This Week's Show •

Lessons from Nixonland

Welcome back to Nixonland: After four decades, the Oval Office is once again the seat of empire, occupied by a paranoid pilot hellbent on an unremittingly personal fight, and no holds are barred. Between US Presidents ...

Welcome back to Nixonland: After four decades, the Oval Office is once again the seat of empire, occupied by a paranoid pilot hellbent on an unremittingly personal fight, and no holds are barred.

Between US Presidents 37 and 45, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump, the links of language and temperament are getting uncannily close—their political predicaments, too. Even beyond the Saturday Night Massacre parallels and the rising calls for impeachment, there are other points of comparisons.

Both Trump and Nixon, for instance, refer to their stalwart base using the same title: the silent majority. Both presidents also share a certain adversarial view of the political press. Trump has called the media his opposition.  Nixon made them his enemies.  For the benefit of Henry Kissinger and others on his staff, Nixon—inadvertently taping himself—turned his sentiments into a sort of prose poem:

The press is the enemy
The press is the enemy
The press is the enemy
The establishment is the enemy
The professors are the enemy
The professors are the enemy
Write that on a blackboard 100 times
And never forget it….
To understand how and why the ambient fears of the Nixon presidential years are now resurfacing in the Trump White House, we talk to the man who might be the missing link: Patrick J. Buchanan. Buchanan is one man who’s not just looking at a movie he’s seen before. He was, after all, a major player in the prequel: writing some of Richard Nixon’s most famous fighting lines. You could say he anticipated the movie playing now in his own right-wing populist “America First” presidential campaigns in the 90s and then 2000—first as a Republican, then as an independent.
John Aloysius Farrell, the esteemed biographer of Tip O’Neill in the Congress, and Clarence Darrow in the courtroom, joins us. He’s spiced up the Nixon legend in a big one-volume life full of fresh letters and tapes and lines we’d almost forgottento David Frost, famously, when he spelled out the ultimate executive privilege: “When the president does it,” Nixon said, “that means that it is not illegal.” Beverly Gage—historian at Yale working on a new biography of J. Edgar Hoover, the founding G-man of the FBI—discusses another set of parallels: from Nixon-Hoover to Trump-Comey. She tells a broader story about the culture of an institution that has always chafed against the presidential leash. Glenn Greenwald—co-founder of The Intercept and one of the main journalists who broke the Snowden story—draws out the parallels between Daniel Ellsberg‘s Pentagon Papers and today’s Wikileakers, including Snowden and recently released Chelsea Manning. We’re asking Glenn, of the latest flurry of Trump scandals: “Do you ever feel like we’re in a game of distraction—to keep our eyes off the ball?”
While he may not have admitted to being a crook, President Richard Nixon would have certainly admitted to being a cinephile.  During his abbreviated time in office, he viewed an astonishing 528 films.  In this short essay film, Boston Globe film critic Mary Feeney explores Richard Nixon’s devoted relationship to the movies.

December 11, 2015

Prohibition, Then and Now

What do we remember about America’s thirteen-year war on alcohol at the end of the First World War? Hollywood reminds us of the glamor of both rum-runners and -drinkers, the psychopathic hubris of Al Capone, and the ingenuity ...

What do we remember about America’s thirteen-year war on alcohol at the end of the First World War? Hollywood reminds us of the glamor of both rum-runners and -drinkers, the psychopathic hubris of Al Capone, and the ingenuity and holy determination of the cops who chased them all.

We might remember the temperances ladies who called for the Eighteenth Amendment — many of them also suffragettes — threatening, “Lips that touch wine will never touch mine!,” and the jazz-hall music and roaring promiscuity that bit back at their “Noble Experiment.”

Finally, we might have a vague idea that Franklin Roosevelt, winning the White House amid Depression, brought beer back to the American people within weeks of his inauguration, ending what one reporter named the “fabulous farce!” of Prohibition.

https://youtu.be/__aEgHWo0dA?t=7m36s

But our guests Lisa McGirr and Khalil Gibran Muhammad want to remind us of what Prohibition left behind, including a new politics of Republican drys versus Democratic Wets; an empowered FBI, and a hyper-armed and vigilant police-and-prison establishment; an unprecedented population of white criminals who were pardoned and brought into the New Deal coalition — leaving blacks behind; and also a government ready and willing to regulate the little things of private leisure, from narcotics to sex when the need arose.

Fast forward forty years to the drug war, and Richard Nixon‘s warnings show an eerie similarity to the state’s leaders getting ready to take on alcohol. Nixon brought the logic of the Moynihan Report into the era of mass incarceration, and established a new criminal obsession with a deep racial bias. Jack Cole, former narcotics officer and co-founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, takes us inside the moment and the mindset.

