Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Nixon Off the Record 2

Monica Crowley's Nixon Off the Record is about the time that Crowley worked for former President Nixon as a foreign policy assistant.  This was during the 1990's.  In my latest reading, Crowley talks about Nixon's pontifications regarding the 1992 Presidential election.

As I read this part of the book, I thought about the time that I was interning at a right-wing political organization in 1996.  This was during the Presidential election between President Bill Clinton and Bob Dole.  We kept a consistent eye on the political events of each day.  The result of that, I think in retrospect, was that we thought that certain things mattered, which turned out not to matter at all.  For example, my boss was all excited that some Clinton aide (or whatever the guy was) pleaded the Fifth Amendment during a Whitewater investigation (if I'm not mistaken).  When my boss told one of the workers at the group about this, the worker replied, "Can you say President Dole?"  But it turned out that the guy pleading the Fifth Amendment had no impact on the 1996 Presidential election, whatsoever.  Clinton went on to win.

I don't want to give the impression that my boss and that one worker were thoroughly optimistic that Dole would win.  My boss also said, "I can have a better time talking with myself on the toilet, than I can listening to Bob Dole!"  But it does seem that monitoring political events on a day-by-day (or even an hour-by-hour or minute-by minute) basis can foster a sort of myopia: we think that certain things matter that turn out not to matter in the long run.

In Monica's book, Nixon was commenting on the 1992 election on a day-by-day basis.  I'm not sure that I can defend the notion that this gave him a sort of myopia.  Nixon did seem to have insights that contradicted each other----for example, he thought that Perot re-entering the race would help Bush because Perot would take away some of Clinton's votes, only later to conclude that Perot hurt Bush.  But that's what happens: we can't see the future, and so we try our best to make sense of the present.

In 1992, I was in high school, and I could not yet vote.  But I liked politics.  And I was a conservative----a social conservative, an economic conservative.  The Cold War had pretty much ended by that point, so it was somewhat up in the air what would constitute a foreign policy conservative.  But I gravitated towards Pat Buchanan's isolationist, anti-New World Order views.  I didn't care for Bush because I didn't think that he was a true conservative, so I rooted for Buchanan in the Republican primaries.  When Bush and Dan Quayle started to turn up the conservative rhetoric, I supported them, perhaps because I hoped that Bush would be more committed to conservative principles in his second term than he was in his first.  I liked Perot at first because he was an outsider, though I wished that he were more socially conservative (i.e., pro-life); when Perot left the race and later came back into it, I lost respect for him.  On Bill Clinton, at first I somewhat liked him, since my understanding was that he was a moderate Democrat----one who was for tax credits to create jobs, a middle-class tax cut, and cutting out government waste.  But then I came to dislike him, for several reasons: his avoidance of the draft during the Vietnam War, his extramarital affairs, his liberal and opinionated wife, his desire to spend more government money as a way to stimulate the economy, etc.  And, while so many people were praising Clinton's charisma, I didn't see what the attraction was.

Nixon in Monica's book overlaps with my impressions (during 1992, that is) in some areas, but not in others.  I'd like to highlight two things that stood out to me.  First of all, Nixon in 1992 did not seem to care for social conservatism.  He appeared to lean to the pro-choice rather than the pro-life side.  He did not like the Republicans criticizing homosexuals, since homosexuals voted (yet Nixon was against gays in the military).  On page 109, Nixon is quoted as saying to Monica: "Tolerance in this party is far too low.  Fifty percent of all families are single parent; sixty-five percent of all women work.  We can't crap on them.  We've got to reach out----and mean it."  My impression is that Nixon was more of a social conservative when he was President, but he changed with time.  Was Nixon the sort of Republican who thought that the G.O.P. should focus on tax cuts rather than social issues?  Well, he wasn't exactly a fan of supply-side economics in 1992----though he did seem to believe that taxes could be cut without damage if the government reduces spending as well.  In terms of where he wanted the party to take a firm stand, an issue of importance to him was aid to Russia: he thought that the U.S. needed to help out post-Soviet Russia to prevent the onset of a new Cold War.  He may have been on to something there, when it came to foreign policy.  But I doubt that issue would have had sex appeal with the voters.

Second, Nixon felt that he had been vindicated about Vietnam.  That's why Bill Clinton bothered him so much.  Nixon was not only upset that Clinton had avoided military service during the war, but also that Clinton years later appeared to think that the Vietnam War was a bad idea.  I was puzzled about why Nixon felt that he had been vindicated.  After all, the Vietnam War took a lot of lives, and we didn't even win it.  Perhaps Nixon felt that he was vindicated because our loss of the Vietnam War led to all of Vietnam becoming a Communist dictatorship, which was a bad thing.  Nixon on page 114, after all, expresses bafflement that "Clinton still thinks that North Vietnam's cause was more just."

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