We’re All Nixonians Now

People have got to know whether their President is a crook

Richard M. Nixon

I often wonder who is worse: George W. Bush — the man who turned a projected trillion dollar surplus into the greatest deficits in world history, who bailed out the profligate Wall Street algos and arbitrageurs, who proceeded with two needless, pointless and absurdly costly military occupations (even though he had initially campaigned on the promise of a humble foreign policy), who ignored Michael Scheuer’s warnings about al-Qaeda previous to 9/11, who signed the Constitution-trashing PATRIOT Act  (etc etc ad infinitum) or his successor Barack Obama, the man who retained and expanded the PATRIOT Act powers under the NDAA (2011), who claimed the right to extrajudicially kill American citizens using predator drones, who expanded Bush’s expensive and pointless occupations (all the while having run on a promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and reverse Bush’s civil liberties incursions), who proceeded with Paulson’s Wall Street bailouts, authorised the NSA to record all phone calls and internet activity, and continued the destructive War on Drugs (even though he had in the past been a drug user).

The answer, by the way, is Richard Nixon. For almost forty years after that man’s resignation, it is arguable that almost every single administration (with the possible exception of  Carter as well as Reagan’s first year in office) — but especially that of Bush and Obama — has been cut from his cloth. It was Richard Nixon who inaugurated the War on Drugs — that despicable policy that has empowered the drug gangs and obliterated much of Latin America. It was Richard Nixon who so brazenly corrupted the White House and tarnished the office of the Presidency through the Watergate wiretapping scandal.  It was Nixon’s administration that created the culture of government surveillance that led directly to the PATRIOT Act. It was Nixon who internationalised the fiat dollar, so trampling George Washington’s warnings about not entangling alliances, and of course setting the stage for the gradual destruction of American industry that continued apace under NAFTA and into the present day, where America runs the greatest trade deficits in human history. It was Richard Nixon who set the precedent of pointless, stupid, blowback-inducing militarism, by continuing and expanding the Vietnam war. It was Richard Nixon whose administration authorised the use of chemical weapons (or as George W. Bush might have put it, “weapons of mass destruction”) against the Vietcong.

Presidents since have followed — to a greater or lesser extent — in his mould. This is particularly acute this election cycle; you vote for Obama and you get Richard Nixon, or you vote for Romney and you get Richard Nixon. Nixon’s words: “we’re all Keynesians now” have a powerful resonance; not only has every administration since Nixon retained the petrodollar standard and spent like a drunken sailor in pursuit of Keynesian multipliers, but every President since has followed in the Nixonian tradition on civil liberties, on trade, on foreign policy. Henry Kissinger — the true architect of many Nixonian policies, and Obama’s only real competition for most bizarre Nobel Peace Prize recipient — has to some degree counselled each and every President since.

It is hard to overstate the magnitude of Nixon’s actions. The demonetisation of  gold ended a 5,000 year long tradition. It was a moment of conjuring, a moment of trickery; that instead of producing the goods, and giving up her gold hoard to pay for her consumption habits (specifically, her consumption of foreign energy), America would give the finger to the world, and print money to pay her debts, while retaining her (substantial) gold hoard. The obvious result of this policy has been that America now prints more and more money, and produces less and less of her consumption. She has printed so much that $5 trillion floats around Asia, while the American industrial belt rusts. Industrial production in America is where it was ten years ago, yet America’s debt exposure has ballooned.

America has had not one but two Vietnams in the past ten years.

First, Afghanistan, in the pursuit of the elusive Osama bin Laden (or, “in the name of liberating women”, presumably via blowing their legs off in drone strikes), where young Western soldiers continue to die (for what?), even after bin Laden’s supposed death in a Pakistani compound last year.

Then, Iraq, presumably in the interests of preventing Saddam Hussein from using non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction, or liberating more women by blowing their legs off (or as Tom Friedman  put it: “SUCK! ON! THIS!”).

Like Nixon’s Presidency, the Nixonian political system is highly fragile. Debt is fragility, because it enforces the inflexibility of repayment, and the Nixonian political system has created staggering debt, much of it now offshore. The Nixonian economic policy has gutted American industry, leaving America uncompetitive and dependent on foreign productivity and resources. The Nixonian foreign policy has created a world that is deeply antipathetic to America and American interests, which has meant that America has become less and less capable of achieving imperatives via diplomacy.

Future historians may finger George W. Bush as the worst President in history, and the one who broke the American empire. But smarter scholars will pinpoint Nixon. True, the seeds of destruction were sown much earlier with the institution of permanent limited liability corporations. This allowed for the evolution of a permanent corporate aristocracy which eventually bought out the political echelon, and turned the Federal government into an instrument of crony capitalism, military Keynesianism and corporate welfare. Nixonianism has been the corporate aristocracy’s crowning achievement. And to some extent, this period of free lunch economics was a banquet, even for middle class Americans. The masses were kept fat and happy. But now the game is up — like Nixon’s Presidency — its days are numbered.

