TNN Exclusive: RN’s Health Care Plan More Comprehensive Than Obama’s

All eyes have been on Washington in the past year as the parties debated President Barack Obama’s shifting versions of national health care. On Tuesday, after a highly questionable series of parliamentary maneuvers, President Obama signed into “law” his health care plan.

With some considerable reason, he noted that health care for all is an idea whose time has come. (His plan still leaves more than 20 million not insured, but let that be.) And, with some justification, most of the media rejoiced that national health care had arrived for people with low incomes, with pre-existing conditions, without jobs, with impoverished employers.

To call Barack Obama’s response to the passage (however questionably executed ) of this bill “triumphalist” is like calling Mount Everest “tall.”

But among the glorying, there was little or no mention of my former boss, Richard M. Nixon, and this was a monstrous wrong, one of an innumerable number of wrongs directed at Mr. Nixon.

The flat truth is that in February 1974, with the hounds of hell baying at him about Watergate, with a national trial by shortage under way after the Arab Oil Embargo, with the economy in extremely rocky shape, and with large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, Republican Richard M. Nixon submitted to Congress a national health care bill in many ways more comprehensive than what Mr. Obama achieved.

Mr. Nixon’s health care plan would have covered all employed people by giving combined state and federal subsidies to employers. It would have covered the poor and the unemployed by much larger subsidies. It would have encouraged health maintenance organizations. It would have banned exclusions for pre-existing conditions and not allowed limits on spending for each insured.

I know a bit about this because I, your humble servant, as a 29-year-old speech writer, wrote the message to Congress sending up the bill.

In many ways, the bill was far more “socialist” than what Mr. Obama has proposed. It certainly involved a far larger swath of state and federal government power over health care. Please remember that this was 36 years ago, when middle-class Americans still had some slight faith that government was on their side.

My point is not whether or not Mr. Nixon’s plan was better than Mr. Obama’s. In fact, they have many points in common.

My only point is that if you want to call someone a visionary, if you want to call someone compassionate, if you want to note that someone was a foe of inequality and a friend to mercy, think of Richard Nixon, with a host of problems of his own the likes of which Mr. Obama cannot imagine, reaching out to the poor and the uninsured to help.

The plan, of course, was killed dead by the Democrats, led by Edward Kennedy, who later regretted what he had done. Still, attention must be paid to a prophet without honor in his own land.

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Running Against Hooverville–The Presidential Blame Game

In the immediate aftermath of the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, President John F. Kennedy stood before the nation accepting the total blame for what had happened. He referred to an old saying about victory having a thousand fathers, but defeat being an orphan, and identified himself as the responsible officer in the government. Even though the whole initiative had been first devised and planned by the Eisenhower administration.

JFK’s poll numbers moved dramatically—up. There is something refreshing—though sadly rare—about a political leader saying “My bad.”

In the 19th century, a British politician stood in Parliament and remarked that trying to get his particular point across was akin to flogging a dead horse to make it pull a load. We call this beating a dead horse today. And every time President Obama or a member of his administration plays the blame Bush card, he is beating that proverbial dead horse. It is also getting really old.

Everyone on Facebook has an information page and there is an entry labeled “relationship status.” Some mark “married” or “in a relationship,” others say “single.” Then there are those who put: “It’s complicated.” When it comes to Presidents and those who come before or after, it’s really complicated. Some chief executives have managed to rise above the propensity for personal paltriness—others, not so much.

And it goes way back.

Thomas Jefferson, who ran a particularly aggressive campaign against former-and-would-be-again-much-later friend, John Adams, in the 1800 race, continued the attack on his predecessor well into his own presidency. He regularly smeared Mr. Adams for maladministration of presidential powers, though apparently willing to benefit from things Adams had done that he had opposed at the time. The anti-military, anti-big government Jefferson, had no qualms about using navy Adams had built (opposed by TJ) to deal with the Barbary Pirates; nor did he hesitate to use broad executive powers in the whole matter of the Louisiana Purchase—the kind of action candidate Jefferson would have likely decried as tyrannical.

Democrat Andrew Jackson wouldn’t even pay a courtesy call on outgoing President John Quincy Adams. Mr. Adams then refused to attend his successor’s inauguration. Jackson spent significant time in office tearing down his predecessor—blaming Adams and the whole fierce campaign for his wife’s death after the election. That one was very complicated.

Speaking of Presidents and courtesy calls, Dwight Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, sat famously in the car under the White House portico, snubbing the Trumans. But when it came to blaming his predecessor for the mess he inherited, he chose the path of just ignoring and dismissing Mr. Truman like the junior military officer he saw him to be.

Abraham Lincoln had great reasons and resonant issues to use to place blame for the country on the verge of disintegration he inherited in 1861 because his predecessor, James Buchanan, did virtually nothing to deal with the brewing national disaster. But Mr. Lincoln seemed to have a capacity to rise above cheap politics—dealings with his own Cabinet-made-of-would-be-rivals also demonstrated the 16th President’s ego tempering skills.

Of course, many times Presidents have succeeded men from the same party and, though they might have wanted to really make the guy before look bad, they realized that it was political suicide. Martin Van Buren could certainly have blamed the panic of 1837 on Andrew Jackson, who destroyed the National Bank, but party realities forbade it.

Warren Harding didn’t spend a lot of time or energy blaming Woodrow Wilson for the nation’s woes in the early 1920s. Ronald Reagan used Jimmy Carter as a punching bag for a short while, but quickly moved on. Even Richard Nixon didn’t waste time passing the buck back to LBJ. In fact, their relationship was remarkably good, considering their history.

Now, Franklin Roosevelt—well that’s another story. He used predecessor Herbert Hoover as his whipping boy for at least a decade—and one wonders if this example is the one that resonates with the current administration.

