Richard Nixon on the campaign trail in 1968. White House photo

Stop Besmirching Richard Nixon’s Good Name With Comparisons to Donald Trump

Ever heard of Warren G. Harding?

by MATTHEW GAULT

There are a lot of memes and hot takes going around right now besmirching the good name of Richard Nixon. According to the online punditry — and at least one senator — Pres. Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey is a scandal of Watergate proportions.

According to the memes that blend photos of Trump and Nixon, we’re now dealing with the most corrupt president of all time since Tricky Dick.

Please. Ever hear of the Teapot Dome Scandal? What about the entire Reagan administration?

Nixon has long been a political boogeyman for liberals. He launched the drug war, after all. And bombed Cambodia. And had his goons beat up hippies. And bugged his opponents.

He was a jerk and a crook with no good domestic or foreign policies to hang his hat on. Trump is worse, the thinking goes, but only because he’s too incompetent to be as willfully evil as Nixon was.

I won’t stand for it any longer. Nixon was crazier than a shithouse rat, but he definitely care about the American people. He probably cared more about them than any president — and certainly any Republican president — has done since.

Nixon did, in fact, break the law and abuse his power. He was also our last great liberal-progressive president.

Let me be clear. Nixon was a bad guy. But presidents are complicated and to focus on Watergate and Nixon’s disregard for the rule of law to the exclusion of his progressive political record does both history and the truth a disservice.

Let’s start with the big surprises. In the summer of 1969, Nixon tried to provide universal basic income to all Americans. His plan was to end welfare as we know it … and replace it with something better. The Family Assistance Program would have scaled back welfare and guaranteed a living wage to all families living below the poverty line.

The bill passed the House of Representatives with an overwhelming majority but died in the Senate. It wasn’t political enemies that felled the plan, but a coalition of concerned moderate Democrats and ultra-conservative Republicans.

Which brings us to another fun and funny fact about Nixon — he fucking hated the far-right. He would have detested the Tea Party. Nixon was always an outsider. He was a weird, sweaty man with a strange religious background and a lower-class upbringing. He didn’t fit in well in Washington.

“The trouble with far-right conservatives … is that they really don’t give a damn about people and the voters sense that,” Nixon told his aide John C. Whitaker. “Yet any Republican presidential candidate can’t stray too far from the right-wingers because they can dominate a primary and are even more important in close general elections.”

“The far-right kooks are just like the nuts on the left,” Nixon continued. “They’re doorbell-ringers and balloon-blowers, but they turn out to vote. There is only one thing as bad as a far-left liberal and that’s a damn right-wing conservative.”

Nixon was, for all his faults, a true man of the people. He created the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and signed the Clean Air Act into law. Every time you drink clean drinking water or use a non-rusty ladder at work, thank Nixon.

All his budgets favored domestic welfare programs at the expense of the military. Can you imagine a Republican president doing that now? For his part, Trump wants to “make America great again” by slashing the safety net while lavishing the military with cash.

When Nixon entered office in 1970, we spent $55 billion on welfare. When he left office in 1975, that number was $132 billion. Nixon supported cost of living adjustments for Social Security recipients, expanded the rolls to include the blind and disabled and raised food-stamp spending from $610 million to $2.5 billion.

Oh yeah, he also opened up relations with China, ended the draft, imposed a minimum tax on the wealthy and established the first federal quotas for hiring minorities. That’s right — Nixon, one of the most vehemently racist presidents in modern history, helped create affirmative action.

So please. Stop calling him the most corrupt president of all time and stop comparing him to Trump. Nixon was an asshole, yeah, but he was also way smarter and, dare I say, more compassionate than Trump is. As for corruption … have ya’ll never heard of Warren G. Harding?

Warren G. Harding’s cabinet was a den of thieves. Library of Congress photo

We won’t know the full depth of Trump’s corruption for years, but it’ll be hard for him to top Harding. Elected in 1920, the man only served two years before dying, but during those two years he did everything he could to enrich himself and his buddies.

Harding’s cabinet was the first in U.S. history to lose a member to a criminal investigation. His secretary of the interior leased the Navy’s oil reserves to private companies at cut-rate prices in exchange for bribes. His attorney general resigned in 1924 when investigators revealed he was in the pocket of gangsters and bootleggers.

Harding’s man in charge of veterans’ affairs built hospitals vets didn’t need so he could hire his friends and skim cash off the budget. The man Harding appointed to sort through goods seized after World War I went to jail for defrauding the U.S. government and stealing German patents.

Hell, even Ronald Reagan managed to oversee a more corrupt White House than Nixon did. During his eight-year presidency, 138 administration officials were investigated or charged. That’s more than any other president in U.S. history.

Everyone remembers the Iran-Contra affair, but few recall Operation Ill Wind, when the FBI discovered that defense companies had colluded with military officials to bilk U.S. taxpayers. Navy and Air Force officials went to jail.

The Reagan administration also used the Department of Housing and Urban Development to reward Republican donors. Reagan officials rigged the bidding system and dished out lucrative government grants like part favors. Courts convicted six administration officials, including Reagan’s secretary of the interior.

That doesn’t even take into account the EPA scandals, the savings-and-loan crisis, the Inslaw affair and the Wedtech scandal. In terms of corruption, Reagan’s eight-year administration eclipsed Harding’s two-year administration, if only because Reagan had more time to rob the American public.

But yeah, keep telling me how Nixon was the most corrupt president in U.S. history.

Stay defiant.

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