Law in Contemporary Society

Bill Clinton as Richard Nixon

(I'm going to likely be revising this for a long time - as a paper and as an idea, so I'm willing to listen to any and all commentary) --Andrew Wolstan


It is important to place the Clinton Presidency into proper context with a comparison that can aptly describe it. Bill Clinton as a politician is similar to Nixon and their administrations share many characteristics as well. Even though it clearly appears as if Hillary Clinton is not a contender for the Presidency in November, properly examining the Clinton presidency can give us proper perspective about the evaluation of current and future leaders. The most apt method of achieving this goal would be to first look at how Bill Clinton perceived Richard Nixon and the lessons Clinton took from his methods.


There are many similarities between the two and their backgrounds. Both Clinton and Nixon grew up in households that were affected by poverty and did not have political pedigree. Clinton and Nixon ascended to their first major political offices at young ages, Clinton as the governor of Arkansas at 32 and Nixon as a House Representative from California at the age of 33. While this may seem relatively common, the fact that both of them did not come from political families makes this more notable. In addition, both lost gubernatorial races that were critical to their development as politicians. Nixon cited these similarities while discussing Clinton in an interview, adding that they were both political outsiders: Clinton from the South and Nixon from the West.

Nixon's Funeral

The most honest view we have to understand how Bill Clinton saw Richard Nixon is the [[][remarks] he made at Nixon’s funeral in April of 1994. A good deal of inference needs to be made in order to dissect Clinton’s feelings given the nature of Nixon’s legacy and the clear need for a politician to avoid going too far in praising a man who was not well regarded in the public eye. However, there are two parts of the speech that can provide the lessons that Bill Clinton drew from Nixon’s method of operation. He spoke of how Nixon never remained passive in the face of challenges. This is something that Clinton certainly emulated as President and continues to emulate beyond the Presidency. Clinton also gives his assessment that Nixon was a part of the action of his times and believed that a person must always have a new goal to achieve.

This speech was made well before the scandal of Monica Lewinsky hit the Clinton Presidency, but Clinton had still addressed significant scrutiny up to this point with regard to the Whitewater scandals (including Travelgate and the death of Vince Foster), which had garnered significant scrutiny. Clinton responded aggressively to the controversies therein and interestingly enough, five days after Nixon’s funeral Hillary Clinton gave a press conference on the Whitewater matters as a way to quash the scrutiny around the alleged improprieties. Clinton aggressively attacked challenges in his Presidency and has continued to react in such a way beyond his Presidency. This behavior after the Presidency could certainly be attributed to a sense of entitlement, as many people have accused Clinton of such an attitude, but the lesson from Nixon cannot be dismissed with such an assertion.

Clinton talked of Nixon’s desire to have a new goal, and it is important that he talked of how Nixon was a part of the action and passion of his times. This may be most relevant in Clinton’s pursuit of his own personal legacy. At the end of his Presidency Bill Clinton attempted to create a peace agreement in the Middle East, which many people saw as an unattainable goal. Indeed, Clinton’s efforts ultimately failed. This was an attempt for Clinton to achieve a lasting legacy for his Presidency, but was also an effort to tackle the most difficult foreign policy challenge of his time, a mix of this spirit he saw in Nixon and his own desire to achieve greatness.

Political Machinist

Nixon was a political machinist who understood the value of how local politics and its proper use led to the holding of the nation’s highest office. Nixon was constantly aware of how his actions would be perceived and understood throughout the nation and how that would affect elections. He knew the nature of each Congressional district and understood what issues played more importantly in each of these districts. Clinton was always consulting polling numbers but he wasn’t just considering overall popularity, he was always running his perpetual campaign. Clinton certainly engaged in the type of analysis that Nixon had mastered (and used to win 49 states in 1972). The modern campaign almost demands such analysis, but Clinton targeted his reelection strategy around issues that would reach the key districts he needed in the kind of microanalysis that Nixon used. This analysis and approach is becoming the necessary approach in the modern campaign and the value of the American electoral system rewarding this approach is an issue to be discussed in another paper. Regardless of the normative judgment on the system, Clinton used this approach as a lesson learned from Nixon’s ways as a political machinist to guide his political strategy.


In examining Bill Clinton’s thoughts on Nixon and his utilization of some of his political methods, perspective can be gained on how he operated as a President and what he valued in other leaders. He valued Nixon’s response in dealing with adversity as well as his desire to be involved beyond positions of authority in the most important issues of the time. Nixon’s influence is likely not something that Bill Clinton would openly discuss, but his behavior and words at Nixon’s funeral indicate that he learned from and admired Nixon’s methods.



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r6 - 21 Jan 2009 - 22:56:25 - IanSullivan
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