Below is my column in USA Today on the striking similarities between Richard Nixon and Hillary Clinton, particularly with regard to the staffers surrounding them. Both tended to blame others about being, to paraphrase Nixon, “kicked around.” However, there are deeper and rather disturbing patterns emerging that are shared by the two leaders in my view.
It has taken almost 50 years, but the Democrats have finally found their inner Nixon. Make no mistake about it: Hillary Clinton is the most Nixonian figure in the post-Watergate period. Indeed, Democrats appear to have reached the type of moral compromise that Nixon waited, unsuccessfully, for Republicans to accept: Some 71% of Democrats want Clinton to run even if indicted.
While Obama could be criticized for embracing Nixon’s imperial presidency model, his personality could not be more different from his predecessor. Clinton however is the whole Nixonian package. On a policy level, her predilection for using executive and military power is even coupled with praise for (and from) Nixon’s secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. However, it is on a personality level that the comparison is so striking and so unnerving. Clinton, like Nixon, is known to be both secretive and evasive. She seems to have a compulsive resistance to simply acknowledging conflicting facts or changes in position. She only makes admissions against interest when there is no alternative to acknowledging the truth in a controversy.
Clinton’s history of changing positions and spinning facts is now legendary. Indeed, a video entitled “Hillary Clinton lying for 13 minutes straight” has become an Internet sensation with millions of viewers. Polls show Clinton with record lows for her perceived honesty and trustworthiness. (In fairness, Trump fares little better). Clinton seems entirely comfortable denying facially true facts. For example, she spent much of a year assuring the public that she was fully cooperating with investigators into her use of an unsecure server for her communications as secretary of State. Indeed, she used her claimed cooperation as the reason that she would not answer more questions. When the State Department Inspector General issued its highly critical report on the scandal, many were shocked to learn that Clinton not only refused to speak at all with investigators but so did her top aides. Where Clinton repeatedly said that her use was allowed by the State Department, the report said that the rule was clearly violated, she never received approval for such a security breach and that a personal server would never have been accepted.
Of course, politicians are not known for their allegiance to the truth, and Clinton may be a standout in that group, but she is hardly unique among her peers. However, that tendency is often checked by a staff that forces politicians to recognize reality and even the truth of controversy.
The problem is that Clinton has surrounded herself with aides who have demonstrated an unflagging loyalty and veneration. Take Huma Abedin, perhaps her most influential aide. Abedin described her first meeting on the “Call Your Girlfriend” podcast: “She walked by and she shook my hand and our eyes connected, and I just remember having this moment where I thought; ‘Wow, this is amazing. And … it just inspired me. You know, I still remember the look on her face. And it’s funny, and she would probably be so annoyed that I say this, but I remember thinking; ‘Oh my God, she’s so beautiful and she’s so little!'”
Adebin’s breathless account is similar to communications of other aides who fawn in emails to Clinton over her speeches, dress and demeanor. In the released emails, former National Security Council adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall asked that an aide pass along her praise of Clinton’s performance at a hearing:
“If you get a chance — please tell HRC that she was a ROCK STAR yesterday. Everything about her ‘performance’ was what makes her unique, beloved, and destined for even more greatness. She sets a standard that lesser mortals can only dream of emulating.”
(In 2014, Sherwood-Randall was made the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy.) Emails from other close aides like Lanny Davis and Sidney Blumenthal show the same level of constant stroking and exaltation.
It is certainly true that Washington’s powerful have always attracted a circle of sycophants. Indeed, the most powerful figures often seem to need continual stroking from underlings and there can be a race to the bottom as aides outdo each other in their adoring rhetoric.
What is so concerning is that Clinton seems to invite such expressions of absolute loyalty and reverence. The question is whether there is a John Dean willing to walk into her office and tell her of a cancer growing within the White House. After years of scandals and investigations, Clinton has distilled a team down to the truest believers who have little difficulty repeating truth-defying spins or refusing to cooperate with investigators.
Indeed, recently, top Clinton aides took the notable step of agreeing to be represented by the same lawyers in both the criminal and civil investigations into the email scandal. That is a move that can greatly assure a more uniform account in the testimony of Clinton aides. It is also a move that rejects potential conflicts between aides in both their recollections and interests. In the most recent depositions, that joint counsel instructed key aide Cheryl Mills to simply refuse to answer most of the questions about the reasons and arrangements made for the use of a personal server at the State Department. So far Clinton’s top aides have remained a uniform front.
It is hard not to think of Nixon aides like John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman in the “palace guard” surrounding Nixon. They should be a cautionary tale for all of these aides. Ehrlichman would later look back and marvel at the loss of his own sense of self and independence: “I, in effect, abdicated my moral judgments and turned them over to somebody else.”
My greatest concern is not that a President Clinton will continue a pattern of false statements but that her aides will gradually forget the difference between what is true and what is not.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.
