SYNDICATED COLUMN: Barack Obama Isn’t Half the Man of Richard Nixon

Forty years ago, President Richard M. Nixon announced that he would resign effective the next day.

At the time, aside from a tiny minority of dead-enders and a few desultory Congressional Republicans, an exhausted nation had arrived at a consensus that Nixon had to go. Politics had become too toxic, distrust of government too profound, and – most of all – the seriousness of the president’s crimes couldn’t be ignored. Judicial sanction wasn’t in Nixon’s future — Jerry Ford’s controversial pardon ensured that — but the ultimate political punishment, impeachment, seemed like the absolute minimum sanction in order to send the message that no man, no matter how powerful, was above the law. Nixon’s resignation, Ford assured Americans and the media agreed, proved that the system works.

Looking back now at what felt like a national cataclysm, however, we probably ought to dig up Tricky Dicky’s bones and beg him to accept our big fat apology.

Students of the Watergate scandal that led to that surreal day in August 1974 — the third day, expunged from history for fear of a repeat performance, when great crowds surrounded the White House, demanding that Nixon depart— will recall that it wasn’t the botched 1972 break-in at Democratic national headquarters that did Nixon in, but the cover-up.

By today’s standards, however, Nixon’s efforts to protect his henchmen, including his screwing around with the FBI investigation that led to an article of impeachment for obstruction of justice, look positively penny-ante, more worthy of a traffic ticket than a high crime or misdemeanor. Obstruction of justice, scandalous and impeachable just 40 years ago, has become routine.

Case study: Obama’s cover-up of torture.

Much bigger crime.

Much longer cover-up.

Much less of a problem.

Five and a half years after taking office, President Obama finally admitted what informed citizens have known since 2002: the United States tortures.

Obama has been covering up Bush-era torture throughout his tenure. (Not the act of torture by Americans, which has been widely reported and has inspired best-selling books and hit movies, but the governmental admission that attracts widespread attention and eventually creates pressure for action.) And even now, after finally admitting that the U.S. ranks with Myanmar and North Korea when it comes to this most basic of human rights, Obama refuses to authorize a formal investigation and prosecution of America’s torturers.

Bush’s torturers shouldn’t be hard to find: many of them are still working for the U.S. government, either force-feeding hunger-striking POWs at Gitmo or working for one of the branches specially exempted from Obama’s “no torture” order.

“When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe – and I think any fair-minded person would believe – were torture, we crossed the line,” Obama told a press conference last week.

Better late than never. But not much better. Because, like so much of Obama’s rhetoric, they’re empty words.

Normally, when one crosses a line – is there a more clearly disgusting line than torture? – one faces consequences. Thanks to Obama, however, no one from the CIA, US military or other American government employee has ever suffered so much as a 1% pay cut as the result of drowning detainees, many of whom were released because they never committed any crime whatsoever, sodomizing kidnap victims with flashlights and other objects, subjecting people to extremes of heat, cold and sleep deprivation – not even for murdering detainees or driving them to suicide at American-run torture centers like Guantánamo concentration camp.

Though Obama had repeatedly promised throughout the 2008 presidential campaign that he would investigate war crimes under the George W. Bush administration and prosecute anyone found to have committed torture, soon after moving into the White House in 2009 Obama backtracked and infamously said that it was time to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards” – in other words, there would never be a serious investigation.

That promise, he kept.

“At the CIA,” Obama said in 2009, “you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.”

The president didn’t explain why causing concern to torturers would be bad.

Lest there be any doubt about his intentions to kowtow to the national security police state, Obama even traveled to CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia to reassure nervous torturers that they would have nothing to fear from him. In 2011, Obama’s Justice Department officially exonerated “anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees” — i.e., pretty much every U.S. government torturer.

Even now, while Obama is supposedly admitting that torture happened, he uses hokey countrified verbal constructions to diminish the horror while making excuses for those who committed them: “I understand why it happened. I think it’s important, when we look back, to recall how afraid people were when the Twin Towers fell,” Obama said, as though there had been a universal demand for indiscriminate torture against teenage goatherds from Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job those folks had.”

The torturers, you see, were the victims.

Incredibly, Obama added the following nugget to last week’s some-folks-tortured-some-folks statement: “The character of our country has to be measured in part, not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.”

Richard Nixon covered up political dirty tricks and got impeached for it; Barack Obama is covering up torture and continues to authorize it with impunity.

