The Party of Nixon

Read Fabio Rojas’ illuminating post on the centrality of Nixonite networks and their priorities within the GOP for well over a half-century. Highlights:

[T]he narrative about Goldwater as the guiding light of the post-war GOP is wrong. Nixon, and his allies, have driven the agenda since the late 1940s. Other Republicans (Eisenhower, Goldwater, Regan) represented factions who, at most, were allowed a seat at the table created by Nixon.

[…]

The Nixon network (him and former staffers/appointees) have been in control of the presidency or vice presidency every time the GOP has won the national election. Furthermore, this network has controlled key national security positions very often in GOP administrations.

[…]

[T]he consistent theme, going back to the late 40s, is that the Nixon wing has been, almost without major exception, in favor of international interventionism. The GOP seems to have approved of nearly every American projection of power overseas, no matter which party is behind it. It’s fairly rare for policy makers in this orbit to call for pull backs in military interventions or to admit that any significant projection of force was a mistake. This view, of course, requires continual expansion of the executive branch’s power.

[…]

[C]onservative politics was not “reborn” after the Goldwater campaign in 1964 and cemented by Reagan. Instead, the Nixonites allowed this new ideological trend to be the face of the party, but they retained control over the institutional functions of the party, as evidenced by Nixon’s resurgence. This observation explains a lot of other puzzling feature of Republican politics. This is not the party of small government, it’s the party of national security. The party of individual liberty and self-reliance is actually the party of “enhanced interrogation.” The idea tying it together is national security, with superficial appeals to whatever helps win the election.

This sounds about right to me. The free marketeers and the culture warriors are useful idiots thrown a bone from time to time to keep the Nixonite establishment entrenched. Moreover, I’d say the U.S. national security apparatus remains shot through with the Cold War Nixonite ethos of Hard-Headed Big Boys Who Keep the World Safe. If the will of the herd and their elected windbags are behind with the program, great. If not, too bad. Even (especially?) Democratic executives are flattered by all the secret briefings, etc. and the gravity of Hard-Headed Big-Boy World-Saving responsibilities into sticking with the program. You can fight the permanent national security apparatus and get nothing in return other than a reputation as a giant pussy existential threat to America who is going destroy us all, or you can let the apparatus publicly act like you’re in charge of it while it more or less runs itself, allowing you to focus on the trivial issues you care about, like nationalizing things and raising taxes. Cheney wiping the floor with Obama over torture is a sad sign that it’s all still just churning along. The message, I take it, is that the damn hippy kids can appoint bisexual robot Latinas to the Supreme Court and tell GM to make cars that run on fairy kisses as long as they know the Serious People will continue to control the power that matters. All signs point to Obama going along, which, as Nixon knew, is what you can expect from self-impressed Ivy League assholes.

A bit of a digression there. Anyway, read Fabio’s post. Nixonites delenda est!

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30 thoughts on “The Party of Nixon

  1. You had me until the part about “Cheney wiping the floor with Obama”. This must be a report from a parallel universe.

  2. I don't think Cheney wiped the floor with Obama, even in the eyes of public opinion. If his popularity improved, its because, as a now-former-politician he can say exactly what he thinks, which people like, provided the person doing the speaking is in no danger of having any power.

  3. Isn't this the thesis of The Big Con, only about a different interest group? I want to see a Chait/Wilkinson smackdown over whether the always-cut-taxes-for-rich-people or the always-bomb-foreigners wing is _really_ more powerful.

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  5. “Even (especially?) Democratic executives are flattered by all the secret briefings, etc. and the gravity of Hard-Headed Big-Boy World-Saving responsibilities into sticking with the program.”In other words, same shit, different assholes?

  6. “The message, I take it, is that the damn hippy kids can appoint bisexual robot Latinas to the Supreme Court and tell GM to make cars that run on fairy kisses as long as they know the Serious People will continue to control the power that matters. All signs point to Obama going along, which, as Nixon knew, is what you can expect from self-impressed Ivy League assholes.”this is great stuff

  7. The GOP seems to have approved of nearly every American projection of power overseas, no matter which party is behind it.

    Odd that Senator Bob Dole was given to cracks about “Democrat wars,” despite being one of those old Nixon hands.But in any case, “seems to have approved?” The GOP split as much or more on Bosnia and Kosovo than the Democrats did on Iraq (both times). Of course, both times under Clinton a solid Democratic voting block joined a number of “responsible” “moderate,” yes, “Nixonian” Republicans to vote for it.Surely you would have to amend the thesis to point out that the interventionist wings of both parties combine to support every military action.

  8. The Nixonite establishment is a bipartisan one. It has the firm support of the bureaucracy as well, one notes.

  9. Doubtful. Bush's popularity has also increased by a similar measure over the same period, but with nary a word about torture. Meanwhile, Obama's approval ratings have generally held steady. Cheney's leaving is what has left him more popular.

  10. Have you looked at recent polls about people's opinions on Guantanamo and interrogation practices? They favor Cheney's positions more than Obama's.