FDR ran a skillful campaign against Hoover in 1932, allied with the forces of economics and history in play at the time. Hoover was an unpopular president as a result of the onset of the Great Depression. Once hailed for his genius at organization and engineering, his name was even part of the vocabulary signifying good economy, as in the popular 1920 Valentine’s Day card:

“I’ll Hooverize on dinner,
On fuel and tires too,
But I’ll never learn to Hooverize
When it comes to loving you.”

By 1932, however, his star had fallen and shantytowns across America were dubbed, “Hoovervilles.” However, today’s prevalent narrative that Hoover was a do-nothing president and then the great activist Roosevelt rode to the White House on a white horse, is at best an apocryphal exaggeration—at worst, it’s a lie.

In fact, Mr. Roosevelt, famous smile and all, was simply an effective and cynical politician who knew how to practice demagoguery with the best of them. He was also a very petty man. One example is in the naming—better, renaming—of the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. It had been named for Herbert Hoover in 1931 not just because he was the President at the time (there were already dams named for Calvin Coolidge and Theodore Roosevelt extant), but also because he had been a major driving force in the project since the early 1920s during his highly successful tenure as Secretary of Commerce. He, being an engineer by training and trade, even played a crucial role in how it would work and be constructed—effectuating something called the Hoover Compromise allowing the project to go forward at a critical juncture.

After his humiliating defeat by the Roosevelt juggernaut in November of 1932, Mr. Hoover stopped at the construction site of the dam and remarked for the press:

“It does give me extraordinary pleasure to see the great dream I have so long held taking form in actual reality of stone and cement. It is now ten years since I became chairman of the Colorado River Commission—This dam is the greatest engineering work of its character ever attempted by the hand of man—I hope to be present at its final completion as a bystander. Even so, I shall feel a special personal satisfaction.”

But by the time the project was completed in 1936, it had been renamed by the Roosevelt administration as the Boulder Dam and Hoover was never invited to be part of any festivities. Of course, by that time Mr. Roosevelt was running for reelection against Republican nominee Alf Landon of Kansas.

But FDR was really running against Hoover one more time.

The other day, during that good-for-nothing White House meeting on health care, there was a telling exchange between President Obama and Senator John McCain. He told McCain that the campaign was over. He meant their campaign.

The battle against all things George W. Bush, however, still rages. And most likely this will continue through the 2012 campaign. After all, if you can’t run on a record of accomplishment—find a dead horse to beat and hope the people are dumb enough not to notice the abuse and absurdity.

The big question is: Will George W. Bush be as durable a whipping boy as was Herbert Hoover—or better yet—is Barack Obama as arrogant, cynically petty, or politically cunning as was Franklin D. Roosevelt?

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Taps For An American Hero

On Wednesday, Colonel Robert L. Howard, the most decorated American soldier living, passed away at the age of 70. He served five tours of duty in Vietnam and the extraordinary list of honors and unit citations he received in those years is itemized in his Wikipedia entry. But one honor stands out among them, and how he came to receive it is described by Richard Goldstein in Col. Howard’s New York Times obituary:

In December 1968, Sergeant First Class Howard, his rank at the time, was in a platoon of American and South Vietnamese troops who came under fire while trying to land in their helicopters on a mission to find a missing Green Beret. As the men set out after a prolonged firefight to clear the landing zone, they were attacked by some 250 North Vietnamese troops.

As related in “Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty,” by Peter Collier, Sergeant Howard was knocked unconscious by an exploding mine. When he came to, his eyes were bloodied and his hands injured by shrapnel that had also destroyed his rifle. He heard his lieutenant groaning in pain a few yards away. He then saw an enemy soldier with a flamethrower burning the bodies of American and South Vietnamese soldiers who had just been killed.

Sergeant Howard was unable to walk, but he threw a grenade toward the soldier with the flamethrower and managed to grab the lieutenant. As he was crawling with him toward shelter, a bullet struck his ammunition pouch, blowing him several feet down a hill. Clutching a pistol given to him by a fellow soldier, Sergeant Howard shot several North Vietnamese soldiers and got the lieutenant down to a ravine.

Taking command of the surviving and encircled Green Berets, Sergeant Howard administered first aid, encouraged them to return fire and called in air strikes. The Green Berets held off the North Vietnamese until they were evacuated by helicopters.

Having gained an officer’s commission after that exploit, he received the Medal of Honor from President Richard M. Nixon on March 2, 1971. The citation credited him for his “complete devotion to the welfare of his men at the risk of his life.”

Presenting an award to so valiant a warrior was, indeed, one of the proudest moments of the Nixon White House. May the Colonel rest in the eternal peace that he so very much has earned.

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The Little Church In The East Room

As the first streaks of dawn quietly announced the arrival of morning on Sunday, November 16, 1969, a 35-year old preacher from Ohio named Harold Rawlings had already been awake for a while after a fitful night of what-could-barely-be-called sleep in a room at Washington, D.C.’s storied Mayflower Hotel. He would in a few hours face a crowd punctuated by the most powerful men and women in America, assembled in the most unusual of venues for any clergyman – the East Room of the White House.

These days, most Americans have moved on from wondering about Barack Obama’s church attendance habits now nearly a year into his presidency. Some of this inattention is due, no doubt, to the swirl of events, but a measure of it is likely because Mr. Obama is demonstrating a kind of ambivalence to church attendance that has become par for the presidential course over the years (though with some exception, e.g., Jimmy Carter).

Most presidents have likely never read Theodore Roosevelt’s “Nine Reasons A Man Should Go To Church.” Among the things TR said was this gem: “Yes, I know all the excuses. I know that one can worship the Creator in a grove of trees, or by a running brook, or in a man’s own house as well as in church. But I also know, as a matter of cold fact, that the average man does not thus worship.”

