It is a fact of life that perception is often more important than reality. This is especially so in politics, where people can be dogged by impressions even when they are completely untrue.
A classic example is the notion that former Vice President Dan Quayle is stupid, a view still widely held that I know to be false, having worked with him dating back to his days in the Senate. Nevertheless, once this idea took root, it became impossible to dislodge. Everything Quayle did was interpreted through this prism, magnifying any mistake he made, no matter how small.
I believe that President Bush is in danger of creating a perception about himself that may prove equally hard to eradicate if it is allowed to continue. That is the view that he is "Nixonian," having an approach toward politics and policy paralleling that of Richard Nixon. It is characterized by a willingness to subordinate everything to one's re-election -- to say and do anything to advance this goal, with no concern whatsoever for the long-term consequences.
I first discussed this equivalence back in August, after hearing Rush Limbaugh mention it and reading a July 7 column by William Safire in The New York Times. Since then, a number of commentators have noticed a similarity between the two presidents. On Oct. 20, Newsweek columnist Bob Samuelson pointed out that the two showed an equal obsessiveness with getting the economy up at all cost. In particular, he sees both as willing to run far larger budget deficits than justified by economic conditions.
Jacqueline Doherty of Barron's pointed to "eerie parallels" between Nixon and Bush on Nov. 17, which "suggest to some sage observers that the Bush administration's efforts to stimulate the economy will lead to similar sorry ends." The last point refers not to resignation, but to stagflation, that awful combination of slow growth and high inflation that characterized the economy of the 1970s.
Newsday columnist Jim Pinkerton noted that there were similarities between Vietnam and Iraq on Nov. 18. He pointed out that Bush and Nixon both promised an early end to American involvement by turning over peacekeeping duties to local authorities. At the same time, they continued to promise "victory" in their respective conflicts. This allowed them simultaneously to appeal to hawks and doves.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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