To mark the 30th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation, a panel is discussing his historical legacy today at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California. The event is especially timely because Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry made several statements about Iraq over the weekend that have drawn comparisons to Nixon’s position on Vietnam during his run for the White House in 1968.
Kerry indicated to George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week that his experience in foreign affairs over the years had given him “enormous cards to play,” but said, “I’m not going to play them in public. I’m not going to play them before I’m president.”
These statements drew comparisons to Nixon’s so-called “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam. However, while panelists at today’s conference point out to National Review Online that Nixon never claimed to have a “secret plan,” they say there are several similarities between Kerry’s position and Nixon’s.
U.S. News and World Report’s Michael Barone, the keynote speaker at today’s event, defends Kerry and Nixon, saying that both had the difficult job of indicating that they would do a better job of managing the war without “announcing specifics” which “may undercut the current commander-in-chief.” Barone tells NRO, “There’s an argument for not being too specific but indicating thematically what you would do.”
However, Barone scoffs at the notion that Kerry can magically bring the French and Germans into Iraq, no matter what size playing cards he uses. “Obviously the idea that we’re going to get much help from the allies is a pipedream.”
Ray Price, former Nixon speechwriter and author of With Nixon, takes issue with the whole notion that Nixon had a “secret plan” for ending the war. “As soon as the story came across the wires, we all started buttonholing every reporter we could find to point out that he had not said he had a ‘plan.’”
Compare these aggressive denials with Kerry’s outright assertion that he can “put a deal together” as president. And rather than attempting to disabuse the press of the notion that Kerry has a “secret plan,” Kerry supporters like Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) are telling the Associated Press, “I can’t give you the details of any deal,” but slyly promoting the notion that foreign leaders like Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder are just waiting for Kerry to take the oath of office so they can deploy their formidable armies to Fallujah.
Herbert Parmet, a Nixon biographer and speaker at today’s event, says “there is a great similarity” between Kerry’s situation and Nixon’s, because neither could afford to appear soft on a major national-security issue. Because the Democratic party is perceived as weak on national defense, Parmet says, “It will be even more important for Kerry to carry off this ‘Peace with Honor’ concept than it was for Nixon in 1968, and Nixon thought it was very important to do that.”
However, Parmet says that no matter what Kerry says, “he would be dealing with a whole new set of as-now unforeseeable circumstances” if he were to assume power. “The European nations may respond differently than he is expecting,” Parmet says, and “all we know is what he would attempt to do.”
Given Kerry’s penchant for waffling, who can really know what Kerry would attempt? Parmet tells NRO, “We know what Nixon did, and that of course is history. Whether Kerry would do the same I don’t know, and I doubt if Kerry knows.”
–Stephen Spruiell is a Collegiate Network/NR intern.