Richard Nixon decided in the first days of his presidency to reconcile the ethic of church attendance with the realities of security and logistics during his time in the White House, by having regular Sunday services in the East Room. Of course, he was criticized for it. Some saw it as political grandstanding and others (many in the clergy) feared Nixon might be setting a trend for “stay at home” worship. Billy Graham noted, though, that in the early days of Christianity churches met almost exclusively in houses. So, on Nixon’s first Sunday in the White House, Graham shared a sermon, beginning a long run of non-sectarian religious services at 11 o’clock most Sunday mornings.

Rev. Rawlings had received an invitation, via the recommendation of his congressman, Donald “Buzz” Lukens, to bring the message during one of those services. But the preacher had to pay his own expenses to the nation’s capital, something gladly accomplished by his church, Landmark Baptist in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the lanky clergyman shared pastoral duties with his father, the senior minister of the church.

The preacher also had no idea when he accepted the White House invitation that he would be performing his prelatic duties against the backdrop of a city in turmoil.

Pastor Rawlings and his wife Sylvia made their way to Washington, D.C., on Saturday, November 15, while 250,000 protestors were in virtual control of the city’s streets and parks. The Washington Post headline the next day said, “Largest Rally in Washington History Demands End to Vietnam War.” There was a lingering hint of tear gas in the air and the remnants of torn and burned flags littering the ground. Other flags were prominent and not burned, but they bore only one star and just two stripes – the banner of the Viet Cong (National Liberation Front or “NLF”). The night before, 76 nearby buildings had been damaged, and nearly that many more would experience the same fate that day.

The swarm on Washington had been organized by an outfit called the New Mobilization Committee. This group was the successor to the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, which had been part of the infamous Chicago riots at the Democratic Convention in 1968. Basically, it was a leftist mosaic made up of people from Students For A Democratic Society (“SDS”), the Youth International Party (“Yippies”), and assorted fellow travelers.

And though the “festivities” had ended late Saturday night, thousands remained in the streets overnight continuing to shout things like, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF is Going to Win!” This made sleep that much more difficult for Rev. and Mrs. Rawlings.

The couple enjoyed breakfast in the Mayflower’s restaurant, their waitress discreetly pointing out the famous “psychic”, Jeanne Dixon, who was sitting across the room near the booth where J. Edgar Hoover regularly ate lunch. This brush with celebrity would be nothing compared to the experience awaiting Harold and Sylvia when they arrived at the White House.

They climbed a stairway to the second floor and were immediately met by the First Lady, Mrs. Pat Nixon, who invited them into the beautiful Yellow Oval Room, where they sat in Louis XVI style chairs. Tricia Nixon soon joined them, followed a few minutes later by President Nixon, who took Pastor Rawlings on a personal tour of the adjacent rooms, sharing details about their history. Nixon was in a great mood, no doubt bolstered some by the latest Gallup Poll showing that around 70% of Americans gave him high marks, this in the wake of his already famous “Silent Majority” speech a few days earlier.

They then made their way to the East Room, with Sylvia taking her seat next to Mrs. Nixon and Tricia. President Nixon, as was the custom, opened the service, “After a very awesome display yesterday,” pausing briefly for effect, knowing that some would think he was referring to the demonstrations, he continued, “of football, we thought it would be proper to have someone here from Ohio.” Ever the football fan, he was referring to the Buckeyes’ 42-14 win over Purdue.

Pastor Rawlings had been asked to suggest two hymns for the service and did so several weeks in advance, only to be called back by the White House and told, “President Nixon doesn’t know those – could you choose two others?” He did, and the service that day included the majestic strains of “All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name,” a song Nixon knew well. A choir from New York Avenue Presbyterian Church sang.

The President then introduced Rawlings, who chose as his theme that day, “The World’s Most Amazing Book.” Many notables were in the crowd of about 350, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, Secretary of State William P. Rogers, Treasury Secretary David M. Kennedy, Labor Secretary George P. Schultz, and United States Senators Claiborne Pell, Mark Hatfield, John Sherman Cooper, Gale McGee, John Williams, and Charles Percy. And the service was broadcast live across the country via the Mutual Broadcasting System.

“If men and women would spend more time in the serious study of the word of God,” said Rev. Rawlings, “earth’s questions would seem far less significant and heaven’s questions far more real.” He then quoted former President Eisenhower, among others. The great man had died eight months earlier and his life and career had intersected with Nixon’s so significantly.

Rawlings affirmed that, “The Bible is not only good for the soul, but also for the body.” He illustrated this point with a moving story about a soldier in Vietnam, Army Private Roger Boe, who after being ambushed found an enemy bullet “lodged in his Bible, just short of the ammunition clip.” The preacher, describing America as “a haven for freedom and peace,” urged prayer, “to make us morally worthy of protection against outward aggression.” He also issued a reminder about praying for the men of Apollo12, at that moment racing through space, “our three astronauts that they might be blessed with safety and good health on their voyage to the moon.”

During a recent conversation with Harold Rawlings, who is a long-time friend, he told me that following the service Chief Justice Burger told him that his sermon was “the kind of message America needed to hear.”

A reception followed, with President and Mrs. Nixon personally introducing Rev. and Mrs. Rawlings to those filing by. Nixon, though, was at least a little bit in a hurry. He was going out to Robert F. Kennedy stadium that afternoon to see the Redskins play the Cowboys. In fact, this would itself be historic – the first time a sitting President of the United States attended a National Football League game. He was pulling for the home team, but conceded to a reporter that the Cowboys would come out on top, “I think they’ll win because of their running attack.”

But it turned out that the Redskins lost because Sonny Jurgenson threw 4 interceptions – three of them in the fourth quarter. The one bright spot of the game for Nixon was the play of Ricky Harris, who returned a punt 83-yards for a touchdown – only to have it called back because of a penalty. Harris then intercepted a pass at a crucial moment – only to have Jurgensen then quickly proceed to throw his own interception (Harris these days sits every Sunday on the front row of the church I pastor.)

