Talk about a nonstory; Obama isn’t Nixonian

Home | Op-Ed | Talk about a nonstory; Obama isn’t Nixonian

May 26, 2013

The president needs to do a better job refuting such scandalous comparisons

The momentary elation of commenting on the story du jour, that President Barack Obama was starting to be perceived like former President Richard Nixon, is quickly overwhelmed by the depressing realization that the premise is baseless but nevertheless has legs.

This is an opportunity for the increasingly lazy press to waste a month spinning the analogy rather than reporting important news. Moreover, the disloyal opposition in Congress would seize this latest excuse to obstruct the progress of our nation rather than participate in its governance.

I once was a law professor, a doctoral candidate in government during the Nixon administration and senior adviser to a New York governor who experienced one serious and one terminal scandal. From this perspective, the Obama/Nixon comparison is absurd.

First, one must reread the articles for the impeachment of Nixon passed by the House Judiciary Committee on July 27, 1974. That would have led to Nixon’s removal by the Senate and likely criminal prosecution had he not resigned Aug. 9, 1974, and been pardoned by President Gerald Ford on Sept. 8 of that year.

Nixon was charged with personally obstructing justice, withholding evidence, making false statements and inducing others to lie with the use of payoffs. He also was charged with personally interfering with the FBI, CIA, Department of Justice and Office of Special Prosecutor and using campaign funds to set up a secret unit in the White House that utilized the CIA to engage in unlawful and covert activities, including rigging a criminal trial.

Neither the known facts about Benghazi, the government’s subpoena of Associated Press reporters’ phone records or the IRS’ stopping and frisking of conservative groups nor the administration’s candor about these activities support the Obama to Nixon comparison. There is not a speck of evidence that Obama knew about any illegality in these activities.

And so far, only the IRS, acting under the supervision of George W. Bush’s appointees, suggests possible illegality. Nixon frequently and personally used the IRS to go after opponents, as when he asked White House counsel John Dean “How come we haven’t pulled McGovern’s file on his income tax?” — referring to the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972.

Nixon’s “high crimes and misdemeanors” contrast with asserted errors in judgment by federal employees far removed from Obama, and from policy disputes, like those involving the AP, where the press establishment wants a federal shield law, but none in fact exists.

No better credentialed observer than Dean, who served hard time for the Watergate crimes he committed at Nixon’s instruction, has dismissed the Obama/Nixon comparison, stating “whoever is making the analysis is challenged in their understanding of history. … There are no comparisons. They’re not comparable.”

Assuming we need one, then, what is an apt comparison?

The movie “42” chronicling Jackie Robinson’s heroic breaking of major league baseball’s color barrier in 1947 suggests that the president is anachronistically channeling the Dodgers’ second baseman. In “42,” we see Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn general manager, telling Robinson that they need a man strong enough not to fight back when vicious verbal and physical assaults are hurled at him — as they were.

Robinson was that hero in the year I was born. Still, it’s not clear whether we all wouldn’t have been better off had Robinson cracked a bat across the skull of someone who assaulted him — say, Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman, who had been a blatant racist and anti-Semite, tolerated by the baseball establishment for decades.

Without resolving that old dispute, Obama’s emulation of Robinson is counterproductive. When the president recently was confronted by the press with the inane comparison to Nixon, he said “I’ll let you guys engage in those comparisons” — inviting them to frolic and detour for awhile until the next easy diversion comes their way.

The president, a constitutional scholar of the highest order, probably can recite, verbatim, the charges against Nixon. Why not use that knowledge and his extraordinary rhetorical skill?

If Jackie Robinson had the right demeanor for 1947, that model just won’t work in 2013 — not after an African-American was re-elected with a clear electoral mandate.

Take off the gloves, Mr. President. If you need to channel someone from back then, a better and more useful model might be Harry Truman. Give ’em hell.



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