Friday, April 08, 2011

The Ghost of Nixon

More than thirty-five year ago, in the summer of 1974, I was finishing a Masters degree at the University of North Carolina. I lived in a student residence -- a high rise affair -- where, every morning, I could walk out on my balcony and look down at a parking lot whose cars bore licence plates from all over the United States. There was always one car which caught my eye. It was a green Ford from Massachusetts, with a bumper sticker which read, "Don't Blame Me."

The reference was to the fact that, in 1972, Massachusetts was the only state not to vote for Richard Nixon. The Watergate story -- thanks to Woodward and Bernstein -- had begun to come out during that election. The Nixon campaign team had authorized burglaries into Democratic Party Headquarters. Nixon had ordered the IRS to harass his enemies; and the FBI had begun to look into the affairs of people who did not support the president.

On the evening of August 8th, I was putting the finishing touches on my thesis. I took a break and walked down to the basement -- to the Common Room -- where every student in the dorm had gathered to watch Nixon give his resignation speech. When it was over, I walked back to my room, where some of my neighbours had opened a bottle of wine and were singing the Hallelujah Chorus. I had followed the Watergate Affair. But I was a visitor, so I kept my opinions to myself. I smiled, said that I was a Canadian, and I asked why the celebration. They -- there were about six in the group -- stopped, whooped and one guy said, slowly and distinctly, "Because we finally got rid of the son of a bitch!"

I have been thinking of that night as news reports of RCMP officers throwing people out of Harper rallies have come to light. It would appear that someone in that organization has been carefully screening Facebook pages. Then there is the story that Wild Bill Elliott, now Commissioner of the RCMP, issued a security clearance to Bruce Carson -- Harper's chief adviser in the PMO -- knowing that Carson had been convicted on five counts.

Harper's response has been, "When the room is full, some people have to leave." And, he says, "bureaucrats" vetted Mr. Carson; he had nothing to do with it. Harper is as believable as Nixon was when he proclaimed, "I am not a crook!" The evidence has been mounting for five years. Stephen Harper threatens Canada's democratic institutions. And, like Nixon, Harper's acquaintance with the truth is tenuous. Michael Ignatieff has it right. He "wouldn't recognize the truth if it walked up and shook his hand."

The question is, are Canadians going to place their trust in this man? If they do, they will regret their decision. And some night -- in the not too distant future -- they will celebrate his departure. Until then, there may be run on bumper stickers which read, "Don't Blame Me."

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.


The Mound of Sound said...

Owen, I really must defend Richard Milhouse Nixon. You besmirch his legacy by equating Harper with him.

Nixon was indeed "a crook" but he was also a progressive Republican forcing through a lot of legislation that carried on Kennedy's civil rights initiatives, advancing women's rights, building a stronger welfare programme and introducing early environmental legislation.

David Gergen who was a Nixon advisor (and served Ford, Reagan and Clinton), said he severed his Republican roots and turned Democrat when he came to realize that, in the modern, uber-right GOP, a guy like Nixon would be considered a socialist and totally unfit for presidential nomination.

I think Nixon might find Harper repugnant. I do.

Owen Gray said...

I take your point, Mound. With a little more give and take, Nixon might have given Americans health care.

The problem is that, like Nixon, Harper is paranoid. He sees enemies everywhere. Such men -- regardless of their platforms -- are dangerous.

Kirbycairo said...

It is funny that you have made this comparison because I have made the same one several times on my blog. I find it interesting that Nixon won an election with 60% after the Watergate break-in. And we now have a PM who looks to win after being found in contempt. I don't think we are the only ones picking up on this similarity.

Owen Gray said...

We're not the only ones, Kirby.

Bob Rae -- who as a kid used to deliver Nixon's newspaper when his father was posted to Washington -- has drawn that comparison, as has Lawrence Martin, who has acknowledged that the title for his latest book came from Rick Pearlstein's Nixonland.

I had hoped that a large segment of the voting public could see the similarities. But memories appear to be very short.