Possibly, the fate of the Redskins that day was a harbinger of things to come that week for Mr. Nixon. The very next day, American newspapers first mentioned something about a massacre in Vietnam at a place called My Lai. And later that week, the President’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Clement Furman Haynsworth, was rejected by the Senate, 55-45.

This just reinforces something else Teddy Roosevelt said about why people should go to church: “In this actual world, a churchless community, a community where men have abandoned and scoffed at or ignored their religious needs, is a community on the rapid down grade.”

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President Obama’s Vocal Minority Speech

1 December 2009 and 3 November 1969: the desire to contain a vocal minority and the determination to mobilize a silent majority.

I’ve looked at a lot of the coverage of the President’s speech at West Point last night, and, so far at least, no one seems to have noticed the precedent and example that is hiding in plain sight: Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” speech of 3 November 1969.

Nixon was eleven months into his presidency forty years ago —just as Mr. Obama is eleven months and a week into his— when he went to the people to explain his plans for the war the nation was fighting in Vietnam.

Both leaders used a highly-publicized and much-anticipated speech to explain the conduct of a war started by their predecessor(s); to separate themselves from that history; and to announce their new policies for ending the war and bringing peace.

Both speeches were about the same length —4500 words. And both, based on the knowledge that the nation was divided and confused, and that there was a widespread feeling that the leaders hadn’t been leveling with the people, began with straightforward narratives of the story to that point.

Nixon even listed the questions he would answer:

How and why did America get involved in Vietnam in the first place?

How has this administration changed the policy of the previous administration?

What has really happened in the negotiations in Paris and on the battlefront in Vietnam?

What choices do we have if we are to end the war?

What are the prospects for peace?

Obama recalled the brutal provocation of 9/11, the decisions that followed, the developments in Iraq, and the current situation in Afghanistan:

Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government.  Gradually, the Taliban has begun to control additional swaths of territory in Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating attacks of terrorism against the Pakistani people.

Nixon mentioned his reservations about the way the war had been conducted:

Now, many believe that President Johnson’s decision to send American combat forces to South Vietnam was wrong. And many others —I among them— have been strongly critical of the way the war has been conducted.

Obama recalled his outright opposition:

I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions.

Nixon mentioned the possibility —and acknowledged the temptation— of simply ending the war by blaming the administration that began it.

From a political standpoint this would have been a popular and easy course to follow. After all, we became involved in the war while my predecessor was in office. I could blame the defeat which would be the result of my action on him and come out as the Peacemaker. Some put it to me quite bluntly: This was the only way to avoid allowing Johnson’s war to become Nixon’s war.

But I had a greater obligation than to think only of the years of my administration and of the next election.

Obama examined and refuted the arguments —within his own party— that he should wash his hands of the wars his predecessor started.  Indeed, he cited Vietnam in this regard:

I recognize there are a range of concerns about our approach.  So let me briefly address a few of the more prominent arguments that I’ve heard, and which I take very seriously.

First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam.  They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we’re better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing.  I believe this argument depends on a false reading of history.

Both Nixon and Obama quoted Eisenhower — Nixon albeit indirectly and Obama to make the opposite point.  Nixon said:

In 1963, President Kennedy, with his characteristic eloquence and clarity, said: “. . . we want to see a stable government there, carrying on a struggle to maintain its national independence.

“We believe strongly in that. We are not going to withdraw from that effort. In my opinion, for us to withdraw from that effort would mean a collapse not only of South Viet-Nam, but Southeast Asia. So we are going to stay there.”

President Eisenhower and President Johnson expressed the same conclusion during their terms of office.

Obama said:

I’m mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who — in discussing our national security — said, “Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration:  the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.”

The thirty-seventh President spoke of the great weight of his decisions as Commander in Chief:

There are powerful personal reasons I want to end this war. This week I will have to sign 83 letters to mothers, fathers, wives, and loved ones of men who have given their lives for America in Vietnam. It is very little satisfaction to me that this is only one-third as many letters as I signed the first week in office. There is nothing I want more than to see the day come when I do not have to write any of those letters.

I want to end the war to save the lives of those brave young men in Vietnam.

As did the forty-fourth:

As President, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars.  I have read the letters from the parents and spouses of those who deployed.  I visited our courageous wounded warriors at Walter Reed.  I’ve traveled to Dover to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans returning home to their final resting place.  I see firsthand the terrible wages of war.  If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.

So, no, I do not make this decision lightly.

Although the two speeches —separated by forty years— shared many similarities, there were major differences between them in terms of substance, technique, and intention.

At the core of both speeches, both Presidents presented essentially similar policies in radically different ways.  Nixon expounded on the Vietnamization that he had initiated earlier in the year:

We have adopted a plan which we have worked out in cooperation with the South Vietnamese for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat ground forces, and their replacement by South Vietnamese forces on an orderly scheduled timetable. This withdrawal will be made from strength and not from weakness. As South Vietnamese forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater.

And Obama set out what amounted to a policy of Afghanization:

The 30,000 additional troops that I’m announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 —the fastest possible pace— so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers.  They’ll increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight.  And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.

But Nixon was adamant about staying until the job was done and about keeping his counsel in the meantime:

I have not and do not intend to announce the timetable for our program. And there are obvious reasons for this decision which I am sure you will understand. As I have indicated on several occasions, the rate of withdrawal will depend on developments on three fronts.

While Obama was definitive about his timetable for disengagement.

And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.  After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.

Nixon had written his speech entirely by himself at Camp David over the weekend before the Monday night on which he delivered it.  He did this partly because he considered the content so important, and partly because he was determined that none of it would leak in advance.  He took considerable satisfaction from the fact that what he said completely confounded the widespread speculations and predictions about what he would have to say.