39 thoughts on “We’re All Nixonians Now

  1. hmmm. USA loses a major war (Vietnam). Goes off the Gold Standard. Prints.

    hmmm. USA loses a major war (Iraq). Goes off the Gold Standard. Prints.

    hmmm. USA loses a major war (Afghanistan). Goes off the Gold Standard. Prints.

    You are right. Nixon set a precedent.

    Although I think Truman was the worse. Setting off an Atomic bomb on civilians ranks pretty high.

  2. I suggest that you read the duo-biography on Kennedy vs. Nixon, written by Chris Matthews back in the mid-1990s. Matthews has impeccable liberal/anti-Nixon credentials. But his findings and comparisons between the two men will lead you to the begrudging conclusion that Richard M. Nixon was a significantly better man and a more capable president than JFk.

    To my way of thinking, you have correctly summed up the presidency of GW Bush. But you really should rethink your opinion of RMN. He deserves better from historians than he has gotten. And he was in no way as unscrupulous and wrong-headed as GWB.

    • I don’t find it surprising that someone with impeccable “liberal” credentials learned to love Nixon, who closed the gold window and ushered in the age of helicopter fiat, allowing for free spending government, and the endless monetisation of debt.

  3. Almost all Presidents from Wilson on…have done their bit to bring destruction upon America…its the slow drip drip drip that creates the tipping point and as we get closer to it things get worse.

    • As I point out in the article, the drip began way before Wilson’s institution of central banking with the institution of corporate personhood, which allowed a corporate and banking aristocracy to grow up, which J.P. Morgan bailed out in 1907, thus providing “evidence” that a central bank to provide lines of liquidity to the corporate class during crises was necessary.

    • What we are really getting at in this discussion are the problems with concentrating power in the executive branch. Once the president is let off the leash by an incompetent/sycophantic congress/populace and becomes all three branches of govt, America gets weaker.

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    • Whoever throws the first insult in an argument on the internet loses the argument. And your opening quip is an insult. So, um, yeah. I’ll listen to people who want to disagree and say that LBJ or WW or FDR was worse. I actually think they have quite a good case, because it was all very much one continuous development, that included the innovations and power-grabs of FDR as much as the behaviour of Nixon. But you’re not going to change my mind by calling me a moron.

  5. I stole this from a comment from zerohedge but I think he hits it on the head.

    “Really, it all started with Abraham Lincoln– he is the foundational villain of our sad present-day story. By crushing states’ rights, suborning the Constitution, and setting the precedent for unlimited Executive and Federal power, he laid the groundwork for Wilson and FDR’s subsequent dirty work.

    The Republic died at Appomatox. Lincoln was the Julius Caesar of the modern era. Went out the same way, too. Sic Semper Tyrannus.”

    • Actually I don’t dislike Lincoln to the extent that many of us do. At least through Lincoln’s acts the institution of slavery was ended (yes, I know he was initially a slavery apologist, and yes, I know the Emancipation Proclamation was a matter of convenience, and yes, I probably would have allowed the South to secede, or at least gone about trying to purchase the slaves via eminent domain to free them instead of doing it through a war).

      Personally, I feel the South was more at fault for damaging the paradigm of States’ rights, by maintaining the institution of slavery, enshrining it into the Confederate constitution, etc.

      He did set some bad precedents for Presidential power that I see Obama reiterating today in things like the NDAA but he did it during a time of real war, which is actually not unconstitutional, even if it was a war I would have sought to avoid.

      If we are going to trace this trend back to Lincoln, then it is more intellectually honest to trace it further back: to Alexander Hamilton. The present system is undoubtedly Hamiltonian in nature.

    • I know, right?!! How dare Lincoln try and stop those southerners from exercising thar rights by keeping slaves?!! Who did he think he was?!! The President of the UNITED states of America or something?

      • I have a slight issue with a lot of the libertarian movement trying to justify the South’s behaviour. It puzzles me that a movement dedicated to personal freedom would treat something like slaving with anything other than deep and unerring hostility and rage. Ultimately, while they did technically have the right to secede under the 10th Amendment and the Articles of Confederation, I think all Southern behaviour must be viewed through the lens of the fact they were keeping slaves, which I consider to be a universal evil. I wish the North had been much more aggressive about ending slavery, and less aggressive about tariffs and centralism etc, but ultimately when the South attacked them I am glad they went they did and emancipated. While I am in favour of States’ rights, I think that the notion of localism was severely damaged, and became untenable when the South was using “localism” as a cover for slaving. It is an insult to me as a localist that slavers would have used my views as a cover for committing atrocities, and I wish more libertarians would see it like this.

