Let me just say this about that
Here’s an idea: Republicans should emulate Richard Nixon
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Hey, what’s not to love? The guy won two terms as president. He came back from what appeared to be a career-ending humiliation when his defeat for the California governorship seemed to mean we wouldn’t “have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.”
And he opened up China! Who would buy up all our debt if not for that?
Historian Timothy Stanley, writing for CNN, seems to think the newly minted centurian (were he alive today, of course) serves as the perfect prototype who can lead Republicans back from wherever it is they supposedly are:
In domestic policy, Nixon bowed to the liberal consensus of his era. He supported the Equal Rights Amendment, founded the Environmental Protection Agency and was a proponent of the poverty-fighting measure of guaranteed income. He also established the first federal affirmative action program - the Philadelphia Plan, which required government contractors in Philadelphia to hire minority construction workers.
As was so often the case with Nixon’s public compassion, this served a private purpose of outflanking his opponents. His environmentalism was designed to deny the issue to liberals; his support of affirmative action divided them. The Philadelphia Plan was opposed by many Democrats, not just by Southern conservatives but also by labor leaders who saw it as a challenge to seniority programs. It set unions and civil rights activists against each other, while the president grabbed a little credit for being progressive.
Even on foreign policy, the record is a complex mix of hawk and dove. Nixon said he wanted “peace with honor” in Vietnam, which meant concluding the conflict in such a way that didn’t undermine American military or political credibility. This translated into a perverse policy of extending the war to end it— bombing Cambodiato a point of social anarchy that would lead, inexorably, to the genocide of the Khmer Rouge.
Let’s not forget wage and price controls, and the end of the Gold Standard, which also happened on Nixon’s watch. Stanley’s proposition is that Nixon was a good model for political success because he was ideologically pliable. That pesky Watergate thing is obviously a problem, but I don’t think Stanley means to dismiss the importance of that. I think he’s just looking at the way Nixon governed.
I actually hold some admiration for Nixon, particularly his skilled approach in dealing with world leaders, but there is a huge problem with Stanley’s idea here. You can always find politicians who find ways to achieve electoral success by being ideologically pliable. The nation seemed to indicate by electing Obama that it has taken on a center-left configuration, and if all you think about is pure politics that would indicate the Republican Party needs to tack to the center.
But is that what the nation needs? The electorate today appears appallingly unaware of the seriousness of our economic and fiscal predicament, and of the causes of these problems. That’s why you struggle to get a majority in favor of entitlement reform, and why tax hikes on the rich poll so well. If people understood the dynamics of the federal budget and the true nature of our debt, they would recognize that these positions are absurd. But they don’t, and that is in large part because we don’t have many Republicans around who are willing to lead and lay out the true nature of the situation.
A Nixonian approach of capturing Democratic issues might be a great political strategy, but what would be the value of that if it only means the debt problem continues to get worse under a Republican administration. That, it seems to me, is bad substantively and politically - because the nation’s debt only grows and you now have another Republican president to pin it on.
I don’t think Republicans are going to get out of the wilderness politically through ideological pliability. In fact, I’m not sure there’s much Republicans can do at all. It’s only when the electorate wakes up to the realities of the nation’s situation that those offering serious solutions will be given a chance. It would help, though, if Republicans would insist on serious solutions. As it stands right now, most of them can’t even be bothered to do that.