably! It’s a very fuzzy line at best. Implementation really does pose challenges; virtually all laws, no matter how well written, wind up colliding with reality in unexpected ways, and that creates tough calls for regulators and administrators. However, just as with the first term “czars!” talking point, what we’re getting here is the implication that no interpretation is ever needed or justified. That’s just not so.

At any rate. Obama’s administration delayed implementation of some ACA provisions for a year; Nixon illegally refused to spend Congressionally appropriated money, which got him slapped down by the courts and eventually overridden by an angry Congress.

Obama’s administration conducted an undeclared war in Libya; Nixon’s administration conducted an undeclared and secret war in Cambodia. OK, not secret to the Cambodians.

Obama’s administration hounded whistleblowers and prosecuted them to the full extent of the law. Nixon’s broke into a whistleblower’s psychiatrist’s office to (attempt to) get dirt on him, and wound up all told doing so much that the case against him was thrown out in court because of administration malfeasance.

Obama’s IRS…well, Chait covers this. Unless new information suddenly emerges, Nixon is the champ here, too, and it isn’t close.

Obama’s NSA did a wide range of things which were probably legal, but still in the view of many constituted abuses; Nixon wiretapped government officials and reporters. And we’re still pre-Church, so the FBI and the CIA are up to all sorts of things. This one is probably the least clear…my bet is that when all the evidence is in the 1969-1974 abuses will top the Obama-era abuses, but it could easily wind up being a judgement call.

And then there’s the accusations, backed by at least fairly strong evidence, that Nixon spiked peace talks before he took office; I can’t think of anything analogous with Obama.

Am I forgetting anything? Oh, year: Watergate. Haven’t mentioned that one, yet. Well, Watergate per se; some of this stuff wound up being folded into it, but nothing about about breaking into the DNC, or for that matter about ordering the Brookings firebombing, or having an operative trail Ted Kennedy, or campaign dirty tricks, etc.

Anyway, the fun of this is that whatever the accusation against Obama, it’s pretty easy to come up with something similar that Nixon actually did, but worse.

I should note: that doesn’t imply that Obama hasn’t done anything wrong! Just that “worse than Nixon” is the wrong place to go.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Back to Home page

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

Comments

(You may use HTML tags for style)

comments powered by Disqus