Obama’s speech was parceled out in leaks over the preceding several days; and the text was accurately reported twenty-four hours before the speech was delivered.  In the event, the delivery confirmed the expectations.

Nixon read his speech in the Oval Office in the White House at 9.30 PM.  The glass-top desk was covered with a piece of brown baize and the only backdrop was the closed gold silk window curtains.  The Obama address, delivered using TelePrompter at 8.30 PM, was a highly staged and choreographed event in Eisenhower Hall at the United States Military Academy at West Point —the second largest auditorium east of the Mississippi (only Radio City Music Hall is bigger).  The event was opened with introductions and concluded with a crowd bath.

The Nixon speech was intended to speak directly to the American people by going above the large and growing anti-war movement while going around its sympathizers and supporters in the media.  Nixon was convinced that “the great silent majority” of Americans would support his plan to end the war the way he proposed if only he could reach them and explain himself to them.

His belief was justified by the phenomenal results of that single speech.  Overnight his poll ratings jumped from the high thirties to the high sixties, and the wind was at least temporarily sucked from the sails of the anti-war movement.

The Obama speech, on one very important level, was a finely calibrated exercise at mollifying, or at least containing, the vocal minority of leaders and activists inside the president’s own party who want nothing to do with this or any war.

Whether President Obama’s speech is as successful at containing the vocal minority as President Nixon’s was at mobilizing the silent majority will take at least a few more days to begin to figure out.

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A Joke Too Far

A tasteless joke – one that saw earlier popularity during the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – has resurfaced across America. It is being told in whispers, emails, and even bumper stickers. During Mr. Clinton’s administration it even found its way into some Sunday church bulletins. And it is really beneath contempt in its lack of respect for the president, the presidency, not to mention the Bible itself.

It goes something like this: “Pray for President Obama. Psalm 109:8.”

At first glance it appears innocuous, even pious. But when time is taken to look up the reference, well, then it’s chortle, chortle time for buffoons:

“Let his days be few, and let another take his office.” – Psalm 109:8 (NKJV)

And the verse following continues the thought:

“Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” – Psalm 109:9 (NJKV)

Of course, the point of the joke is to show disaffection with President Obama. But the real result is to use scripture in a twisted way and to find somehow funny the idea that our president should, well, come to an ignominious end leaving his family to grieve.

Funny stuff. Real Jackie Gleason belly laugh stuff: Har har hardy har har.

It should be clear to decent, reasonable, reflective, and compassionate people that some things simply aren’t funny. One just has to look back at what happened 46 years ago this weekend to see that. I have no clue if that same joke was around in the days of the Kennedy administration, but I know that the feelings of too-casual contempt it reveals were very much around.

I am a conservative when it comes to politics – a conservative with strong libertarian leanings. I am no fan of much of the political agenda of President Obama and his administration. Sometimes I get annoyed. Occasionally (okay, more than occasionally) I talk back to the T.V. when I hear or see something that, to me, does not pass the test of constitutionality or common sense.

I would probably only vote for Mr. Obama’s reelection if the choice was between him and, say, Harry Reid – or Boss Tweed. I very much believe that the president and his advisors have a socialist bent and that what they are trying to accomplish through Health-Care Reform and Cap-and-Trade machinations amounts to the kind of change Americans really didn’t envision when he was elected last year.

But it needs to be said that a president can be opposed and criticized – even in an animated way – without resorting to the kind of meanness that crosses the line of civility.

I have no problem with partisanship – even a little fiery rhetoric here and there. America is better when our politics are feisty. But, come on – using the Bible to make a joke about the man dying before his term is up?

Seriously?

Think back. Remember John “John-John” Kennedy Jr. saluting his daddy’s casket on that cold November Monday in 1963? Is there anything funny about that? Nope, it was all just very sad. And it bears noting that Mr. Kennedy evoked opinions and opposition from conservative Americans in much the same way Mr. Obama does now.

On the last morning of his life, JFK woke up in the Presidential Suite of the Hotel Texas in downtown Fort Worth, Texas. As he made his way down to the facility’s Crystal Ballroom to speak to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast gathering of about 2,000 people, he encountered a maid by the name of Jan White, who asked him to sign her newspaper. He did – probably the last autograph of his life – writing his name near his picture on the front page of that day’s Dallas Morning News. The headline on November 22, 1963 was: “Storm of Political Controversy Swirls Around Kennedy On Visit.”

The next morning that same paper bore the message: “Kennedy Slain On Dallas Street.”

People mourned. Americans who had not voted for Mr. Kennedy – and never would have – were deeply impacted by the violent tragedy. And, in fact, his days were made few, and another was allowed to take his office. His wife also became a widow and his children were suddenly fatherless.

I’m sorry, but there is nothing funny about that. Nor is there anything funny about using a passage of scripture as a punch line, one that finds sadistic humor in such depraved darkness as to be at all amused at the potential demise of a national leader.

Of course, I recognize that when George W. Bush was in office, the same things were circulated about him by a few on the other side of the political spectrum. But some things are simply not funny. It was wrong when liberals did it – and it is wrong for conservatives to do it.

Shortly before November 22, 1963 – when I was about seven years old – I came home from school one day armed with a joke about President Kennedy. I cannot for the life of me remember the punch line – or the straight line for that matter. But I do remember the moment I decided to let ‘er rip at the dinner table that night. I was sure that I was on safe ground, after all, my parents were Nixon people in 1960 (later Goldwater people in 1964, then back to RN again in ’68) and not big fans of Mr. Kennedy. I know I had heard my dad criticize the president for this or that, though never in a mean way. So I thought he would just love my hilarious joke.

