The term Nixonian has taken on a meaning far beyond the man Richard Nixon. While definitions vary, a common understanding is that to be Nixonian is to be both power hungry and willing to use that power to silence opponents. The particulars and mythology of what Richard Nixon did or didn't do are besides the point.
George Bush regularly was accused by liberals of being "Nixonian" whenever Bush asserted executive power, refused to acquiesce in the predominance of the legislative branch, was slow in producing documents, or attempted to stop leaks. Patrick Leahy famously invoked Nixonian imagery just two years ago:
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee today accused the Bush administration of engaging in a “Nixonian’’ brand of “stonewalling’’ in its refusal to let Karl Rove, the chief political adviser to the president, testify openly in an investigation of the firing of federal prosecutors.Being called "Nixonian" has nothing to do with any particular acts of Richard Nixon. It is a proxy for a President who uses governmental power against the press and political opponents.
“Sadly, our efforts to follow the evidence where it leads has led to Nixonian stonewalling,’’ said Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), voicing words that stem from the congressional investigation of Watergate. “The question is, what did the president know and when did he know it?’’
Ruth Marcus, a reliably left-of-center columnist for The Washington Post used the term Nixonian recently regarding the Obama administration's attacks on Fox News:
It makes the White House look childish and petty at best, and it has a distinct Nixonian -- Agnewesque? -- aroma at worst.For her honesty, Marcus felt the full fury of Media Matters (which is coordinating a media boycott of Fox News) and those in the left-wing blogosphere who tolerate no dissent in liberal ranks.
Ken Rudin of NPR made a similar comment, substituting "Nixonesque" for Nixonian:
Well, it's not only aggressive, it's almost Nixonesque. I mean, you think of what Nixon and Agnew did with their enemies list and their attacks on the media and certainly Vice President Agnew's constant denunciation of the media. Of course, then it was a conservative president denouncing a liberal media, and of course, a lot of good liberals said, oh, that's ridiculous. That's an infringement on the freedom of press, and now you see a lot of liberals almost kind of applauding what the White House is doing to Fox News, which I think is distressing.Rudin was given the internet equivalent of being taken to the woodshed by Steve Benen at Washington Monthly, Media Matters, and others. Perhaps fearing a backlash, such as this call to boycott NPR fundraising, Rudin quickly apologized profusely for his heresy:
I made a boneheaded mistake yesterday, during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation, one that I'd like to correct right away.But all the bullying in the world will not change where the public consciousness is moving on the Obama-Nixonian meme. It already is out there. Even Sally Quinn says this administration reminds her of the days when The Washington Post was under attack for its Watergate coverages.
Which brings me to the meaning of the term "Clintonian." The particular acts of one William Jefferson Clinton in or about the Oval Office in the presence of a young female intern are not the point of the term. Rather, the term Clintonian signals a willingness to play word games in order to blur the truth, as in feigning confusion as to what the meaning of "is" is.
The attempt to silence those who speak of Nixon and Obama is the same sentence has a very Clintonian quality to it. Media Matters, Steve Benen, Joe Conason and others are arguing that the Obama administration has not yet done the things Nixon did (or is claimed to have done).
This is just a word game. Of course Obama has not abused government power in precisely the manner of Nixon. Tolstoy wrote:
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.So too Nixonian politicians are Nixonian in their own ways.
What we have seen so far from this administration more than qualifies as "Nixonian." It doesn't mean that Obama is Nixon, but it does mean that Obama's desire for power is matched by his willingness to use that power to silence political enemies.
We have seen this Nixonian tendency throughout Obama's political career. Obama eliminated his state senate opponents through nominating petition challenges. He destroyed his U.S. Senate opponent by having his supporters gain access to divorce records (all the while claiming he didn't think the records should be released). It is what John Kass of The Chicago Tribune calls the "Chicago Way."
Obama then muzzled and befuddled the Clinton machine by using the race card against Bill Clinton, who was supposed to have been our first black president until Obama came along. During the general election, Obama campaigned against the top 5% of wage earners, pitting American-against-American.
There always seems to be an enemy against whom to campaign. Obama's brief 10-month tenure has seen the permanent campaign shift to the drug companies, the insurance industry, Tea Party attendees, health care protesters, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others. If you oppose Obama's policies and are willing to say so publicly, you will be demonized.
And Obama has not hesitated to use the threat of government regulatory power, much as Nixon used various government agencies as a coercive tool. During the campaign, a group of Missouri prosecutors aligned with the Obama campaign threatened prosecution against anyone who spread "lies" about Obama.
When the health care industry recently released a report claiming that Democratic proposals would raise insurance rates, the Department of Justice in conjunction with Congressional Democrats, announced an intention to examine whether to revoke a 60-year-old antitrust exemption for the insurance industry.
Everything about the history of Obama and this administration's prior conduct culminated in the attempt to intimidate and isolate the only major news organization willing to take on this administration. Fox News was attacked because it has been the sole dissenting voice in the news media.
Nonetheless, the attacks have received widespread condemnation from the mainstream media. By contrast, the George Soros crowd and the left-wing blogs have synchronized their own media campaigns with that of the administration.
The "Obama is Nixonian" meme is spreading because it is believable, even after just 10 months.
And the defense that Obama is not Nixon is so Clintonian.
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