Defining Nixon down

DEFINING NIXON DOWN…. Republicans and a few too many political reporters seem to have decided on a new attack meme for the week: President Obama reminds them of Nixon.

ABC News’ “The Note” is pushing the line today. Fox News pushed it yesterday. The Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus is on board, too.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) gave a speech on the floor questioning whether Obama is “Nixon-fying” the White House, and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who actually worked for Nixon, delivered his own speech on this earlier today.

“Based upon that experience and my 40 years since then in and out of public life, I want to make what I hope will be taken as a friendly suggestion to President Obama and his White House: Don’t create an enemies list,” Alexander said.

Describing the actions of Vice President Spiro Agnew and Nixon operative Chuck Colson, Alexander said he sees “symptoms of this same kind of animus developing in the Obama administration.”

Alexander read off a list of examples he says support his contention, including: a reported effort by the White House to marginalize the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a supposed effort by the Health and Human Services Department to put a “gag order” on the insurer Humana, the White House move to take on Fox News, Obama’s repeated criticisms of banks and investment houses, his alleged “taking names” of “bondholders who resisted the GM and Chrysler bailouts,” and the president’s move to make insurers the bogeyman of the health care debate.

While I don’t doubt this will make for weeks of breathless speculation on Fox News, and give a wide variety of pundits endless entertainment, that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.

The most obvious problem here is that Republicans are defining Nixonian tactics down. In effect, Alexander argued this morning that the White House’s opponents and detractors will go after the president and his team, but if they respond in any way, they’re necessarily acting in ways similar to the disgraced 37th president.

Look at Alexander’s list. Is the White House pushing back against the Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to derail the administration’s agenda? Sure, what’s wrong with that? Did the White House impose a “gag order” on Humana? Of course not, that’s absurd. Is the White House pointing out that Fox News is an arm of the Republican Party? Yep, as well it should. Has the president criticized financial institutions that brought the global economy to the brink of a depression? Yes, but I’m not sure what’s wrong with that. Has the White House criticized an insurance industry that screwed over its customers and continues to fight against sensible reform efforts? You bet, but again, that’s a good thing.

Alexander, Gregg, and assorted political reporters make it seem as if the White House should be a non-partisan, non-political, take-punches-but-don’t-respond entity. In other words, Obama and his team are expected to just lose every fight, and take every criticism. To do anything else leads to Nixon comparisons.

It’s possible the political world has a very short memory, but it’s worth remembering, as Eric Boehlert does, that Nixon’s White House “declared war on his enemies (including news outlets), and used the full power of the federal government to exact his bouts of revenge.”

When Nixon didn’t like a news outlet, he directed federal prosecutors to investigate journalists, including going through their taxes. Nixon assembled actual enemies lists, and used the power of his office to target and try to destroy his adversaries.

That any serious person would compare these tactics to routine political efforts at the White House is insane.