That cackling you're hearing comes from the chorus of Bush critics (an all-inclusive term that accounts for spittle-flecked bloggers and moderate liberal finger-waggers alike) giddy over Bush's basement-level poll numbers. Several bloggers have gone to the trouble of showing side-by-side charts of Bush's approval rating following close behind former President Richard Nixon's. At the end of the trail is the X-marks-the-spot treasure trove "Nixon resigns."
Now, there's a great deal that's wrong with the comparison. Nixon didn't resign because his poll numbers were low. The causation worked the other way. His poll numbers were low because he was involved in an impeachment-level scandal that prompted him to resign. I know there are many Bush-haters clicking their ruby slippers together about how impeachment is around the corner, but let's keep at least one foot on terra firma.
There are other problems with the comparison. The economy was a mess toward the end of Nixon's term. It's going gangbusters now. As bad as the Iraq war may be going, it hardly compares to the bloodshed of Vietnam. And as loud as the antiwar movement may be today, it amounts to little more than a historical re-enactment of the antiwar protests of the 1960s and 1970s.
But there is one area where we can make somewhat useful comparisons between Nixon and Bush: their status as liberal Republicans.
Nixon has a fascinating reputation as one of the most right-wing presidents of the 20th century. This impression is largely a product of the fact that few presidents have been more hated by the left. But simply because the left despises you doesn't mean you're particularly right-wing. If LBJ were alive, you could ask him about this. Or just take a look at poor Joe Lieberman.
The truth is, Nixon was the last of the New Deal-era liberal presidents. He sponsored and signed the legislation creating the Environmental Protection Agency, the Water Quality Improvement Act and the Endangered Species Act. He oversaw the establishment of Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Nixon created the Philadelphia Plan, the springboard for racial quotas; pushed for Title IX (the women's "equality" law); and hired Leon Panetta (later Bill Clinton's chief of staff) as his director of the office of civil rights.
Nixon pushed aggressively for national health insurance that would cover 100 percent of the nation's poor children. He increased federal spending on health and education programs by more than 50 percent and massively boosted spending on the National Endowment for Humanities. He tried to increase welfare with his Family Assistance Plan and Child Development Act.
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