127 thoughts on “Hillary Clinton and The New Nixonians”
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How could anyone not compare Clinton to Nixon for her personal insecurities, her desire to be praised, her need to lash out at any and everyone who challenges her in any way, and her temper?
She has a long, established history, thoroughly documented, of being a moody monster unfit for any job of significance. Just look at the filthy animal she’s been married to all these years. How can Americans, how can anyone, be familiar with her person and not be terrified at the prospects of her presidency?
We are between a loud mouth, an undisciplined, immature, brazen doofus and a New Nixon. With over 300 million people to choose from, how we ended up like this points to a terrible failure in our electoral process. It is too late this time around. Was this our last chance to correct the system? With these two birdbrains our only choices, I hope not.
“…but the virtual radio silence on the Clinton/Laureate story is surprising.” Turley
If I had half the brains of Turley, I’d be a multi-billionaire and President of the World. To be surprised at the radio silence on the Clinton/Laureate story proves that this outstanding professor and highly respected legal mind, justifiably so, is blind to the realities of media bias.
CBS 60 Minutes
“Kroft: I’m assuming from your answer that you’re categorically denying that you ever had an affair with Gennifer Flowers.
Bill Clinton: I said that before. And so has she.”
And the follow up to his categorical denial was as thorough as the media’s coverage of Watergate.
Following are excerpts from the interview of Clinton and his wife, Hillary, by Steve Kroft of CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
Kroft: Who is Gennifer Flowers? You know her.
Bill Clinton: Oh, yes.
Kroft: How do you know her? How would you describe your relationship?
Bill Clinton: Very limited, but until this, you know, friendly but limited . . . .
Kroft: Was she a friend, an acquaintance? Does your wife know her?
Hillary Clinton: Oh, sure.
Bill Clinton: Yes. She was an acquaintance, I would say a friendly acquaintance . . . .
Kroft: She is alleging and has described in some detail in the supermarket tabloid what she calls a 12-year affair with you.
Bill Clinton: That allegation is false.
I love this. “Hillary Clinton: When this woman first got caught up in these charges, I felt as I’ve felt about all of these women: that they . . . had just been minding their own business and they got hit by a meteor . . . . I felt terrible about what was happening to them. Bill talked to this woman every time she called, distraught, saying her life was going to be ruined, and . . . he’d get off the phone and tell me that she said sort of wacky things, which we thought were attributable to the fact that she was terrified.”
This Mount Holyoke graduate felt terrible for the women who told the press about this reprobate’s behavior? As if it wasn’t her husband’s depravity that led to their accusations?
Ms. Flowers was terrified? She was terrified? How about slick and that ding-dong that won’t quit? That the American people could be so dumb not to see what these two delinquents have perpetrated on them, that, my friends, is terrifying. That suggests that we are in grave danger to collapsing within for our moral lapses and ineptitude and from without for our enemies relentlessly seek our destruction through any perceived or real weakness.
Got to love the liberal press. Here is our boy editorializing on the biggest night of this criminal’s hoax on America, “Kroft: I think most Americans would agree that it’s very admirable that you’ve stayed together – that you’ve worked your problems out and that you’ve seemed to reach some sort of understanding and arrangement.”
“Admirable” Got that? Kroft tells this lying, criminal, conspiring duo that it’s admirable they have worked out their problems. Their understanding consisted of a back room brokered deal: she would stick with this serial sexual assaulter of women, lie through her teeth for him, and in return she’d get his support when it came time for her to get elected.
“Bill Clinton: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. You’re looking at two people who love each other. This is not an arrangement or an understanding. This is a marriage. That’s a very different thing.” Sure it is Bill, you pathetic, slimy, coward.
Forget what he says. His pattern of pursuing and trying to pork everything in a dress, nevertheless, only continued to spiral out of control, costing tax payers a fortune, inflicting untold humiliation upon his family, his daughter, our nation, his closest advisers and supporters, and adding to America’s declining prestige. That he continues his all out campaign to take women as objects is further evidence that he is nothing more than a vile, disgusting pig. (no offense to pigs.)
“Hillary Clinton: You know, I’m not sitting here – some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I’m sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together. And you know, if that’s not enough for people, then heck, don’t vote for him.”
She loves, respects and honors a sexual assaulter, a pathological lying scumbag, a little punk who deserves to be in prison for a long stretch. With discernment like that, we want her to lead our nation for the next 4 years? Trump is a horse’s rear end, BTW.
Comparing the JFK-LBJ and Clinton-Bush continuities in their decisions for the Vietnam and Iraq interventions, using your account of the grounds for the Vietnam War, on the score of legal authority, policy, and practical measures, Bush scores higher on continuity of legal authority, LBJ scores slightly higher on the continuity of policy, and the score is mixed on practical measures.