From the Archives • June 25, 2007

The Newest Nixon

In 1962, after losing the governor’s race to Pat Brown, Richard M. Nixon pronounced: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Unfortunately, Nixon’s admonition was more like an exercise in reverse psychology: as president, ...
statesman or slimeball?

Statesman or slimeball?

In 1962, after losing the governor’s race to Pat Brown, Richard M. Nixon pronounced: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Unfortunately, Nixon’s admonition was more like an exercise in reverse psychology: as president, former president, and even posthumously, Nixon has been kicked around…a lot. And as this week marks the 35th anniversary of Watergate, you would think that the blows would be coming fast and hard, but they’re not.

To say that people are now treating Nixon with kid gloves would be a gross exaggeration. However, the convergence of the Watergate anniversary, the batches of new Nixon biographies, and the Broadway sensation Frost/Nixon — all within the context of Bush’s presidency — has politicians, partisans and pundits looking at Nixon’s legacy in a new light.

A few weeks ago I did something I never expected to do in my life. I shed a tear for Richard Milhous Nixon. That’s in no small measure a tribute to Frank Langella, who should win a Tony Award for his star Broadway turn in Frost/Nixon….Frost/Nixon, a fictionalized treatment of the disgraced former president’s 1977 television interviews with David Frost, does not whitewash Nixon’s record. But Mr. Langella unearths humanity and pathos in the old scoundrel eking out his exile in San Clemente. For anyone who ever hated Nixon, this achievement is so shocking that it’s hard to resist a thought experiment the moment you’ve left the theater: will it someday be possible to feel a pang of sympathy for George W. Bush?

Perhaps not. It’s hard to pity someone who, to me anyway, is too slight to hate. Unlike Nixon, President Bush is less an overreaching Machiavelli than an epic blunderer surrounded by Machiavellis. He lacks the crucial element of acute self-awareness that gave Nixon his tragic depth….It would be a waste of Frank Langella’s talent to play George W. Bush (though not, necessarily, of Matthew McConaughey’s).

Frank Rich, Failed Presidents Ain’t What They Used to BeThe New York Times, June 3, 2007

 

photo of bumper sticker

The good old days

[ekai/ Flickr]

Do you agree with Frank Rich? How do you look at Nixon’s presidency as Watergate recedes further into history? Do you consider him a great statesman? Or has Nixon’s: “If the president does it, than it’s legal…” sentiment set a precedent for all presidents to abuse their power? What does Nixon’s “self-impeachment” say about today’s political climate? Does his legacy suggest that we are a nation that is incapable of learning a lesson? As the saying goes: Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Or has our current president better captured our zeitgeist with his masterful paraphrasing: Fool me once shame on you…fool me — and you get fooled?

December 6, 2005

To Iran, Like Nixon to China?

Late in our show What John Murtha Wrought, Chris asked the question “What would your ideal President do now in Iraq?” Anatol Lieven, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, suggested that Bush, ...
What am I doing here?

What am I doing here?

Late in our show What John Murtha Wrought, Chris asked the question “What would your ideal President do now in Iraq?” Anatol Lieven, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, suggested that Bush, like Nixon to China, approach Iran.

Iran, intransigently nuclear-bound and newly lippy about Israel, is not going to go away, and it does not seem, so far, to have been put off by our democracy-building project in Iraq. Some are suggesting (see our show Steven Vincent, Basra and Iran) that the war in Iraq has allowed Iran to do precisely what it always wanted to do: make real its natural inclinations toward the Iraqi Shiite majority.

But that majority is the anchor of our own policy in Iraq. So is the friend of our friend our friend? Even if that friend-of-a-friend is a member of the axis of evil? Then, on November 29, Juan Cole noted some ideological drift:

US ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad is going to start direct talks with the Iranians. Say what? Wasn’t Scott Ritter saying only last winter that a Bush military attack on Iran was in the offing? What has changed?

Juan Cole, Khalilzad to talk to Iranians Monday, Informed Comment

Iran is oil-rich and ancient, and its power and influence in the Middle East aren’t going to evaporate just because we dislike them. Are the realists winning? Are we about to start talking to Iran? Is this a good idea?

Gary Sick

Served on the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan.Principal White House aide on Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis.Author, All Fall Down: America’s Fateful Encounter with Iran and October Surprise: America’s Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan.

Reza Aslan

Scholar of religion.Author, No god but God.Born in Tehran; now lives in California.

Ali Banuazizi

Professor of psychology and codirector of the Program in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Boston College, where he also teaches a course on the history of modern Iran.