For the past month or two, I’ve been watching too much TV. Especially movies on cable. It’s been a regrettable lapse, but not entirely wasted. With my fingertips on the remote controlled pulse of America, I learned one interesting thing: Nixon is making a comeback.
I was only seven years old when President Nixon left office, but I remember it pretty well. Even for a boy, Nixon was a suspicious character, the kind you wouldn’t accept a ride from. Unfortunately, the country took the ride twice, and, shortly into his second term, Nixon resigned in disgrace.
To be fair, my childhood recollections were later colored by Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail in ‘72. It was a compelling hatchet job of “Tricky Dick” and the sinister atmosphere of the Nixon era, and whatever suspicions I had harbored towards the man early on were clearly magnified by Thompson’s obvious contempt for him.
That being said, two movies I saw during my cable lapse altered my perception. The first was Frost-Nixon. It was an excellent film that explored the implications of the first televised “gotcha” moment of an American president, but it was done very even-handedly and actor Frank Langella brilliantly captured Nixon’s stunted, yet genuine humanity. I sincerely felt for Nixon after the movie, even if I still didn’t agree with his politics.
The second movie I watched was Watchmen. In it members of a group of disbanded superheroes come together to save the world from nuclear Armageddon. It takes place in the early 80s and President Nixon is in his fourth term.
It’s a crazy idea, no doubt, but it got me to thinking. What could have happened to make it possible for Nixon to serve four terms?
In the movie it isn’t explained. In the graphic novel of the same name, I learned Nixon was still in office because the utilization of superheroes allowed the United States to win the Vietnam War. This alternate reality, however far-fetched, was intriguing, and it immediately spurred further thought.
If Nixon had won the Vietnam War would it have saved his administration?
The answer is possibly yes, but only because Rush Limbaugh and Fox News weren’t around yet. If Limbaugh and Fox News had been around in the early 70s, Nixon would never have been forced to resign in the first place, regardless of the outcome in Vietnam.
With the Limbaugh/Fox spin machinery in place, the Watergate break-in would have been no more damning to the G.O.P. than the Bush Administration’s outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame or conservative activist James O’Keefe’s alleged tampering with the phone lines of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieau. The My Lai massacre in Vietnam would have been no more damaging than Blackwater’s Fallujah Massacre in Iraq, and the invasion of Cambodia–well, it wouldn’t have been anymore questionable or unethical as our invasion of Iraq.
The murders at Kent State would have been no more unpopular for Nixon as the failures in addressing Hurricane Katrina were for Bush. And musical artists like Bob Dylan or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young would have been threatened, blacklisted and publicly disavowed for even criticizing President Nixon just like the Dixie Chicks were after they criticized President Bush.
In fact, if Rush Limbaugh and Fox News had been around in the early 50s, Senator Joe McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations might have burgeoned into a Department of Homeland Security, Senator Joe McCarthy probably would have run for president and iconic newsman Edward R. Murrow would have been forced to resign just like Dan Rather.
The crimes of the Nixon years were minuscule compared to those of Bush-Cheney Administration and, in retrospect, it’s increasingly obvious that Nixon stalwarts Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld clearly learned from Nixon’s lack of media cover. Neither Cheney nor Rumsfeld considered Nixon’s mistakes as errors, but simply unfortunate press clippings. With the full force of a national propaganda network behind it, the Bush-Cheney Administration became an unstoppable steamroller until the Iraq War dragged on too long and liberal and unbiased media outlets started capitalizing on the lies behind the absence of WMDs in Iraq.
If you watch Fox News or listen to Rush Limbaugh and process what they’re selling, you realize it’s just anti-Democratic filler wrapped around Republican talking points. Fox News is a broadcasting subsidiary of the Republican Party and Rush Limbaugh is the archangel of an exasperated legion of backwards, misinformed cranks who are thrilled to hear someone justify their innate fears, bigotry and general xenophobia.
Limbaugh and Fox News knowingly and implicitly work to create and sustain conservative suspicion and hatefulness and incite irrational but effective phobias and paranoia to determine local, state and national elections. Fox News calls itself “Fair and Balanced,” but to describe the work of Fox or Limbaugh as either is like the Third Reich labeling itself peaceful and inclusive. The latter was a fascist regime that killed millions. The formers comprise a fascist regimen that misinforms millions.
Goebbels would have been proud.