Columns 2008

George Bush is no Richard Nixon

As America’s Current Occupier winds down his disastrous years in office, he is giving interviews to the big three networks. I watched the first interview with Charles Gibson until I could no longer handle the pain. Did we really elect this man to the office once held by Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln? Or, for god’s sake, Chester B. Arthur?

I think it is an interesting juxtaposition that at the same time as Bush stumbles and bumbles his way through these fairly controlled moments of media access, a movie titled “Frost/Nixon” is released. The movie, based on a Broadway play, is a recreation of almost 14 hours of interviews by David Frost with Richard Nixon three years after Nixon’s resignation. It is Nixon’s first interview after his resignation and most historians think he went into it with the idea that he could somehow use his admittedly brilliant mind to resurrect his legacy.

But a team of researchers had spent a year digging into the Nixon presidency and Watergate. Frost had all the ammunition he needed to catch Nixon time and time again. It led to that extraordinary moment when Nixon apologized to the nation for his actions.  Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Richard Nixon knew that was not something he’d gone into the interview planning to do.

As someone who thought that Richard Nixon epitomized evil until Dick Cheney came along, I can only say, “George Bush, you are no Richard Nixon.” And I don’t mean that in a flattering way.

Nixon, for all his personal demons, was a brilliant man who could have gone down in history as one of our greatest presidents had not his hubris tripped him up.  This statement to Frost aptly sums up that hubris. “If the president does it, it’s not illegal.”

According to historian James Reston, Jr. in an interview in the, this line was met with wild, derisive laughter when the play ran on Broadway. He says the laugher wasn’t about Nixon. It was all about Bush.

I can’t believe I am about to defend Richard Nixon, but the truth is that while his great talents may have been undercut by his great flaws, there is no doubt those talents existed. George Bush is a man with no great talent undercut by exceedingly great flaws, the greatest being that he thinks he has some talent.

In his interview with Gibson, the one thing that struck me forcefully was the fact that after eight years in office, Bush still couldn’t speak English without mangling the language and he still had the deer in the headlight look we first saw in that classroom on 9/11. When asked about regrets, the only thing he could come up with was the bad intelligence on the Iraq WMDs.

Gee, he doesn’t regret slapping FEMA chief Michael Brown on the back and telling him he was doing a heckuva job as people suffered and died in New Orleans waiting for FEMA to do something to rescue them? He didn’t regret that unfortunate photo op on the aircraft carrier declaring “Mission Accomplished” when it was painfully clear he did not have a clue as to what accomplishing the mission actually took? He wasn’t sorry he gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to L. Paul Bremer for his part in the debacle that is Iraq? He has no second thoughts about the continued detention of prisoners in Guantanamo despite the fact that we know no more now than we did then about whether they did anything to deserve imprisonment?  No concerns about authorizing water boarding prisoners that has left our own military men and women vulnerable to the same treatment if they are ever captured as enemy combatants?

Well, clearly the list goes on and on and even a fourteen hour interview would only begin to scratch the surface of things most Americans would like him to explain or justify. His eight years in office have brought America to its knees.

History will note that Richard Nixon was a man of great abilities and even greater flaws. The story of his presidency is an American tragedy. History will note that George Bush was a man of few abilities and great flaws. That is why the story of his presidency is an American travesty.