Friday, August 06, 2004
Maybe I should title this one "Chutzpah". I mean, it's a brash suggestion, I admit. On the one hand, Kerry supporters are not going to agree that the Senator from Massachusetts, leading (for now) in the race for the White House, has anything in common with the man most-often blamed for sullying the Oval Office (although WJ Clinton certainly made an effort to claim that distinction for himself). Republicans, on the other hand, are not going to be willing to consider John Kerry qualified to be compared to a 2-term President, who quite literally changed the nation and the world in his work. The more I look at these two men, however, the more I see a common road to both accomplishment and denouement, and I am not sure Kerry can or would do anything to change his course, even if he recognized the direction.
The similarities, when you look, are striking.
Richard Nixon was a commissioned Navy officer. John Kerry was a commissioned Navy officer.
Nixon served in the Pacific. Kerry served in the Pacific.
Nixon was elected to Congress, at a young age. Kerry was elected to the Senate at a comparably young age.
Nixon became known to many Americans for his role in the House Unamerican Activities Committee investigation of Alger Hiss. Kerry became known to many Americans for his testimony against the leadership and officers of the U.S. Military in the "Winter Soldier" antiwar campaign. As the years pass, both of these occasions are viewed by most historians as dishonorable behavior by the Congress of the United States.
Both men felt that the best way to accomplish strategic goals, required the United States to dialogue with their enemies. In Nixon's case, that meant sending private envoys for quiet talks. In Kerry's case, it meant personally meeting with America's enemies.
Both men, for sometimes good reasons, but also often foolishly, showed a stubborn streak, refusing to listen to anyone who didn't already agree with them.
Nixon believed that the North Vietnamese would honor the cease-fire, because the U.S. would support South Vietnam. Kerry believed that a North Vietnamese victory would be relatively peaceful. Both men were wrong. When Congress failed to maintain arms supplies to South Vietnam, North Vietnam invaded. Accurate totals are not kept, but the number of people killed in Southeast Asia during the first year after the Communists invaded is estimated at roughly 2 million people. Approximately 30,000 South Vietnamese troops were massacred the week after Saigon fell, on April 30, 1975.
It turns out that Nixon had heard of Kerry, though it's very unlikely the two ever met. Sean Robins documented a discussion between President Nixon and Chuck Colson, retrieved from one of those notorious White House tapes:
(April 28, 1971, 4:33 p.m. Telephone call from Charles Colson to Richard Nixon. )
"COLSON: This fellow Kerry that they had on last week (referring to a televised appearance by Kerry).
COLSON: He turns out to be really quite a phony.
NIXON: Well, he is sort of a phony, isn't he?
COLSON: Yes. . . . He was in Vietnam a total of four months. . . . He's politically ambitious and just looking for an issue.
COLSON: He came back a hawk and became a dove when he saw the political opportunities. "
Nixon's fall was anything but unpredictable. His first embarassment was the scandal in which the VP candidate was accused of taking bribes. While Nixon handled the challenge effectively and eloquently, the charge would be remembered later as the first indication of the man's character. Later, Nixon was affected by the collapse of Senator Joseph McCarthy, when many of his charges proved to be baseless. After he lost the Presidential race to Kennedy, Nixon failed to win the office of Governor of California, and he gave up politics. For a little while.
As for Kerry, his road has had its potholes, as well. When Kerry left Vietnam, he claimed it was because he had served valiantly, and his three Purple Hearts made it necessary to come home. But Admiral Zumwalt had a different impression. "We had virtually to straitjacket him to keep him under control", the CNO said, to prevent Kerry from killing noncombatant civilians and acting recklessly. Other Navy officers concur, saying that Kerry was "told" to leave Vietnam. When Kerry first ran for office, he lost miserably, largely due to his transparent ambition. Later, when Kerry ran for the Senate, he needed to avoid his antiwar past, and so claimed that the medals he announced he threw way in 1971, he in fact never gave up. Kerry's conflicts between his statements and his history are striking, and would require several posts of their own to do them justice. But like Nixon, Kerry never lost sight of the prize, in their case the White House.
Many people remember the Watergate scandal vaguely. But many do not realize that while the U.S. House of Representatives was preparing articles of Impeachment against Nixon, they never proceeded (because he resigned), and these nine articles were all built on Nixon's actions and words after the Watergate break-in. That is, there was never anything to be held against President Nixon, until he began to cover-up the break-in. If Richard Nixon had told the Justice Department, 'do your job', and had simply allowed the investigations to proceed normally, while he might have been embarassed by the results, there was nothing to implicate the President. However, Nixon's pride would not allow him to let such an investigation proceed. He was aware of his 'enemies', and he was contantly at war with them. In the end, Nixon's downfall came because he was unwilling to consider any opinion but his own, or to evaluate his actions on a more objective standard.
John Kerry is exhibiting many of these same characteristics. He claimed to speak for many Vietnam Veterans, as a member of a group which included fake veterans. But today, in spite of the evidence, Kerry won't admit this was a mistake. He claimed American soldiers had committed war crimes, with "fullawareness" by officers, but when confronted later with the falsity of these charges, he denied ever making them. Kerry voted against the first Gulf War, but now claims he supported it. These are not issues where a change of mind is in accordance with developed belief, but a stubborn refusal to admit errors and mistakes, and is exactly in line with the stiff-necked personality of Richard Nixon.
Maybe John Kerry will not win this election. Personally, I think he will lose. But his character is such, that I would not expect him to go away even so, and if it should ever happen that Senator Kerry becomes President Kerry, some little event, so innocuous as to be unbelieveable, will be waiting to trip him up. Or, to be more accurate, waiting for him to trip himself up.