Who was the worst president America has ever had to endure? George W. Bush? Maybe. He entered office with a balanced budget and then bankrupted the country by offering huge tax-cut giveaways to the rich and deceiving us into a disastrous war in Iraq. He led the country to the brink of economic collapse, from which President Obama was only able to save us with herculean efforts. The horrors of that economic near ruin continue to cause widespread suffering.
However, my vote for the worst would not go to George W. Bush, but to Richard Milhouse Nixon, the man who made the Bush presidency possible.
Nixon restructured the GOP using “the Southern Strategy,” which exploited the anti-Democrat resentment of racist white conservatives in the South who were angry at Lyndon Johnson for supporting Civil Rights legislation. (I know - not all white southern conservatives are racists, but many are, and in the 1960s, the great majority were.)
For decades these southerners and their ancestors had voted Democrat in election after election, but after Nixon signaled his own solid racist sentiments, they moved into the Republican fold in droves. That’s where they remain to this day, and without their votes, Bush would not have been able to finagle his way into the White House in 2000, or remain there after the 2004 election.
Bush was clearly to ignorant to be a good president, but Nixon was worse than this. He was intelligent enough to be a national leader, but he suffered from internal demons that made him a virtual caricature of an unethical politico. The tapes that recorded his Oval Office conversations reveal a deeply bigoted man, and one for whom ethics were at best a public relations gimmick. One of the most memorable of those quotes took place when he was telling Henry Kissinger that blowing civilians to bits was no concern of his. Kissinger, no angel himself, wanted Nixon to show concern for the civilian deaths his bombing of Vietnam was causing so the world wouldn’t be “mobilized against him as a butcher.”
Here are some samples from the taped conversations:
Nixon: I still think we ought to take the North Vietnamese dikes out now. Will that drown people?
Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people.
Nixon: No, no, no, I'd rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?
Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.
Nixon: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?...I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes.
Nixon: The only place where you and I disagree ... is with regard to the bombing. You're so goddamned concerned about civilians and I don't give a damn. I don't care.
Kissinger: I'm concerned about the civilians because I don't want the world to be mobilized against you as a butcher.
That Henry, always with the public relations.
That Nixon didn’t give a damn about blowing children and other civilians to bits with his heavy-handed bombing is no surprise to those who have studied his character closely. In fact, in other conversations he made clear that one of his main goals in maintaining the Vietnam War, long after Pentagon studies had shown it to be futile, was his interest in getting re-elected by showing he was “tough.”
I think one version of hell for Nixon would be to have him spend eternity talking to the parents and spouses of the people whose lives he threw away in order to show the voters he was “tough.” He could leave hell when he convinced each and every one of them that he had done the right thing.
I’m thinking about Nixon lately because of an article in the Rolling Stone by Tim Dickinson which describes how Fox News is the creation of one of Nixon’s top aides: Roger Ailes. True, Rupert Murdoch is the ultimate owner of the show, but it is Ailes’s spirit that dominates it.
Ailes became a political activist largely because of his deep admiration for Richard Nixon. So think of the connection this way: From Nixon to Ailes to Fox. Explains a lot doesn’t it?
The GOP, having abandoned the open-minded liberalism of Abraham Lincoln has, since the 1960s, been “the Party of Nixon.” And now, this party, according to Dickinson’s very convincing article, is bonded to Fox News in a way that no political party has been ever wedded to a news organization (outside of the Communist world).
Fox is known for its unfair and imbalanced “reporting,” and it is known to distort its reporting in order to serve right-wing interests, particularly Republican right-wing interests. What is surprising is that other news organizations don’t make this a story in itself. Fox is to the GOP what Pravda was to the Communist Party of the USSR, and this should be a big, ongoing news story today, but apparently CBS, NBC, CNN, etc., are too intimidated by Fox’s fierce propaganda-making powers to jump on this issue.
Of course, they may feel that reporting on Fox’s fundamentally biased dishonesty could draw more attention and hence more viewers to that propaganda machine. Or they may believe that they themselves will be attacked by Fox as serving partisan Democrats if they were to do so. Such a claim would be false, of course, but Fox is very, very good at getting people to believe things that aren’t true.
Who but Fox, after all, convinced huge numbers of Republicans that Barack Obama is a Muslim, a non-US citizen, and a socialist? Each of these ideas is, frankly, nuts, yet each one is or has been believed by large numbers of Fox viewers.
In a sense, Fox is nothing but a huge, pervasive, ignorance mill. Kind of like those supermarket tabloids that claim, for example, that Elvis Presley is still alive and now rules an Amazon tribe as its king. But unlike these tabloids, which put out nutty ideas in order to make money, Fox peddles its ignorance both to make money and to create an ugly, unethical mindset in the American public. It is, in other words, carrying on the spirit of Richard M. Nixon. Without Nixon’s evil and enduring influence, channeled through Nixon devotee Roger Ailes, it is hard to imagine how any Republican could get elected president these days, given the bizarre nature of the ideas the GOP is promoting.
So is George W. Bush the worst? Or should that epithet go to the late Richard M. Nixon, whose odious spirit lives on through Roger Ailes and Fox News?