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Friday, February 20, 2009

The Thoughts Provoked by Frost/Nixon

My reaction to the Swedes was not the only thing I took away from this film experience. As I mentioned in my previous post, I did end up feeling more empathy for Nixon than I had previously felt. I was able to see how flawed Nixon was in his own interpretation of reality. He was a deeply troubled man, never comfortable in his own skin, always wanting something that was desperately out his reach, willing to go to any length to grab it, which ultimately caused the failure of his greatest prize, the American presidency. That he believed he was always acting with America's best interest in mind is interesting. The fact that he was so skewed in the way in which he should achieve that goal is equally as fascinating. As an outsider looking in, one has to ask, how can someone believe that executing a completely illegal move would be in the country's best interest?
My actual memory of the events of Watergate, Nixon's resignation and subsequent pardon are fuzzy as I was in junior high when these things unfolded. I remember being at summer camp when Nixon resigned. They announced it at dinner and I didn't really understand what a big deal it was. My parents were Nixon supporters so I didn't have the vilified view of him that I'm sure most Democrats at the time did. When Ford pardoned Nixon I probably thought it was a nice thing to do. Now, as I reflect upon my own political ideology, I realize that I likely would've been furious about what was happening. I had to wonder how Nixon could allow his "men" to go to jail while he himself accepted the pardon. I know that some say it would've devastated our country to put the President on trial. I disagree. I think the inability to tell the truth is what devastates our country. Clinton's abuse of power and his subsequent inability to tell the truth turned his little sexual tryst into a national crisis. Bush's deception created great mistrust in the public eye and lost him all credibility in the end. I hope and pray that Obama will at least continue to speak with the candor that has so far marked his public speech. His ability to admit that appointing Daschle for a cabinet level post was a mistake was rather refreshing. I don't want Obama to make mistakes, but at least for one brief moment he was willing to face the music.
Of course, throughout the film my thoughts did wander to the George W. Bush administration. I do feel that this administration willfully deceived the public in order to execute certain actions. They misled the public on the weapons of mass destruction, they wrongly tied 9/11 to Iraq, and they consistently used torture and other unconstitutional action on prisoners. I believe that in his heart, Bush felt that he was acting in the interest of America. And yet, by the time his presidency ended, America was reeling from financial crisis, our standing around the world was shot, and he had the lowest approval rating of any sitting President. At least in the last months of his Presidency he showed a modicum of humility by admitting to some mistakes and by helping Obama transition into the White House with grace. Even so, I feel like Bush's administration left a lot of shadiness in its wake. And sadly, Bush made it clear that while he was President, if you questioned his actions, you were unpatriotic. He governed with fear as tool to keep the people trusting in his leadership. I believe the Bush presidency ultimately failed. Others disagree and say it's too soon to tell. Many supporters comment that at least he kept America safe. I just don't see it that way. I felt more unsafe while Bush was president. His arrogance and rogue spirit cultivated a disdain for America around the world that did not serve us well. That so much of the world was dancing in the streets when Obama got elected reveals what a relief much of the world felt when Bush was finally finished setting the course for American politics. It's no secret that I did not enjoy Bush's presidency. It will be interesting to see what the legacy turns out to be.
The parallels between the Nixon administration and the Bush administration are curious. I do feel that Bush was every bit as dishonest as Nixon was even if he never executed a criminal offense. And I do feel that Bush, like Nixon, had love for country in the forefront of his mind, however misguided the notion may have been.
So what do we do when our leaders think they are acting in our best interest when many of us felt that in the case of Bush, his actions were pure disaster? It proves to me that we need more than "yes men" around us. The notion of surrounding ourselves with folks who can fully and freely reveal our blindspots is absolutely key. It's very hard to do because no one likes to be told that they are short-sighted or worse, wrong. And yet perhaps so much trauma and peril could be avoided if we could learn to share our perspectives with one another, not so much with a mind to be right, but to discern the best course for the bigger picture.