Sunday, September 12, 2010

Richard Nixon: Portrait of a Socialist

Ranting that our country is hurtling toward "socialism" is the current bugaboo of the political right--and, indeed, given socialism by definition lies on the left side of the political spectrum, one can understand their opposition to such philosophies by their very nature.  Yet for all the gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair by Tea Party demagogues over our imminent collapse into some quasi-Marxist state, I have to ask: is the agenda of the current administration and Congress actually all that "socialist," or has the political right merely moved itself so far to the extreme end of the scale so that everything else looks to be to the left of Stalin by comparison?

Photo from National Archives via Wikimedia Commons
Without delving into each specific issue in detail, I offer this observation: one Richard M. Nixon, the 37th President of the United States and a stalwart of the Republican party, pursued and implemented policies across his administration which are far more to the left, and steered the country on a path certainly more "socialist," than President Obama, Senator Reid, or Representative Pelosi (the unholy trinity in the eyes of the right) have ever dreamt of.  Even bathing in the blood of the puppies they've sacrificed to achieve their demonic goals, those three latter-day Stalinists pale in comparison to the achievements of Tricky Dick--who last I saw had an (R) in parenthesis after his name, not a (D).  Nor are these policies cherry-picked; they represent some of the biggest and most lasting achievements of President Nixon's time in office and cover broad swathes of policy from the economy to the environment to foreign policy.

Take, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency, which to modern conservatives is an anathema to the free market principles they advocate and an agency that exists solely to obstruct the consumer-minded engines of productivity that are this nation's corporations.  The current GOP senatorial nominee from Nevada has called for the EPA's outright eradication on numerous occasions, and the words of the recently-erstwhile GOP nominee for Vice President sum up the conservative zeitgeist, labeling it the "Economic Prevention Agency."

A quick consultation of the history books (references few seem to keep on hand these days) will reveal exactly who proposed and signed into law the EPA, and it wasn't some liberal, starry-eyed socialist like FDR or Lyndon Johnson.

Let's not stop with the EPA, the Clean Air Act, or the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.  Nixon didn't just steer us toward socialism by becoming a friend to the environment.  No, he embraced such leftist notions as workplace safety and the welfare of the nation's employees with the creation of OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  And--the horrors!--he pushed his socialist, anti-business agenda to protect babies and small children with the creation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, with its regulations over swimming pools and cribs and corporate-profit-damning product recalls.

The list of "socialist" agencies and regulations crafted and implemented under Nixon's watch is a healthy one, unless you're one of the demagogues lathering up crowds against "the gubermint" and its efforts to seize your tax dollars and  turn them into handouts.  Taking the US dollar off the gold standard, long a complaint of conservatives?  Check.  Imposing a national speed limit (n.b. something I can't forgive, myself)?  Check.  Increased spending on Medicare, Social Security, and food and welfare programs?  Check.

Since taking office, President Obama has caught much grief over even the suggestion that mega-bank executive salaries might be excessive, and that those banks who received taxpayer bailouts ought not spend our public moneys on throwing yet another party in Vegas or Bermuda.  Yet Nixon exercised authority and implemented national price and wage control boards, freezing pay raises and dictating product prices across the country.  Obama is a socialist, say the neoconservative punditry and body politic, for even hinting that rewarding utter failure with lottery-payout-sized bonuses seems askew.  Yet Nixon exercised control nationwide over salaries and prices, which quite arguably stands as one of the most socialist (and authoritarian) measures ever taken by the US government with regards to the conduct of private business.

And let's not forget "Obamacare," the castrated-by-compromise effort to help ensure every US citizen have access to adequate health care and current favorite invective of the right.  Nearly forty years ago, President Nixon called for national health care, a plan which would have mandated employer-provided insurance as well as a federal plan anyone could pay into and join.  (Ironically, Ted Kennedy was one of the leading opponents of Nixon's health care reform plan.)  Nixon failed to achieve his vision of universal, national health care, indeed, but one wonders what those Republicans shouting "socialist!" and "keep the government out of my health care!" today would have thought of an obviously more ambitious (and yes, socialist) plan coming from one of their own.

Lastly, rhetoric from the right today constantly demonizes President Obama for even entertaining the merest daydream of using diplomacy rather than the sword that is the US military might to deal with our nation's enemies.

Yet who is remembered for being the only President who could go to China, and whose efforts resulted in a real detente with not only with China, but to a thawing of relations with the Soviet Union as well (who feared a potential Sino-American alliance might arise out of such diplomacy)?

Yes, that socialist, Richard Nixon.  And don't forget, Tea Partiers, that Nixon cut defense spending significantly (from over 9% of GDP to under 6%) and got us finally out of that quagmire in Vietnam.

You'd think from the current rhetoric from the right that Nixon was a panty-waisted pinko whose sole goal was to transfer corporate wealth to our commisar enemies.  Yet in his day, he was a Republican opposed vehemently by liberals at every step of the way.  It's simply a sad statement of how far to the right the Tea Party, neoconservatives, and even mainstream Republicans today have moved from where their party once stood.

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