Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Jerry Voorhis: The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon 2

Jerry Voorhis was a Democratic Congressman from California, and he was defeated by Republican Richard Milhous Nixon in 1946.  Voorhis wrote a book during Richard Nixon's Presidency, much of which was a critique of Nixon's policies as President.  The book is entitled The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon.

In my reading so far, Voorhis addresses Nixon's policies on agriculture, poverty, unemployment, the inner city, and health care.  Voorhis' criticisms usually fell under the following categories:

1.  President Nixon does not spend as much money as Congress appropriates for programs.  While Nixon argued in his memoirs that he was simply fulfilling a Presidential prerogative that his predecessors, too, used, Voorhis views Nixon's freezing of funds as a probably unconstitutional disregard of the system of checks and balances.  Moreover, Voorhis believes that the amount of money that Congress appropriates is necessary for the programs to work, and so they do not work when Nixon under-funds or reorganizes them.  There are then ill effects on real-life people: small farmers don't get low-cost electricity, the prices of their crops plummet, the poor live in sub-standard housing, etc.

2.  President Nixon, when he proposes a program, does not request enough money.  For example, his Family Assistance Plan would not give poor families enough in terms of helping them to meet their needs. 

3.  President Nixon vetoes programs that can help the poor.  For example, he vetoed a plan to assist the poor with child care facilities, while his Family Assistance Plan would require a number of poor mothers to work (but see here and here for another perspective on this).  Nixon also vetoed a bill that would create permanent public sector jobs, in a time of high unemployment.  (According to Voorhis, Nixon supported public sector jobs as a temporary, emergency measure, but not permanently.)  How, Voorhis wonders, would that coincide with the work requirements of the Family Assistance Policy?  And, while I'm on the topic of work requirements, Voorhis argues that many people on public assistance cannot work due to disability, or they are eager to work but there are no jobs out there for them.

4. There are times when Nixon is quite generous in terms of the government spending money.  For one, Nixon is quite generous when an election year is close, presumably because Nixon is trying to get votes for the Republicans.  Second, Nixon can be quite generous towards special interests.  For example, Nixon cut government spending on low-income housing, yet Nixon supported section 236 for senior citizens, which "was already proving costly to the taxpayers and such a bonanza to the mortgage lenders" (page 73).

5.  Nixon claims to be such a budget-cutter, alleging that the government needs to restrain its spending to counter inflation.  Voorhis, however, blames inflation on high interest rates (which businesses pass on to their customers) and high and wasteful military spending, which (according to Voorhis) Nixon has no problem with.

6.  Nixon downgrades programs that actually work, such as cooperative farms and cooperative housing, and a program that would teach the poor how to save (and give them some money to save).  These programs have grass-roots participation, yet they need funding, which Nixon is stingy in providing.  Moreover, Nixon cuts loans to programs, even when people benefiting from those programs have a good track-record in paying those loans back to the government.

7.  Nixon's stinginess hurts the small farmers' business.  If not much government money is going towards milk and food for low-income children, that ends up depriving the small farmers of business, when crop prices are already abysmally low, and small farmers have difficulty purchasing capital to farm (which is why Voorhis thinks co-ops help).  Then, small farmers leave their land to go to the cities, looking for jobs that are not there for them.

8.  Overall, according to Voorhis, Nixon talks a good game.  Nixon speaks in favor of the co-ops, health care reform, and eliminating hunger.  But Nixon doesn't sufficiently walk the walk that he talks.  There were right-wingers who complained that liberals got the action from Nixon's Administration, whereas conservatives got the rhetoric.  Voorhis' argument seems to be the opposite: that Nixon often talks like a liberal (with exceptions, as when Nixon criticizes welfare recipients), yet his actions are quite conservative.

9.  Nixon proposes to spend a certain amount of money on a program (say, environmental clean-up), then he dumps a significant amount of the cost onto the states.

10.  Sometimes, Nixon even turns around and betrays the special interests!  For example, when the American Milk Producers, Inc. (AMPI) arranged an event at which Nixon spoke, where Nixon got votes for the 1972 Presidential election, he agreed on a higher milk price.  But, after the dairy farmers' money "was securely in the hands of the Nixon campaign committee", his Justice Department sued "AMPI for monopolistic control of the price of milk" (pages 36-37).

11.  At times, Nixon manipulates statistics to make things look better than they actually are.  On pages 34-36, Voorhis says that "the Nixon Administration...changed the base on which parity was calculated" to make it look like the parity index jumped from 67 to 93 (pages 34-35).  But Voorhis doubts that farmers were buying that, for the Nebraska Legislature was still "calling on the President to set farm price supports at 90 percent of the old parity" (page 35).

Tomorrow, I'll go into more detail on Voorhis' discussion of health care.

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