        • Yeah, me too. And actually it is unconstitutional to secede from the union. The 10th amendment doesn’t grant states that right. It wouldn’t make sense anyway.

        • From article 4 section 3:

          1. New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the consent of the legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

          (This clause provides the basis for admitting new states into the Union. It also makes it impossible for part of a state to secede and create a new state. It also clearly creates a means of adding a state, but does not allow for any state to leave the Union)

        • Nothing there mentions secession.

          Tenth Amendment:

          The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

          Ninth Amendment:

          The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

          As the Constitution does not mention secession, it is assumed from these that the right is reserves by the States and presumably the people.

          This ain’t the Hotel California… So while they were in the Union I would have been happy for the Feds to take strong measures to end slavery which to my annoyance they didn’t do ’til the South left over tariffs.

        • Why would an amendment to the constitution allow a state to back out of the constitution?
          Read article 4 section 3 carefully. It says no new state or jurisdiction shall be formed within any existing state. At least not without the permission of the state legislature and the congress. You even admit that Lincoln had the constitutional authority to suspend habeas corpus during the civil war. You are correct as per article 1 section 9. The states were rebelling in the civil war. I.E. Trying to secede or form new states within formally recognized states without permission from congress.

        • Remember 9 and 10th Amendments do not grant carte Blanche. If a state is doing something prohibited by the constitution, that something is illegal.

          Also look at article 1 section 10 which states that no state shall enter a CONFEDERATION, among other things:

          1. No State shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts; pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, or grant any title of nobility.

  6. Don’t listen to the people who say LBJ was worse, or that LBJ’s actions created Nixon.

    LBJ had his problems starting Nam, running up deficits, etc, but he was nothing like the all-around crook that was Richard Nixon. When I look at LBJ’s record I see problems, but I see nothing like the trends of governance and government that lead directly from Nixon to Bush and Obama. Things like the war on drugs, mass surveillance, the destruction of US industry.

    I think you’re right. It was Nixon, much more than Johnson, or Wilson or FDR that sowed the seeds of destruction in the USA.

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  8. Someone should put in a ‘good word’ for Woodrow Wilson. We’ve never had a period of repression in this country that resembles the anti Irish and German-American repression that began in 1917, which culminated in the Palmer Raids and anti-leftist hysteria, racial pogroms in the south, the invention of Hoover and the red-baiters, the deportation of Goldman, the incarceration of Debbs. By inserting the US into a war it plainly had no business entering – based on fraud reminiscent of Iraq — Wilson unwittingly created the conditions for a Hitler to arise. The progressive hero, on domestic policy, was a catastrophe for the world. If the topic is this bloated cancerous presidency that plagues us today, Wilson was arguably the original, although if you go over the depressing list, its admittedly as difficult as picking your favorite Beatle song. So many have so much to recommend them.

    • Excellent points. Nixon is my pick, but really there is a great choice: Johnson, Bush, Bush, Obama, Roosevelt, Wilson. But in terms of the original, I feel we have to go back to a non-President: Hamilton. Every centralist tendency, every statist tendency, every Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, Richard Nixon or Woodrow Wilson can trace their intellectual lineage back to Hamilton.

      • Regarding Alexander Hamiltin: From Wikipedia – “Embarrassed when an extra-marital affair with Maria Reynolds became public, Hamilton resigned from office in 1795 and returned to the practice of law in New York”

        This person obviously was not a moral man. Deceiving ones wife and trusted partner is an error of judgement an a lack of control, Most psychopaths show this trait. I agree with John. This guy set the stage for the rest to follow.

        • And Hamilton set the scene for Federal Authority to claim its tax! From Wikipedia:

          Sources of revenue

          One of the principal sources of revenue Hamilton prevailed upon Congress to approve was an excise tax on whiskey. Strong opposition to the whiskey tax by cottage producers in remote, rural regions erupted into the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794; in Western Pennsylvania and western Virginia, whiskey was the basic export product and was fundamental to the local economy. In response to the rebellion, believing compliance with the laws was vital to the establishment of federal authority, Hamilton accompanied to the rebellion’s site President Washington, General Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, and more federal troops than were ever assembled in one place during the Revolution. This overwhelming display of force intimidated the leaders of the insurrection, ending the rebellion virtually without bloodshed.[58]

  9. It all stems from Eve!

    People in power should be benevolent Gods. Not egotistical maniacs.

    Obey the rules, observe moral behaviour, and punish the wicked.

    • Have you heard the theory that the story of the Garden of Eden is an allegory about early civilisation and the development of agriculture? When man tasted the forbidden fruit (of agriculture) he “fell” from his natural state as a hunter-gatherer.

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