I told it with all the skills of a 2nd grade class clown. Then I waited for the howls of laughter from my parents. And I waited. Then after a moment or two – and I can still see and hear this in my mind – came a powerful rebuke from the head of the table, ending with the unambiguous: “Son, don’t ever talk about the President of the United States like that!”

Tough room.

I learned something about respect that day. It’s something I think about now and again when things heat up politically and I find myself invariably frustrated with politics du jour. And though I sometimes fly admittedly close to the flame of the kind of disrespect that crosses the line between honest disagreement and just plain malice, I am never comfortable with that kind of indignation – righteous or otherwise.

Anger is toxic, often subtly so. Certainly there are times when animosity can give way to constructive change. But while such antipathy can occasionally be the catalyst for ultimate good, it must never be the default fuel. It is ferociously destructive.

By the way, the use of Psalm 109:8 as a joke applied to President Obama is not only a beneath-contempt expression of ugliness, it is also a profoundly ignorant use of the Bible. For when you read further in the good book, all the way through the gospels and into The Acts of the Apostles, you find Simon Peter, the recently redeemed Jesus-denier, quoting that very passage in reference to another Apostle who did something abhorrent – Judas Iscariot.

Peter applied it as an epitaph for Christ’s infamous betrayer, though he must have done so with the humility to think, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

All praying people should fervently pray for President Obama and all those in authority – and not tongue-in-cheek petitions. As yet another Apostle, this one named Paul wrote:

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone, for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” – I Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV)

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What does “Nixonian” mean?

It seems to me that we are hearing the term “Nixonian” used more often these days. Most recently when TV pundits were talking about the Obama Administrations criticism of Fox News. They talked a great deal about the Obama folks having an enemies list and how they were acting very “Nixonian.” I know they weren’t being complimentary when they said it.

I asked our in-house expert about this, the wonderful and wise Frank Gannon, and he had some interesting historic facts about the “enemies list.” It was originally a September 9, 1971 memo to John Dean, from Chuck Colson. It contained only 20 names. Mostly the reason they were on the list is because they were very, vocally, anti-Nixon. Dean took that original list and expanded it to over 200 names, mostly made up of people who were against the Vietnam war. He, Dean, has said publicly that he didn’t think President Nixon knew about the list. Then it surfaced during the “Watergate” hearings. Today, we are lead to believe the President wrote it himself. That is unfair and wrong.

I have often referred to myself as a “Nixonian Republican” and I never considered that I was being unkind to myself when I used that description. My parents were life-long Republicans and my mother was proud to describe herself as a “Civil Righter.” Then, President Nixon’s leadership also shaped me and how I think. I AM a more moderate Republican than many of our party members today and using the term just meant exactly that. My more conservative friends don’t seem to hold it against me. There should be room for both mind-sets in our party. Wise counsel told us that we should agree to disagree agreeably!

I went on Wikipedia to see what their description of “Nixonian” might be. What I read was very interesting. First of all, “one never self-identifies as a Nixonian.”

Oh my, what about me? I even have a button that my daughter Marja made for me that says, “Proud Nixonian Republican.” I must admit that when I wore it at the 1988 RNC convention, certain folks looked at me like I had a communicable disease!

The description goes on to say, “The term is most frequently used by Republicans to attack self-described moderates; when used by Democrats it is more apt to be used in the context of the Watergate scandal and the suggestion of Republican corruption.

OK, we already knew about that and live with it everyday here at the Richard Nixon Presidential Foundation.

More from Wikipedia: “This moniker is based upon the administration of Richard Nixon, who ran in 1968 and 1972 as a conservative, only to enact unprecedented amounts of new regulations and government agencies, and expand federally provided social services. Among those were the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, implementation of price and wage controls to try to reduce inflation, and an unsuccessful attempt to provide a guaranteed minimum income to taxpayers.”

Hey! Isn’t this the Legacy we want everyone to know about? Now that’s NIXONIAN, and it’s a good thing.

I’ve been spending some time as a volunteer in the Museum Shop at the Library. It is fun and a great opportunity to chat with visitors and find out why they chose to visit. Their reasons are overwhelmingly positive and that’s heartwarming to hear. Last week I looked up from the cash register to see John and Marilyn Wilbur walking toward me. We were classmates at the University of Arizona and Marilyn and I were Delta Gamma Pledge sisters in the spring of 1956. What could be more fun than that? After they toured the Library, they said they “had forgotten what a great President he was.” So, it seems, have a heck of a lot of other people. That’s the mission ahead as I see it: remind the people and focus on the Legacy of the 37th President of the United States.

Tell me what you think. How should we work to take back the Nixonian label? Maybe the RN Foundation web-site could have a “Nixonian Moment,” or “Nixonianisms of Note” posted now and then. I for one would love to see it become a description to be proud of again.

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Healthcare Reform, Then And Now

Jason Schafrin, a young economist trained at UCSD, breaks down RN’s 1974 message to Congress and proposal for a comprehensive health insurance plan, and compares it to President Obama’s current plan:

