Stephen Harper has invited comparisons with Richard Nixon ever since he came to Ottawa. Lawrence Martin has admitted that the genesis of his latest book, Harperland, came from Rick Pearlstein's seminal study of the late president, Nixonland. Bob Rae, who used to deliver newspapers to Nixon, has also drawn the comparison.
In a recent op-ed in the Winnipeg Free Press, Frances Russell again brings up the similarities between the two men. To underscore her argument, she refers to an article in The Guardian by Trent University historian Dimitry Anastakis and journalist Jeet Heer:
In an article published in the British newspaper The Guardian in April, 2008, Anastakis and Heer wrote that, like Nixon, Harper displays "utter contempt" for public institutions. "In fact, it's not a stretch to say that Harper sees many Canadian institutions -- Elections Canada being simply his latest target -- as illegitimate... Canadians have never had a prime minister who has literally made his career attacking and undermining the legitimacy of Canadian institutions."
Anastakis and Heer note Pulitzer prize-winning U.S. historian Garry Wills once observed Nixon wanted to be president "not to govern the nation but to undermine the government. The Nixon presidency was one long counterinsurgency against key American institutions."
Wills' insights into Nixon have always rung true. He was brilliant and paranoid. He saw enemies everywhere and devoted all his effort to destroying those he felt had slighted him. Times were different then. The Republican Party had not gone off the deep end. They cooperated with legal and congressional investigations into Watergate. In the end, it was Senator Barry Goldwater who led a group of senators to the White House to tell Nixon that his lease on the place was up.
Stephen Harper will test this country's institutions -- if he doesn't destroy them first.