Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Fun of Nixon/Obama Comparisons

George Will trots out the lame argument today that Barack Obama is a far more serious crook than Richard Nixon ever was. Jonathan Chait does a takedown, and it's fine, but I get the sense that he's not really into it...perhaps because Will puts so little effort into his own column.

I mean, really.

Will's big case is that the Obama Administration has selectively implemented the ACA. This is picking up steam among conservatives...but Will (as Chait notes) doesn't really argue it; he merely asserts it. Truth is, it's at about the level of "he has czars!" All presidents, all executive branch agencies, need to interpret laws while they implement them. Have some agencies during the Obama presidency crossed over the line between "interpret" and "rewrite"? Probably! It's a very fuzzy line at best. Implementation really does pose challenges; virtually all laws, no matter how well written, wind up colliding with reality in unexpected ways, and that creates tough calls for regulators and administrators. However, just as with the first term "czars!" talking point, what we're getting here is the implication that no interpretation is ever needed or justified. That's just not so.

At any rate. Obama's administration delayed implementation of some ACA provisions for a year; Nixon illegally refused to spend Congressionally appropriated money, which got him slapped down by the courts and eventually overridden by an angry Congress.

Obama's administration conducted an undeclared war in Libya; Nixon's administration conducted an undeclared and secret war in Cambodia. OK, not secret to the Cambodians.

Obama's administration hounded whistleblowers and prosecuted them to the full extent of the law. Nixon's broke into a whistleblower's psychiatrist's office to (attempt to) get dirt on him, and wound up all told doing so much that the case against him was thrown out in court because of administration malfeasance.

Obama's IRS...well, Chait covers this. Unless new information suddenly emerges, Nixon is the champ here, too, and it isn't close.

Obama's NSA did a wide range of things which were probably legal, but still in the view of many constituted abuses; Nixon wiretapped government officials and reporters. And we're still pre-Church, so the FBI and the CIA are up to all sorts of things. This one is probably the least clear...my bet is that when all the evidence is in the 1969-1974 abuses will top the Obama-era abuses, but it could easily wind up being a judgement call.

And then there's the accusations, backed by at least fairly strong evidence, that Nixon spiked peace talks before he took office; I can't think of anything analogous with Obama.

Am I forgetting anything? Oh, year: Watergate. Haven't mentioned that one, yet. Well, Watergate per se; some of this stuff wound up being folded into it, but nothing about about breaking into the DNC, or for that matter about ordering the Brookings firebombing, or having an operative trail Ted Kennedy, or campaign dirty tricks, etc.

Anyway, the fun of this is that whatever the accusation against Obama, it's pretty easy to come up with something similar that Nixon actually did, but worse.

I should note: that doesn't imply that Obama hasn't done anything wrong! Just that "worse than Nixon" is the wrong place to go.

16 comments:

  1. Did Will write similar columns about the Bush administration's notorious signing statements, which declared that there were parts of duly passed laws they intended not to follow?

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    1. I was thinking about trying to fit that in -- or the plan to have a self-funded intelligence/military out of the reach of Congress, as Reagan's administration tried to do.

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  2. I don't think that George Will is all that interested in your facts, Jonathan. Clicks keep food on the table, and holding the party line keeps his place for him.

    It's like the old Man of La Mancha quote: "Facts? Facts are the enemy of Truth!"

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  3. On the NSA, Snowden and Greenwald have presented documentation of vast capabilities, but they really haven't presented any proof that the capabilities have been abused. As far as we know to date, the FISC and the Congress have been kept informed and the programs have been conducted within the law as it exists. People can disagree with the law, as Wyden certainly does, but I don't believe Wyden has accused the adminstration of breaking it. (He has accused them of making broad interpretations of the law that have been kept from the public.) Congress can change the law if it wants, or require the FISC to publish its interpetations, but that is a different issue. I think it's doubtful that the progams will be shut down. Of course, I've been wrong before.

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    1. Or a day early. See WaPo front page.

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    2. It's good to keep in mind that the first reports about something tend to be the most hysterical, any many people never get past the headline. There are some issues here, but most of it seems to be errors, oversights, and things misplaced, and that apparently amounts to a fraction of a percent of the overall activities. The incident that Gellman calls the most serious infraction consists of putting data in the wrong storage tank, and the FISC put a stop to it. There's no suggestion so far that any of it was intentional or that any of the inappropriately collected data was subjected to any scrutiny or used in any investigation. Now, remember the sort of infractions that induced Congress to pass the FISA law in the first place. J. Edgar Hoover, for instance, used to conduct illegal investigations of public figures and then use the results to blackmail and intimidate the ones he didn't like--or the ones who thought he should retire. If anything like that is going on, then it's a problem, but the charge hasn't even been raised.

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  4. Frankly, I'm with Will.

    I'm not going to defend Nixon, although you greatly exaggerate the case against him. Some of your charges - such as his use of impoundment - refer to Presidential prerogatives that had been uncontroversial for almost 2 centuries before the Party of the Shiftless decided to try and bring down the duly elected President. Nor is there any law against "spiking" peace talks. But let's grant that some of Nixon's actions were illegal and worthy of condemnation.

    Obama, on the other hand, is engaging in lawlessness on a much grander scale than a few illegal operations. Claiming a general power to suspend and dispense the laws is of a different order of magnitude; you have to go a hundred years before the revolution to find a king who asserted that kind of authority. Nixon was a President who broke the law. Obama is a President attempting to become above the law. It is these actions - and his enablement by the lickspittle Democrat faithful - that make him far worse than Nixon, or even Wilson.

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    1. You honestly think that delaying major legislative and regulatory mandates isn't absolutely routine in the modern administrative state? Before you go reaching back into the 17th century for comparisons, why not educate yourself about history over the last few decades?

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    2. Frankly, you're with Won't.

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    3. Re: impoundments. While Presidents had been refusing to spend money before, Nixon as usual took something which had been in the Presidential toolkit and pushed it to extremes. If memory serves among his impoundments was an entire program in USDA. He was challenged in court and lost. So it's probably wrong to say he "illegally refused"; would be better to say his attempt to cut programs was rebuffed by the courts.

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    4. "Lawlessness" is the latest talking point buzzword for Obama-haters.

      https://www.google.com/search?q=lawlessness+obama

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    5. Yes, it's funny how when someone starts acting lawlessly, people accuse them of lawlessness.

      Similarly, "murder" is the latest talking point buzzword for Hernandez-haters.

      http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=aaron+hernandez+murder

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    6. anon613 i appreciate seeing more conservative perspectives like yours in the comments section. your party of the shiftless line is grating and against the etiquette we all try to follow.

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  5. Didn't know about Nixon spiking peace talks.

    Any truth to the stories about Reagan's minions making sure the hostages didn't get released early?

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    1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21768668

      I believe that the stories about 1980 have been found to be false, or at least no evidence has been found that they were true.

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  6. Of course Obama could have just instructed the Justice Department to grant immunity from prosecution for anybody who failed to implement the employer mandate this year and would have been unquestionably within the Executive Branch's prosecutorial discretion which has been upheld as constitutional.

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