Here's Why Obama is Just Like Nixon | NBC New York

Here's Why Obama is Just Like Nixon

The GOP president the Obama campaign most emulates



    He may not be thought of as "cool" as Barack Obama, but Richard Nixon managed to surround himself with more than a few celebrities -- including Sammy Davis Jr. Nixon's fundraising helped usher in an campaign finance era now ending.

    Before Barack Obama was "The One", Richard Milhous Nixon was "the one." 

    "Nixon's The One," said the magazines. "Nixon's The One," said the records (a precursor to the "Yes We Can" video?).  "Nixon's The One," said the ads. And he was "the one" promising to bring about an end to an unpopular war launched by the other party. 

    And, while it's not the stuff of memory right now, Nixon was much more in touch with the popular culture than one might think. Yes, everyone remembers the famous photo with Elvis, but how about the visits by Sammy Davis Jr and James Brown? And, how about "Laugh-In" (the "Saturday Night Live" of its day).

    But, the area where the similarity between Nixon and Obama is strongest is in that of fundraising. In short, the excesses brought to light during Watergate ushered in a period where politicians tried to place controls on the campaign fundraising structure. Indeed, the first law was passed right after the the huge Democratic Class of '74 came to power. Yet major parts of that law was struck down within two years in the Supreme Court's Buckley v. Valeo decision. And thus would be the pattern over the next several decades -- as fast as one group of politicians would write laws to stanch the flow of money -- than another group would identify a new loophole to exploit. 

    None of this would break down on party lines. Democrats were the ones who first exploited a loophole in the late '70s laws and created a club of donors that gave rise to the so-called "soft-money" explosion in the the '80s and '90s. Of course, Republicans immediately jumped on the bandwagon -- and roared past the Democrats. John McCain then became synonymous with campaign-finance reform.  And, irony of ironies, he ended up having to run against the man who would raise more money than any other candidate in at least forty years. The New York Times frets that two RNC lawsuits threaten McCain-Feingold. Geez, talk about complaining that a couple of mice have bolted the stable -- after all the prize stallions have run off.   

    A 20-year Republican veteran of the fundraising wars is impressed by the similarities between Nixon '68 and Obama '08:  

    That last major campaign before Obama's not to take general election matching funds --  Richard Nixon's.  The last major presidential campaign before Obama's not to be subject to a mandatory FEC audit -- Richard Nixon's.  Will we ever know where all the millions in low-dollar gift card money came from for Obama? Just like we will never know for certain where all the brown-bags of cash ended up for Nixon's  campaigns.  What Joe McGinnis said about Nixon using pop-culture and Madison Avenue to win in "The Selling of the President" in 1968 was magnified a million times fold with the Obama Campaign. I totally tip my hat to them.  
    In my mind, the Obama '08 campaign closes the door on a particular chapter in American political history that began in 1968. Historians decades from now will look back on this four-year blip in which the government attempted to regulate campaign speech and spending as pretty unique.  Hopefully.
    In a recent Parade interview, Joe McGinnis noted the similarities between the two campaigns -- at least on the image-making side. Not surprisingly, Obama, if he has to be compared to any Republican president, he would undoubtedly prefer Ronald Reagan. And, it goes without saying, that methods and tactics adopted in a campaign do not necessarily indicate what an administration will look like. 

    Still, what's there is there.  Obama can't deny the truth:  When it comes to sundering the campaign finance system as it as has come to be known over more than three decades, if there's a GOP prototype that has been Obama's model, well, "Nixon's the one." 

    Robert A. George is a New York Post editorial writer who blogs at Ragged Thots and dabbles in stand-up comedy.