Nixon style lives on in White House: Although political opposites, Bill Clinton has much in common with the former president, writes Rupert Cornwell in Washington

THEY WERE separated in the White House by four presidents and two political generations, and they stood on opposite sides of the party divide. Yet when Bill Clinton delivered his funeral eulogy for Richard Nixon yesterday, he was speaking of a kindred spirit.

Outwardly of course, they were polar opposites. Clinton the warm, spontaneous and gregarious Southerner; Nixon shy, calculating and remote, without a colleague he could truly call a friend. But both shared a quite remarkable capacity to inspire loathing among their foes, on a scale unmatched by any president this century save Roosevelt. So much is plain even from their nicknames.

Whatever his successes, Nixon for one group of Americans would forever be just 'Tricky Dick,' the man from whom they would never buy a used car - still less a policy to bomb North Vietnam to the negotiating table. Decades later, for another type of America, Bill Clinton bears his old Arkansas epithet of 'Slick Willie.'

One reason, obviously, is a perceived lack of honesty. The sight of Nixon the Red-baiter in full cry after Alger Hiss, followed by the mawkishly self-pitying Nixon of the 'Checkers' speech, convinced many that this was a man who would tell any lie in pursuit of political advantage. And as the left hated Nixon, so a segment of the Right cannot stomach Clinton, the quintessential product of the libertarian 1960s.

In a real sense, parts of the electorate considered Richard Nixon then and Bill Clinton now to be 'illegitimate' presidents. For liberals, the 'dirty tricks' which smeared Nixon's opponents in the 1940s and 1950s disqualified him from office. Watergate was no surprise, just confirmation of what they had known all along.

In the case of Clinton, the tales of draft-dodging and philandering have had the same effect among conservatives. Hence the staying power of Whitewater. A man assumed to be honest would have shaken off the controversy - but, like Nixon, trustworthiness is not Clinton's strong suit. According to one poll, only 35 per cent of Americans believe he has 'the right set of characteristics to be President'.

In terms of policy, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon could not be more different: the former obsessed by domestic issues, for whom a foreign crisis is, by his own admission, a distraction. Foreign affairs, by contrast, were Nixon's meat and drink. But their styles of governing have much in common.

Clinton has no 'Prussian guard' of Haldeman and Erlichman running the White House machine: if he had, Whitewater would never have assumed the proportions it has. But like Nixon he sees politics in intensely personal terms. This president seems to exude genial affability, but his dislike of the press is reminiscent of Nixon's. When he spoke at the annual White House Correspondents dinner the other night, every joke was tinged with a positively Nixonian rancour.

Both, too, thrived on hi-tech electioneering. In 1968 Nixon fought the first made-for-TV campaign, an art which found apotheosis with the marketing of Bill Clinton in 1992. But the biggest similarity may be sheer resilience. Both men were from modest backgrounds, helped neither by blood nor money. Both thrived on risk-taking. For Bill Clinton, self-proclaimed 'Comeback Kid' of the 1992 campaign, no mistake is quite fatal, no cause quite lost. Each time our hero wriggles free.

So in a sense, and under infinitely more testing circumstances, did Nixon. 'Never quit,' his mother told him, and he never did. In 1962 his political career was reckoned to be over; six years on he was elected president. Another six years and it was Watergate and seemingly eternal disgrace. But when he died on 22 April, rehabilitation was virtually complete.

The day he suffered the stroke which would kill him, Nixon was preparing his speech for a Republican fund-raising event, at which he would be the star attraction. Well before that, the Bill Clinton who as a Rhodes Scholar in 1969 demonstrated against Nixon's conduct of the Vietnam war, was seeking the elder statesman's advice on foreign policy matters. Clinton probably realised that for all their differences, he and Richard Nixon were two of a kind.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Glou...

Humanities and Economics Teacher - January 2015 - Malaysia

£18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain