Jukka Renkama writes from Washington:How about Richard Nixon as a role model for modern politicians? Republicans, actually. In America, of all places.
Yes, that’s the idea that Fox News correspondent James Rosen came up with. Controversial? You bet it is, especially as Rosen is no fool and knows Washington politics well. So how come then, you may ask. Well, Rosen figures Republicans may copy Nixon as a visionary conservative capable of translating domestic and international anxieties into a solid electoral majority. As it happened in 1972 when he secured another term in the Oval Office with a landslide. Before getting impeached as a result of the ‘watergate’ scandal.
Not bad, eh? Tricky Dicky as a model for the modern Republicans. But Rosen acknowledges the idea will raise a few eyebrows because of Nixon’s controversial reputation. And strangely enough the suggestion actually may have its merits although they are not quite what Rosen envisions. If Nixon’s example is anything to go by, it encourages the Republicans to stop being fixated on their conservative principles and move towards the political centre, where the bulk of the votes are. It is high time for the conservatives to realise they cannot succeed just on their own terms. One should be in politics to acquire and use power, not to make a point. Compromise does not have to imply embracing centrist policies but a proper combination of right and left-wing ones. Although Nixon was a champion of conservative values such as patriotism, the practical side of him did not shy away from pursuing a liberal agenda when it suited his and the nation’s needs, such as ‘Nixonomics’ which brought tangible results. The people were happy, rejecting the perceived radicalism and incompetence of his opponent, George McGovern, who failed in his attempts to present Nixon as a pro-rich Republican.
The same problem of pinpointing Nixon’s place on the established scale applied to security policy as well. Whilst not an isolationist, he sought to scale down US international commitments. He was not averse to employing military pressure but he did so to improve Washington’s negotiating positions, not to destroy the adversary. Thus, the hard-core Democrats could not get a proper hold of him, until the Watergate scandal came along. Today, it would be easy for the neo-cons to label Nixon as a hopeless dove. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine he would have resorted to the gaffe with Latino voters, one of the biggest blunders of the modern GOP. He foresaw their growing role, trying to approach them as an ethnic group distinct from, for example, the solidly Democratic voting African Americans, and flirted with their traditional family and social values.
How would Nixon’s recipe taste right now? Looking around, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that it is past its sell by date – but only because the surrounding world has changed, not due to any inherent lack of competence on Nixon,s part. He managed to elevate the proverbial stick and carrot to fine instruments of international politics by taking advantage of the Communist block’s survival instinct and internal jealousies. Whoever occupies the White House in our era is facing much less rational and predictable opponents in the form of the radical mullahs and the Kim dynasty. Domestically, Mitt Romney’s fate is both encouraging and dispiriting. A moderately conservative politician who can work on both sides of the aisle seems to be able to succeed on a state level, but not (at least yet) nationally. Further, unlike Nixon he was an easy target to the Democrats’ ‘rich man’s candidate’ propaganda and had to cope with the fresh memory of George W. Bush’s inept reign.
There was an ‘umbilical cord’, Nixon reckoned, connecting a candidate to the party base where the money and manpower came from. One must not sever it when taking the necessary steps to the centre. Presently, it would appear these two poles are so wide apart that going from one to the other is virtually impossible, at least without receiving serious battle scars. But things could change once more. If only a moderate presidential hopeful could survive the selection process, he would probably have a much better chance of making it to the White House.