Once again, as I continue to read through Anthony Summers’ biography of Richard Nixon, The Arrogance of Power (Penguin Books, 2000), I am struck by the uncanny resonance of many comments quoted within it to local politics. It’s like people living in the 1950s had a device through which they could view the politics of today, see the politicians on our own council and were reflecting on them, instead of their contemporaries. Some time viewing device right out of science fiction.
Of course, we know they are speaking and writing of Richard Nixon and his activities, but nonetheless… the word uncanny keeps springing to mind. Like I said in my last piece on this book, I am astounded at its local relevance.
Nixon was despised early in his career for his dirty tactics, lack of morals and ethics, his underhanded tricks and his incessant lying. He was unscrupulous in his bids for power and didn’t waste any sentiment on those whose reputations and careers he despoiled. Sound familiar? Like anyone you know on council or in town hall? Like the background for the previous municipal election campaign? Isn’t that resemblance scary?
Even though these words below were penned more than 60 years ago and on the other side of the border, I can’t get over how eerily they fit the local political scene. How well they can be snapped into any critical comment or editorial (should local media ever develop the spine or other parts of their flaccid anatomies to write one…) about Collingwood politicians and their blatant skullduggery.
So much so that, if I ever thought any of The Block actually read anything with more words than a stop sign, I would suspect they had read a biography of Nixon and chosen him as their role model.
But, as we know, most of our politicians stubbornly refuse to read any advice from peers and experts when they are printed in such respected publications as Municipal World. And they seldom bother to read their own agenda, making it unlikely for them to read anything of greater substance. Like books and magazines. Learning is highly overrated, when you already know everything.
It’s even bruited about that those in The Block don’t even read the reports from the out-of-town lawyers and consultants they have spent hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars to obtain. Too many pages, too many big words, too much to take in. Just the title is all they need to read in order to pass judgment. Yes, they judge a report by its cover in Collingwood. Besides, reading is hard work, and might interfere with their preconceptions.
So if the Block and their pet administrative staff were not inspired by Nixon and his dodgy career, it is one of those rare cases of parallel development. While our local politicians appear to be deliberately channeling Richard Nixon into Collingwood politics, like so much else they do, it’s really an unconscious act. Like voting: they’re not really thinking about what they are doing. Thinking, too, is overrated when you have staff to tell you how to vote.
Here are a few comments about Nixon taken from the book mentioned above (mostly Chapter 13). I think you will agree all could easily be used when describing local politics or politicians, either directly or with a few minor amendments:
He would double-cross and destroy the reputation of anybody if it seemed to serve his interest.
Roger Kent, Democratic chairman, California.
Nixonland is a… land of slander and scare, of sly innuendo, of poison pen and anonymous phone calls and bustling, pushing, shoving – the land of smash and grab and anything to win.
…naive, inept, maladjusted… A fellow who could not muster enough character references to join the local library.
Emanuel Celler, veteran Congressman from New York.
…never discuss the actual thing for which you were called to task… Never raise the question of whether it was right to take money from people who have a stake in the way you vote. Create your own ethical standards and then point out how rigidly you adhere to them.
Norman Redlich, Dean, New York University Law School, writing in The Nation.
…a shifty goddamn liar…
outgoing president Harry Truman.
… a cheat, a liar and a crook… he abused the… people.
Chief Justice Earl Warren.
…sparked an almost allergic dislike in people… (who) tended to ascribe to him cloven hoofs and a tail.
Journalist Stewart Alsop.
Wow. Clearly the similarities between what people thought of Nixon then and what we think of The Block today are nothing short of astounding. Despised, distrusted, disapproved… parallel lives, parallel responses. Of course, we have to keep in mind the differences in scale: Nixon tried to wreck a whole nation; the Block is simply trying to destroy Collingwood. But still… Same tactics, same results.