On legal authority, all Presidents have the Article II war powers.
With Iraq, Congressional authorization for invasive enforcement of Iraq’s compliance with all UNSCR 660-series resolutions with “the use of all necessary means” (PL 102-190) had been in force since 1991. Public Law 107-243 reiterated and updated the standing law and policy for the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement.
In contrast, with Vietnam before Public Law 88-408, there wasn’t a war suspended with a comprehensively conditioned ceasefire that was enforced under a standing declaration-of-war-equivalent Congressional authorization. Apparently, JFK and LBJ acted to enforce the SEATO treaty under the Article II war powers without a corresponding Article I authorization – which actually is normal.
In other words, Iraq’s status was restored to the Gulf War with its material breach of the Gulf War ceasefire, while the US escalated to a new war with North Vietnam while upholding US obligations under the SEATO treaty.
On policy, Bush carried forward the ceasefire enforcement from Clinton.
But after ODF, with the future of the UNSCR 687 disarmament procedure unknown, Clinton had set up an intelligence indication-based ‘hair’ trigger for enforcement as an ad hoc substitute for the inspection compliance-based trigger for enforcement. With Clinton’s post-ODF adjustment, since the casus belli was Iraq’s noncompliance and the Saddam regime never cured its material breach, Bush could have gone to war with Iraq directly based on the fact record and indicators of proscribed activity, ie, the “continued violations of its [Iraq’s] obligations” (UNSCR 1441). Instead of a straight continuation from Clinton, though, Bush opted to walk back Clinton’s post-ODF adjustment by restoring the inspection compliance-based trigger for Saddam’s “final opportunity to comply” (UNSCR 1441).
In contrast, LBJ carried forward JFK’s enforcement of US obligations under the SEATO treaty apparently without a walk-back on policy.
That being said, the circumstances are too different to fairly contrast LBJ and Bush on the policy score. Instead, Bush’s choice to walk back the policy from Clinton speaks to the compliance purpose of the Iraq intervention.
On practical measures, it’s a mixed comparison.
Aside from monitoring and some interdiction of Iraq’s violations, the counter-fire responding to Saddam’s increased attacks on the coalition craft enforcing the UNSCR 688 no-fly zones, and the various regime-change activity per PL 105-338 – “We are deepening our engagement with the forces of change in Iraq” (Clinton, 02AUG99) – the practical military measures after ODF amounted to positioning for a practical escalation corresponding with Clinton’s post-ODF adjustment.
To wit, President Clinton, December 18, 1998:
President Clinton, May 19, 1999:
In contrast, apparently the practical US engagement with Vietnam was considerable and intensive at the time that PL 88-408 was enacted, including US-RVN actions around the Gulf of Tonkin incidents.
For the Iraq intervention, OIF was a progressive set up, if delayed practical escalation to the ultimate enforcement step from the penultimate enforcement step, ODF. There was no escalation of legal authority nor policy objective between Clinton and Bush. In terms of operative procedure, Bush walked back the policy from Clinton’s post-ODF adjustment.
For the Vietnam intervention, the policy objective appears the same between JFK and LBJ. The legal authority of PL 88-408 was an escalation since there wasn’t a standing Congressional authorization analogous to PL 102-1. That’s not to say JFK and LBJ’s prior actions with Vietnam were illegal; the prior US actions with Vietnam were undertaken with Article II war powers while upholding US obligations under the SEATO treaty.
Unlike the pause between ODF and OIF, there was no delay of practical escalation while upholding the SEATO treaty. Much has been made in the politics about the practical escalation with Vietnam following PL 88-408, but from a historical perspective, the practical escalation appears to be normal, no more severe than the escalations that followed Task Force Smith in the Korean War, the Doolittle Raid in WW2, and other analogs from our military history.
Fix 2: The resolution addressed executive and legislative procedure per the Article [I] and Article II war powers.
Fix: The Constitution is, of course, a higher authority than law, and the Constitutional issue of the War Powers Resolution and its context, the relationship between the Article I and Article II war [powers], is unsettled.
“I think the War Powers Act, c. 1973, effectively put stringent limitations on any further American military operations in Vietnam or Cambodia.”
Actually, 50 USC 1541 didn’t address “American military operations in Vietnam or Cambodia” at all.
The resolution addressed executive and legislative procedure per the Article and Article II war powers.
The Constitution is, of course, a higher authority than law, and the Constitutional issue of the War Powers Resolution and its context, the relationship between the Article I and Article II war authorities, is unsettled. The standing Presidential position is an Article I declaration is not a required element of an Article II action and the War Powers Resolution infringes on Article II and thus cannot obligate the President.
Presidential cooperation with the reporting requirements of the War Powers Resolution has been approached as a courtesy that has usually, but not always been respected by the President, rather than an obligation.
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