Left of McGovern versus right of Nixon?

I just read a report that not all Democrats are endorsing Barack Obama, and I was reminded of an interesting topic I heard discussed on Hugh Hewitt's radio show -- is Obama to the left of McGovern? The consensus was that he is, and by any objective standard I think that is so, as Obama is more of a socialist (and more of a pacifist) than McGovern.

Now, you could say that times have changed, and I'm sure a lot of people think the entire spectrum has shifted leftward -- especially considering that some conservative Republicans are refusing to endorse McCain.

Still, the Obama-McGovern contrast forced me to ask an analogous question -- is McCain to the right of Nixon?

Anyone remember Richard Nixon's wage and price controls?

Of Richard Nixon's vast repertoire of domestic assaults on liberty and the free market, price controls on oil were among his most evil and destructive. In the midst of economic stagnation surely related to his guns and butter, inflationism, devaluation of the dollar and his closing of the gold window, the Republican called down from on high and decreed that the laws of supply and demand be repealed. The feds were unleashed to regiment prices and wages throughout the land, with no more respect for economic freedom and reality than was displayed by FDR's National Recovery Administrators. Most of Tricky Dick's price and wage controls were scrapped within a few years, after the shortages and other chaos they caused became too obvious to ignore, but central planning of oil and natural gas prices continued, failing to solve the problem and even inspiring schemes for rationing, until 1981 when President Reagan, in an act of sensibility anomalous for his administration, expedited the decontrol of oil prices as planned by President Carter. Prices fell dramatically for several years, and the economy boomed accordingly.

Nixon had spoken as though he understood the nonsense and evil of price controls, up until the point he imposed them. For years conservatives have distanced themselves from much of Nixon's economic policy, which in retrospect appears more collectivist than any Democratic president's since. That the right is seriously considering government-administered controls as a solution to rising gas prices should help to make a few things perfectly clear.

I'd say McCain is to the right of Nixon economically.

As to the environment, Nixon started the EPA (long hated by many libertarians and conservatives).

While a supporter of the "war on drugs," he nonetheless instituted a legal Methadone program:

whatever his other faults, Nixon put the drug money he got for his war in the right places: treatment and methadone maintenance. Addicts who had been unable to secure treatment started having their needs met. Heroin was decoupled from crime by methadone, which doesn't get you high but keeps you from needing heroin. Suddenly the drug problem was going into remission.
And while he said he was against "abortion on demand," he appointed Harry Blackmun (the author of Roe v. Wade) to the Supreme Court, along with Lewis Powell (a moderate).

As to race relations, Nixon won 32% of the black vote in 1960, and while the numbers went down because of the Southern strategy, he still did better than any Republican since. Pat Buchanan reflects:

Nixon led America out of a dismal decade and was rewarded with a 49-state landslide. By one estimate, he carried 18 percent of the black vote in 1972 and 25 percent in the South. No Republican has since matched that. To see Kristol colluding with the Times to rewrite that history to make liberals heroes and Republicans villains tells us more about him than about the era.
In office, Nixon also championed "black capitalism," and he was probably the most popular Republican president with the black community that I have seen in my lifetime.

Oh, and of course he ended the draft (which caused attendance at demonstrations to dry up to nearly nothing), started the all-volunteer Army, ended the hated Vietnam War, and made overtures to Red China which led directly to our huge current relationship.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive political essay; just a few irony-based observations that people who think the entire country has necessarily shifted leftward might want to ponder....

posted by Eric on 06.13.08 at 07:19 AM


An excellent, interesting question you raise. Nixon's rhetoric and image were right-wing, particularly because of his street cred as a reliable anti-communist. Additionally, he was the authority figure when the youth culture went to an anti-authority extreme, increasing the perception that Nixon was the archetypal conservative.

But George Wallace ran in 68 on the premise that there was no difference between Tweedledee and Tweedledum - Humphrey and Nixon. That was an exaggeration and political pose on Wallace's part, but it had some plausibility.

Even Reagan, conservatives forget, picked his core issues of taxes and anti-communism and otherwise governed center-right rather than hard right.

McCain is to the right of Ford as well, and on balance, about the same as Bush 41.

Assistant Village Idiot   ·  June 13, 2008 10:51 AM

Nixon was to the left of JFK. Were a modern Dem to really ponder that, his head might explode - or else he'd reevaluate what he really believes.

I think most modern voters simply have symbolic images of Nixon and JFK in their minds and could not really give nay particulars about how they actually governed. We keep hearing progressive leftists praising JFK, all of whom hate the very idea of tax cuts. Likewise, the man who was responsible for the EPA and affirmative action is a symbol of racism and environmental depredation.

Steve Skubinna   ·  June 13, 2008 1:14 PM

Nothing is what it seems to be.

Donna B.   ·  June 14, 2008 4:55 AM

Well, the choice in Presidential politics is extremely poor this year. On the Democrat side, we have a committed Maoist (unlike the rest of the Stalinists in the Party) while on the Republican side we have an Enigma wrapped in garb of a Maverick.

So, do we choose the Devil we know (the Maoist) or the one we don't? Neither choice is good for this Country.

SeniorD   ·  June 14, 2008 11:39 AM

Nixon saved Israel during the 1973 war by supplying weapons when they were critically needed, and against the advice of some of his advisers (including Kissinger, IIRC). And he successfully faced down the USSR, putting our forces on high alert in response to a Soviet threat to intervene when the Arabs started losing. I can't imagine George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, or for that matter Gerald Ford handling the situation nearly as well.

Jonathan   ·  June 17, 2008 4:28 PM

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