BUSH VS. NIXON…. At a D.C. screening last night of Frost/Nixon, event organizers held a discussion with some high-profile guests to discuss the Watergate era and its legacy. During the chat, filmmaker Ron Howard argued that George W. Bush’s conduct in office was worse than Richard Nixon’s.

Fox News’ Chris Wallace, not surprisingly, disagreed and toed the party line.

“Richard Nixon’s crimes were committed purely in the interest of his own political gain,” Mr. Wallace told Mr. Howard. […]

“I think to compare what Nixon did, and the abuses of power for pure political self preservation, to George W. Bush trying to protect this country — even if you disagree with rendition or waterboarding — it seems to me is both a gross misreading of history both then and now,” Mr. Wallace said. […]

“It trivializes Nixon’s crimes and completely misrepresents what George W. Bush did. Whatever George W. Bush did was after the savage attack of 9/11, in which 3,000 Americans were killed, and was done in service of trying to protect this country. I’m not saying that you have to agree with everything he did, but it was all done in the service of trying to protect this country and keep us safe.”

Now, I suspect many books will be written comparing the Nixon and Bush presidencies, their crimes in office, and the damage each did to the country and their office, so I’m reluctant to just casually label one worse than the other. Indeed, both can fairly be described as disgraces to the presidency and embarrassments to the nation.

That said, Wallace’s point is wildly unpersuasive. By his logic, any leader can do almost anything just so long as he/she can rationalize misconduct by saying it’s intended to “keep us safe.” Hell, even Nixon could have argued that he abused the powers of his office and orchestrated crimes out of the Oval Office because he needed to maintain power to protect the country.

“He meant well,” in other words, isn’t a compelling excuse.

Moreover, Wallace is a little too quick to say Nixon’s crimes were “purely in the interest of his own political gain,” while Bush’s weren’t. Ben Armbruster reminds us that when the Bush White House outed an undercover CIA operative, it was about political gain, not about “trying to protect this country.” When the Bush White House politicized U.S. Attorney offices and most of the executive branch of government, it was about political gain, not about “trying to protect this country.”

In fact, ironically, it’s Wallace who is trivializing Bush’s crimes and “completely misrepresenting what George W. Bush did” in office.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.