  11. Al Queda and their ilk sure help the Nixonites by actually being an enemy.You can accuse people of making up enemies, but when they are actually real and do threaten Americans and American interests then your argument is weakened.That is one of the biggest problems with libertarians. Even if the US pulled back from most of the world militarily (and I want it to start in Europe and Korea for sure), there are still going to be enemies.

  12. The Rojas post and Wilkinson gloss on it read is as though the people writing them never heard of detente or the opening with China. Nixon's foreign policy was less aggressive than what many conservatives (who were also more free-market than Nixon) wanted.

  13. What I find most amusing is just how much international security is discussed openly on public forums. Fortunately for us, there are entire realms of people who have no grasp of wit or sarcasm, and take everything at face value. So far as enemies, when we have so many within our own borders the point is sort of moot… that's what drove us over to China to begin with! We honkies have an entire history of driving each other nuts and then running to distant lands to introduce more conflict into the picture.

  14. If you are proposing communism as a solution to prevent uprisings on U.S. soil— better wear your bullet-proof vest, sir.

  15. “That is one of the biggest problems with libertarians. Even if the US pulled back from most of the world militarily (and I want it to start in Europe and Korea for sure), there are still going to be enemies.”I think the US can be realistic about its enemies and still uphold a non-interventionist policy — with a strong national defense and the willingness to use it when necessary. Defensivism seems the best policy — and this might just lessen the number of our enemies.

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  17. Will, this line of attack on the Republican Party strikes me as a little odd coming from a libertarian. Isn't national security supposed to be one of the few legitimate concerns of the federal government? On a libertarian view, being the party of national security *and* limited government ought to be a good fit. Is the complaint supposed to be that the national security wing always gets more of what it wants because they really control inner workings of the Republican party? Fabio observes that the national security guys always seem to get the national security jobs when the Republicans are in power. That's neither a stunning insight nor evidence that the national security guys are really running the show. He also observes that the national security guys do a pretty good job of getting what they want even when the party is out of power. But that seems like pretty good evidence that they don't even need control of the party. Whatever the source of their mojo is, it can't be control of the Republican party if it still works when the party is on the outs.A much more plausible explanation for the relative success of the national security wing is that national security is a much easier sell than limited government at election time. Rather than blame the national security guys who have done a good job of persuading the public that national security always matters, you ought to blame the limited government guys who have done such a piss poor job of explaining why limited government always matters.

  18. Cheney wiping the floor with Obama re the torture “debate” is absolutely true. Not only has it left Cheney more popular, as Wilkinson notes, but has also fractured some in the Democratic caucus. The whole episode had Pelosi running to China for cover and gave the GOP some campaign fodder for the 2010 midterms.

  19. Except that the national-security apparatus is far from permanent. It was pretty much mothballed from 1975-1981, if I remember my history. That didn't work out so well for the party in power.I'm not sure who thinks Goldwater was the guiding light of the GOP. His campaign was important to the GOP activist tradition, but there's a pretty big distinction between the campaign and the man himself.

  20. “Will, this line of attack on the Republican Party strikes me as a little odd coming from a libertarian. Isn't national security supposed to be one of the few legitimate concerns of the federal government? On a libertarian view, being the party of national security *and* limited government ought to be a good fit.”Sure, but it helps if the “national security” measures a party is promoting actually promote national security, and do so effectively enough to make the costs and other trade-offs worthwhile.

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  22. Well, worth thinking about, but count me among the doubters. National security simply is a big issue, and should be. To maintain that we may be going too far suggests that people know how much is enough. That defensivism “just might” lessen the number of enemies is an attractive idea, but not strong on evidence. Our enemies, particularly Islamic ones, say they will be more friendly if only we would stop being belligerent. I recall that the communists said the same throughout Latin America for decades. Turns out the opposite was true. Helluva risk to take on a flier.That said, it always good to separate the two motivations for intervention and consider them separately: are we doing this because it is good for us, or on moral grounds to promote justice and punish bad guys? The Nixonite view seems pretty quick to jumnp to the answer “both,” and then switch back and forth between the two during debate. In fairness, this is largely a response to Democrats switching from one to the other whenever cornered, but we should strive to keep that distinction clear before the public at all times.

  23. Well, worth thinking about, but count me among the doubters. National security simply is a big issue, and should be. To maintain that we may be going too far suggests that people know how much is enough. That defensivism “just might” lessen the number of enemies is an attractive idea, but not strong on evidence. Our enemies, particularly Islamic ones, say they will be more friendly if only we would stop being belligerent. I recall that the communists said the same throughout Latin America for decades. Turns out the opposite was true. Helluva risk to take on a flier.That said, it always good to separate the two motivations for intervention and consider them separately: are we doing this because it is good for us, or on moral grounds to promote justice and punish bad guys? The Nixonite view seems pretty quick to jumnp to the answer “both,” and then switch back and forth between the two during debate. In fairness, this is largely a response to Democrats switching from one to the other whenever cornered, but we should strive to keep that distinction clear before the public at all times.

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