  • Today the need [for reform] is even more pressing because of the higher costs of medical care.”  Obama echoes this sentiment.
  • …the 25 million Americans who remain uninsured.”  Nixon hoped to expand coverage for the 25 million Americans who, in 1974 who did not have health insurance.  He planned to do this using with the creation of “Assisted Health Insurance, covering low-income persons.”  In 2009, there are 46 million uninsured Americans.  Obama also proposes using tax credits to help poor and middle class individuals afford private insurance.  Obama also proposes a public option.
  • Americans who do carry health insurance often lack coverage which is balanced, comprehensive and fully protective.”  Health insurance was originally created as protection against serious illnesses and hospital stays.  Routine physician visits were not covered.  This often meant that check-up and preventive care was not covered and Nixon wanted to expand the scope of insurance coverage.  In the present day, most individuals who have insurance have relatively comprehensive health insurance.  In fact, as a reaction to the expanding scope of present day health insurance, Republicans support HSAs which use high deductibles to transfer more of the cost of care towards the individual patient.
  • Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan (CHIP).  This was Nixon’s solution to the problem that many individuals who had insurance had only partial insurance.  It basically expands the scope of insurance coverage. In the present day, most individuals who do have insurance have relatively comprehensive coverage.
  • Third, it builds on the strength and diversity of our existing public and private systems of health financing and harmonizes them into an overall system.”  Nixon’s CHIP plan aims to provide subsidies for health insurance and aims to reform health care, but will not overhaul the system (à la a single payer system or the elimination of Medicare in exchange for all private insurance).  Obama’s currently proposes reforms to the current system that also builds on the existing healthcare infrastructure.
  • Fourth, it uses public funds only where needed and requires no new Federal taxes.”  Nixon claims that his plan will not use any new taxes.  Obama did not claim he would not raise taxes, but did assert that “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits.”  However, the government’s spending on health care as a share of GDP has accelerated over time.  This was true in Nixon’s time, is true now, and most expert believe it will continue into the future.
  • Sixth, it encourages more effective use of our health care resources.”  Obama wants to “eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud” as well as “create an independent commission of doctors and medical experts charged with identifying more waste in the years ahead.”  More effective use of health care resources was, is and will continue to be a laudable goal; actually realizing these efficiency gains in practice, however, is more difficult.
  • No family would ever have annual out-of-pocket expenses for covered health services in excess of $1,500, and low-income families would face substantially smaller expenses.”  Nixon planned a cap on patient annual out-of-pocket costs.  Currently, Nixon’s proposal has become commonplace.  Most group health insurance plans offer an out-of-pocket cap as does Medicare and Medicaid.  However, for non-group health insurance, these caps are often not available.  Obama proposed that health insurance companies “…will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime.”
  • Medicare, however, does not cover outpatient drugs, nor does it limit total out-of-pocket costs.”  Nixon believed that Medicare should cover drug costs and limit out-of-pocket costs.  Medicare does limit out-of-pocket costs and, with the creation of Medicare Part D, most prescription drug costs are covered for seniors.
  • COST: “the total new costs…would be about $6.9 billion.” Obama’s plan would cost “$900 billion over ten years.”
  • Nixon wanted to “increase the supply of physicians.” Nixon believed that increasing the supply of physicians will drive down costs as competition increases.  With patient paying less and less money out of pocket, this may no longer hold.  If supplier-induced demand exists, an increase in the supply of physicians will increase demand and costs and not necessarily decrease prices.  Obama did not discuss physician shortages in his speech.
  • On December 29, 1973, I signed into law legislation designed to stimulate, through Federal aid, the establishment of prepaid comprehensive care organizations.”  HMOs now control a significant portion of the health insurance market.
  • I also contemplate in my proposal a provision that would place health services provided under CHIP under the review of Professional Standards Review Organizations. These PSRO’s would be charged with maintaining high standards of care and reducing needless hospitalization.“ This is similar to Obama’s “independent commission of doctors and medical experts charged with identifying more waste in the years ahead.”
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Palin, Nixon, And The “Secret Plan”

At CQ Politics, Jonathan Allen contrasts Sarah Palin and Richard Nixon.  “Palin doesn’t have Nixon’s interest in, or knowledge of, foreign affairs,” he writes. “Imagine the reaction if Palin suggested she had a “secret plan” to win the war in Afghanistan.”  He is undoubtedly right on his major point, but I must nitpick the second sentence. As Frank Gannon and yours truly have noted on this site, RN never said that he had a secret plan to win the war in Vietnam.  That urban legend started with a wire report that inaccurately paraphrased his comments at a town meeting.

The CQ article links to a piece that acknowledges this point, while suggesting that RN let the myth stand during the 1968 campaign because it worked to his advantage.  Actually, as Nixon speechwriter Raymond Price has written:  “We on the Nixon staff immediately pointed out, to all who would listen, that he had not claimed a `plan.’ Nixon himself told reporters that if he had one, he would have given it to President Johnson.”  Nelson Rockefeller kept the canard alive as a way of attacking Nixon.  Richard Reeves reported in the New York Times on March 19, 1968:

When he has been alone with friends, Mr. Rockefeller has scornfully mocked Mr. Nixon by patting his suit pocket and saying that he keeps a peace plan there while hundreds of Americans die each week in Vietnam. The Governor has said that he will ‘pound away’ at Mr. Nixon’s secret plan during the Oregon campaign.

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Ron Silver 1946 – 2009

Ron Silver died in his sleep on Sunday at his home in Manhattan.  He was 62.

When I was named editor of Saturday Review in 1984, one of my first tasks was to liven up that distinguished by moribund institution.  In my search for interesting and unusual reviewers and writers, I came across the information that Ron Silver spoke and read Chinese.

In fact, as I discovered when we met, he had majored in Chinese and Spanish at SUNY Binghamton, and then taken a Masters in Chinese at St. John’s, followed by a year on scholarship at the University of Taiwan.  He spent almost half of that time backpacking through the Golden Triangle.  Or, as I would put it to him, “backpacking”.   He was too serious to be a tourist; and too smart to be on some Pineapple Express.  What else was left but CIA?  His reply to my questioning and teasing would always be one of those patented Silverian smiles, half way between smug and inscrutable.  (He later told Cindy Adams that he was, in fact, working for the Company:  ”I thought it was patriotic. But then time came that life, love and girls distracted me.”  But I bet he said it with one of those same smiles.)

He wrote some reviews for us and, for the September 1986 issue, he interviewed China’s foremost female writer — the non-English speaking Zhang Jie.  In several hundred words he sketched the history of feminism and popular literature under communism in China.  He wrote with real insight and considerable style.  (Not to mention that, despite the heavy demands of his day jobs, his print-ready copy was always delivered on time.)

