Topics: Barack Obama

Noemie Emery: Light fades to dark as Obama wipes away sweat

By |
Opinion,Noemie Emery,Columnists,Barack Obama

Remember the Lightworker? The "Black Jesus"? "The One"? The one we were waiting for, to stop the rise of the oceans and all of that stuff?

How did he come to be standing beside Richard M. Nixon, aka "Tricky Dick," aka "The Shadow," in the great Hall of Blame, charged with massaging the facts when they became inconvenient, harassing the press and siccing the Internal Revenue Service on his political rivals, to impinge on their First Amendment rights of assembly and speech?

From what we know now, there appear to be differences: Nixon's role was direct, while Obama's may have been inferential; "Watergate" was the generic name for a cluster of sins, while Obama has three different and separate scandals that contrived to emerge at one time.

But the odor is similar. The timing is similar: things done in the heat of campaigns that re-emerge in the spring of the year that comes after, not in time to stop re-election but in plenty of time to make second terms difficult.

The question remains how people so different could box their way into the same set of problems. Let us look backward and see.

Born in obscurity to far-from-rich parents, Obama and Nixon both used their wits to rise to fame early, but while Obama adapted quite early to ruling-class mores, Nixon saw himself as a lifelong outsider, despised by the press, the establishment and the people who mattered, forever imperiled, circled by foes.

Disrespected by Ike when he was vice president, beaten by John F. Kennedy (who sympathized with him before they were running for president), trounced by California Gov. Pat Brown in what seemed his swan song, he was in a permanent crouch by the time he won power, suspecting — expecting — the worst.

Hence the mad rush to pre-empt his tormentors: the Plumbers, the enemy's lists, the Watergate break-in; and hence the exposure, and fall.

Forty years later, all would be different but would still be, in some ways, the same. The press, the glitterati and the establishment worshipped Obama, who was almost too confident, but he had a tic that was missing in Nixon: He was an ideologue, bent on mass transformation, in his mind, a man of historic importance, on a mission that nothing should stop.

When people and things did try to stop him, he found this untenable and did all that he could to stop them. He called opposition a "fever" that had to be broken, and try to break it he did.

Like Nixon, he enabled an ambience in which lies and law-breaking were common, and perhaps expected. Liberals denied that their hip youngish leader was at all like the dour, dorkish Nixon, who wore wingtips when he walked on the seashore.

But others demurred.

"I'll let you guys engage in those comparisons," Jay Carney said to reporters, advising them to "read history" and draw their conclusions, but some of them already had.

"I have to go back 40 years to Watergate when Nixon put out his edited transcripts," Bob Woodward said of the Benghazi talking points, citing the "hydraulic pressure that was in the system" to not tell the real truth.

"This is not Watergate," as he would say later, "but there are some people in the administration who have acted as if they want to be Nixonian. And that's a very big problem, I think."

Starting from opposite ends of the scale, the paranoid centrist and the self-assured ideologue had backed themselves into much the same corner. Can the ideologue find his way out?

Washington Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."

View article comments Leave a comment