Some unsettling similarities

I’ve been reading Robert Dallek’s excellent new biography, “Nixon and Kissinger,” and certain parallels between Nixon’s presidency and the present administration jump easily to mind. Nixon and his obsequious foreign policy advisor’s refusal to see the writing on the wall and accept defeat in Vietnam, their insistence on an impossible withdrawal with honor while many more soldiers lost their lives, and the stubbornness of their position in the face of widespread opposition, has a certain familiar feeling.

But I was also struck by Nixon’s animosity towards journalists and editors. His victim complex is well known and made him liable to perceive any negative press not as a criticism of his policies but as part of a personal vendetta against him. He is sometimes simply resigned to this, as in the weeks after his historic trip to China when the media starts turning away from his achievement and on to other stories. Nixon tells his chief of staff, “The media simply aren’t going to give us any breaks whatever in keeping alive a story which they know might help us.” And other times, his most vicious mode emerges, as in this assessment of The New York Times: “Those sons of bitches are killing me…We’re against an enemy, a conspiracy. They’re using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear?”

The press, in his mind, is a feral beast. “We are going to be torn to pieces,” Nixon says at one point in 1972.

This reminded me not of Bush – though I expect this hunted feeling is one he shares – but of Blair’s speech earlier this week in which he also talked of the press, “just tearing people and reputations to bits.” (I commented on the speech yesterday).

It just goes to show that enough time in the public eye can turn even someone who was not inclined, like Nixon, to paranoia into a total paranoiac.

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.