It hardly seems fair. But when we measure Nixon’s character against that of Obama’s, we’ll take note of the one who finally did the right thing and resigned.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)



23 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Barack Obama Isn’t Half the Man of Richard Nixon

  1. Exactly right. I was thinking about this the other day, how Nixon’s crimes were penny-ante compared to the crimes of recent Presidents, Obama included.

    Obama will go down as the “all talk” President. I can’t think of another that was such an empty suit as Obama.

    As for torture, if our character is measured by what we do when things are hard — we failed, and failed miserably. But as usual, Obama says one thing and then does the exact opposite.

    “You can keep your doctor!” (No, you can’t)
    “We need to balance surveillance and security!” (Domestic surveillance has increased exponentially under Obama).
    “We’ll prosecute war criminals” (No, we won’t. We’ll continue to torture).
    “I’ll close Guantanamo!” (Nope. Blame everyone but himself).

    And on and on. The list is endless with this gargantuan fraud named Obama.

  2. As I posted on Ted’s other thread:

    My main concern about all this is the fact that nobody has been held accountable or has been “brought to justice” for the atrocities committed by the U.S.

    Is there nothing that can be done in the name of the People to get Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, etal. before the World Court?????

    Led me add Obama and other criminals under his command. 🙁

    • I hate to sound like one of the maniacs, but I think it’s time to impeach Obama. Geneva Conventions violations would demonstrate violation of his oath of office for failure to support the Constitution.

      • Damn! As bad as I hate to admit it, you could very well be right!
        But where does that leave the cadre whom I have listed? I think they need to be in prison, at the very least.

      • Never happen – at least not with anything important. In order for them to do so, congress would have to acknowledge that murder, torture, et al are illegal, and that would open up the door for revisiting Bush & Cheney’s involvement.

        Ain’t gonna happen. Instead, they’ll impeach him for not implementing a law they created and then opposed.

  3. How does it feel to have at one time supported this Ayn Rand villain made flesh?

    • Fleming,

      Many of the people who voted for Obama the first time did so for good reasons. The people who voted for him the second time? Clearly, they weren’t reading the newspapers. I wanted to take my vote back (I only voted him the first time) when Bush and his coconspirators were allowed to skate. And when “Obamacare” turned into a cut-paste from the Republican Play Book and handed huge profits to for-profit insurance companies. And when the Wall Street bankers got away with it. Oh, and this current fiasco with Argentina. Greg Palast recently put out a clear, simple column about the issue. Obama is, again, not acting in a way that does anything to interfere with business’ uncontrolled gorging at the trough. And, again, just like with Gitmo, which the president could have stopped in an afternoon — yes, he could have: it’s called a presidential pardon — Obama is simply sitting there letting the criminals keep going to the bank.

      It took very little time for those of us who were watching what was actually happening to see that Obama was not what was promised.

      The second election? Profoundly saddening because it basically demonstrated to me that the Democratic Party had finally reached the point where it was irredeemably corrupted (the Republicans got there with Reagan, the corruption completed with Dubya. The Dems started rotting from within with Bill Clinton — look at NAFTA’s origins — and finished the putrefaction with the election results that put Obama back into office for a second term).

      Sidebar: To the people who are gonna say, “Anyone could have seen that even before the first election. Why, when he was running for the office he …” No. I disagree. Election politics in this country (maybe all countries) have been turned into a laughingstock. “Mr. President. Coke or Pepsi?” “Well, that’s a tough question. …” [wild applause once he’s done.]

      I’m not wed to the Democratic Party. What I’m horrified about is what caused the rise of national parties in the first place. The country was just too damned big to get clear victors in national campaigns. Every region had its own horse in the race. Now, with all the Internet’s speed and all those channels on television? Look at the New York mayoral campaigns. It’s always dozens of fringe candidates who can’t possibly win. EVEN the ones with GOOD ideas — the “rent is too damned high” candidate? He’s ABSOLUTELY right. Can he win? No. He looks like a freakin’ escapee from a mental ward.

      So yes, I still feel good about having voted for Obama the first time. But I feel even better for not having voted for him the second time. When Hillary — the Magic 8-Ball of candidates; just keep trying until you get the answer you want — runs, I will not even entertain the notion of voting for her. There are other, smaller ways in which I can make a real difference (beyond the scope of this forum).

