Mark Shields: Donald Trump is no Richard Nixon
In just 13 days in October 1973, Washington endured a series of seismic political shocks.
On Oct. 10, Vice President Spiro Agnew — having pleaded guilty in a federal courthouse in Baltimore to failure to pay taxes on thousands of dollars in bribes he, as both Maryland governor and VP, had shaken down from businessmen — resigned his office. On Oct. 20, President Richard Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox for rejecting Nixon’s offer of a synopsis of the 64 White House tapes the Supreme Court had ordered him to turn over instead of the actual tapes.
Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus refused to fire Cox, and both men resigned. Then Solicitor General Robert Bork, the next in command, did fire Cox. On Oct. 23, House Democrats, following the lead of House Majority Leader Tip O’Neill, decided that the House Judiciary Committee would begin impeachment hearings on President Nixon.
On May 9, 2017, President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating Russian efforts to sabotage the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton and to aid Republican Trump’s campaign. Recently, the staff and family of President Trump have reportedly persuaded him, for the moment, not to fire Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who was appointed, in the wake of the Comey firing, as special counsel by the Justice Department to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.
Immediately, all sorts of semi-sensible people suddenly discovered some striking similarities between Trump and Nixon. Such semi-sensible people are absolutely wrong. Donald Trump is, believe me, no Richard Nixon, who, after four years of active duty in World War II as an officer in the Navy, served for 14 years in the U.S. House and Senate and eight years as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president — all of which may have made him America’s most prepared president.
Nixon, whose character defects and serious crimes have been amply documented, was a constant reader of history and biographies. He immersed himself in policy and in politics. His record of major achievements is nothing short of spectacular. In 1969, when sparks from a passing train ignited the oil debris on the surface of Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, the river, which feeds into Lake Erie, actually caught fire. Under President Nixon, the Environmental Protection Agency was created and the Clean Water Act became law. To guarantee that American workplaces would be safer and healthier for American workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was created. Social Security benefits were indexed to protect seniors against inflation.
Only one U.S. president ever championed a federally guaranteed minimum income (which would translate to $37,404 annually in 2017 dollars) for every family with dependent children under a plan that would have required job training for parents and child care for children. Democrats shortsightedly opposed it. All of this was Republican Richard Nixon.
Only one U.S. president has ever made his “No. 1 domestic priority” a national health
plan that would have required employers to offer insurance with standard benefits — including dental care, mental health care and a free choice of hospitals and doctors.
Under this radical proposal of President Nixon’s, after three years employers would have been required to pay 76 percent of the insurance premiums. Nixon, who had broken with GOP isolationists to support the Marshall Plan and NATO, was more liberal than Eisenhower on civil rights and supported the historic civil rights bills of the 1950s and ’60s. He negotiated arms limitations with Moscow and opened U.S. relations with China.
It’s pretty clear: Donald Trump is definitely no Richard Nixon.