“We Chinese open our gifts after the guests leave — unlike Westerners who share them with others publicly.  The content is the same.”

The subject was sex, not birthday presents.  The speaker was the feminist author Zhang Jie.  A striking women whose jet-black hair is streaked with gray, she represnts a new breed of Chinese writer.  Apparently, for the first time since the Cultural Revolution, these artists feel free to discuss the angst of the individual —including some matters of romance, love and sex — without the traditional ideological packaging.

For over 5,000 years, the burden of social responsibility fell heavily on Chinese women.  Female oppression was brutal and deeply entrenched; female infanticide and foot binding were widely practiced.  After marriage, women went from servitude in their homes to servitude in their mother-in-laws’.  Until 1949, in fact, wives were called “neiren,” or “inside persons.”

Zhang’s heroines are often “inside persons” who break out.  They are outsiders, strong women unafraid of taking risks — not unlike Zhang herself.  In a land where divorce still carries a stigma, Zhang is divorced with one child.  During the Cultural Revolution she was “sent down” to work in the countryside, an experience which shaped her current belief in women’s superior abilities to withstand adversity.

Ron was already widely known and recognized as a young TV star (he was Valerie Harper’s swinging bachelor neighbor on Rhoda) and a journeyman movie actor before a breakthrough role in 1983’s Silkwood.

He was interested in politics and fascinated by RN, so we started meeting every so often —usually at Orso, but sometimes at home— for dinner.  In those days Adam and Alexandra were toddlers, but his wife Lynne joined us whenever she could.  He was a great and expansive raconteur with an observant eye, a lively wit, and, not surprisingly, the ability to supply dialog and dialects and shtick.

He was a hidebound Democrat, but his curiosity about RN —and particularly about his foreign policy and the way his mind worked— was as sincere as it was intense and challenging.  I like to think that he put some of these conversations to use when he played Henry Kissinger (to Beau Bridges’ RN) in the 1995 TV movie Kissinger and Nixon.

By the late 1980s he was embarked on a political  journey that included being president of  Actors’ Equity (1991-2000) and co-founder and president of the Creative Coalition (1989-1993).  He became a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.  He was on the Board of Advisors of the Israel Project; and on the advisory board of Scooter Libby’s Defense Trust.

He was an admirer, a supporter, and a friend of Rudy Giuliani.

On The West Wing, he played Bruno Gianelli, the political consultant who manages President Bartlett’s re-election campaign.

Apparently Ron —a longtime smoker with a particular fondness for big cigars— was diagnosed with esophageal cancer two years ago.  He kept the diagnosis to himself and fought the disease right to the end.  That knowledge makes this clip from an appearance six months ago on David Frost’s British TV show particularly poignant and painful.

The Los Angeles Times’ ”Top of the Ticket” blog noted:

As you can imagine, yesterday’s death of Ron Silver from esophageal cancer at 62 is inspiring many conservative ecomiums for the liberal actor who full-throatedly embraced the reelection of President George W. Bush in 2004. In a speech to the Republican National Convention, Silver admitted being “a well-recognized liberal,” but rapped his colleagues:

I find it ironic that many human rights advocates and outspoken members of my       own entertainment community are often on the front lines to protest repression …       but they are usually the first ones to oppose any use of force to take care of these       horrors that they catalogue repeatedly.

Under the unwavering leadership of President Bush, the cause of freedom and       democracy is being advanced by the courageous men and women serving in our       armed services. The president is doing exactly the right thing.

In Hollywood, of course, it’s slightly dangerous to veer off the approved ideological path, but Silver’s liberal bona fides were unassailable, and he was able to cross party lines without much repercussion.

Although he didn’t know of any jobs he lost because of his beliefs, he was realistic about the fact that he was very much the odd man out in an instinctively liberal profession.  He said that after his speech at the Republican Convention “The phone stopped ringing . . . nada . . . not a thing.”

The New York Times‘ obituary is headed “Persuasive Actor and Activist” and deftly handles the latter characterization:

An activist most frequently allied with left-wing issues, he was president of Actors’ Equity, the stage actors union, for most of the 1990s and was a co-founder of the Creative Coalition, a group that advocates for First Amendment rights, public education and arts support. He campaigned for Bill Clinton for president.

“I’m an actor by calling but an activist by inclination,” Mr. Silver said in a 1994 interview.

Still, he had contrary impulses, and he paid attention to them. He was an advocate for President  Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” defense plan, and he supported Mr. Giuliani’s campaign for mayor of New York in 1994. In 2004, he made headlines when he was a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention in Manhattan, supporting the nomination of President George W. Bush for a second term, largely because of the president’s stance against Islamic terrorism. He supported Mr. Giuliani for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

Alas, the Times ends its notice on a churlish note.  After mentioning his family (but not that they were with him when he died), it concludes:

His acting awed them, his conservative streak confounded them, [his brother] Mitchell Silver said.

“Ron’s politics, as far as I know, were not shared by anyone he knew, except for the people he knew because of his politics,” Mitchell Silver said. He paused and added, “He told me that he did vote for Barack Obama in the end.”

(Walter Isaacson’s Kissinger: A Biography was the basis for Kissinger and Nixon, a 1995 made-for-TV movie that starred Beau Bridges as RN and Ron Silver as HAK.  The screenplay was by Lionel Chetwynd; the director was Daniel Petrie.  Ron Silver’s other notable film roles included Alan Dershowitz in Reversal of Fortune, Angelo Dundee in Ali, and the deliciously villainous Senator Aaron McComb in Timecop.  On Broadway he won the Tony for Best Actor for his role opposite Joe Mantegna and Madonna in David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow.)

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