      But I already get a sense that the upcoming election is going to be a huge, hot, gross mess followed by a stunningly low turnout and a landslide victory for one side. If it’s Hill v. some Republican, maybe Christie, Christie will win. And his corruption and penny-ante viciousness will quickly poison the whole of his administration. Hillary? Doesn’t have a hope in hell of winning. Not because she’s a woman. But because she’s a woman who lies about how she feels. Some men fall for that. Maybe almost all men fall for it. But I don’t think any woman does. And once she starts polling badly with women, the contagion will spread and the press will pounce on her. She only holds power while she can continue the lie that she cares. One bad press conference, one tough debate question that traps her in her own contradictions and that’ll be it. The campaign ads to destroy her will be series of clips of herself contradicting herself, not just a little, not just on a few things, but over and over and over.

      And, lastly, the Ayn Rand thing. Ayn Rand’s “masterpiece” is nothing more than a Harlequin romance. Reread Atlas Shrugged. The heroine bags three fantastic men, one after another, each better than the previous one. I’m surprised it doesn’t come with a vibrator.

      Obama was never a Randian construct. Obama is the old school Chicago player with a soupcon of neoconservative maniac.

      • Good points. But the point I was making in regards to Atlas is that so many of the villain speeches come so close to being pulled right off of B.O.’s teleprompter. Or those of most politicians today.

        I strongly suggest you reread yourself sometime. If you can’t make it through the whole thing (and I can’t blame you) look for a chapter called “Miracle Metal”. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

      • Some of it is pretty bananas but some is frighteningly close to what’s happening now.

    • Fleming,

      I’ll give it a try. But the last time I tried to read Atlas, I could only take one chapter.

      • lol. One chapter is all I’m suggesting. English was Rand’s second language and she tried to write in an idiomatic style which required more knowledge of the language than she really had. It’s what she had to say rather than how she said it that’s important.

  4. Nixon picked a fight with the large media organizations, so they took him out. End of story.
    No president has been dumb enough to try that since.

    • Well, that’s a unique version of history.

      So why are the media kowtowing to the Administration in these days?

      • Interesting that you have no idea what I’m referencing. It shouldn’t be a novel notion, if you’ve examined Watergate, Nixon and the media in any depth (which might have been for difficult to do where you live). Yeah the enemies list was indicative of the problem, not central.

        The media is comprised of elites who are themselves linked to other elites in a vast networks. The watergate break-ins were one in a series of much graver crimes with much less-well connected victims, yet the media continued to painstakingly avoid or downplay these scandals, when they covered them at all. Watergate was one of many missteps by Nixon. The Democrats are a huge front for business power and the Watergate break-ins threatened to expose that. But Nixon had made a far graver error. He locked out the media. He tried to go around them and insult it’s elites at every turn. The media elites on his enemies list are among those he planned to screw. This along with other incompetences demonstrated his unreliability to the larger elite sector, and his media insults sealed his fate.

        No president has made that mistake since, not that it would matter much if they had.

      • Media “elite” ?? Ask Ted what his annual income is some day. The people who own the media – yeah sure, but the people actually collecting & disseminating the news are far from ‘elite.’

        If we ever had a ‘liberal media’ – it was destroyed soon after the Nixon admin, bought up by those who wanted to ensure that another Watergate would be downplayed.

        Fast forward thirty years & we have the White House lying about WMDs with the media parroting their every word. No investigation to speak of, by then they were a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party.

      • @ CrazyH –
        Thanks for reinforcing my point.
        (Not to mention that my question about “kowtowing” was completely ignored!) 🙂

      • @derlehrer I was sure my reply covered your questions but now I’m not sure I understand your question about “kowtowing”.

        Do you really think Obama would last two seconds if he stopped being a convenient agent of concentrated power and wealth the way Nixon had? Do you really think his place would be secure if he had on his enemies list chairmen of Fortune 500 companies, distinguished pundits, senior advisers, top Democratic supporters etc etc? If he had attacked the Washington Post the way Nixon did?

      • Ohh! Ohh! I got it! I got it!

        “The number of people who believe that the liberal media exists is proof that it does not.”

        – Kelvin Throop III

      • Trollin’ – Trollin’ – Trollin’
        Keep the troll a-trollin’
        Oh, the fool’s a-rollin’
        Keep the troll a-trollin’
        Not I!

    • Excellent link, thanks. Nixon, Reagan, Bush – treasonous bastards all, but none have ever served time; let alone being offered a blindfold and a final cigarette.

      Interesting parallels between Nixon and Reagan – an ex-senator from California and a governor from California; both taking it upon themselves to negotiate on behalf of a country they hadn’t been elected to lead yet. In both cases acting against the best interests of the country in order to secure that election. Both heralded by the Right as Best. President. Ever.