I agree that there is a psychological kinship between Nixon and Gore. I think it is this: both are (or were) by nature private, closed-in people who had difficulty relating easily to others and were therefore fundamentally bad politicians. But both were more or less consumed by a craving for acclaim or approval that could only be satisfied by the Presidency. This obsession drove both to overcome (more or less) their lack of natural political ability, but in the course of doing so they exposed themselves nakedly and rather clumsily to the public, so that watching them was often appalling, like a train wreck in slow motion. By rights, Al Gore’s career should be over, but I wouldn’t bet a nickel against him; like Nixon, he will persevere and he may yet be rewarded.
Nixon was probably an opportunist in some ways, but I wouldn’t be so sure he didn’t believe in affirmative action and a guaranteed income. He once told an interviewer (during his wilderness years) that his mistake was starting out in politics as a Republican; he should have been a Democrat. I think he may have justified both of these policies on pragmatic grounds; quotas as the most direct way to help minority groups for whom he felt genuine sympathy, and a guaranteed income as a way to abolish, with one stroke, the whole welfare system whose effects he rightly considered to be harmful–doing the maximum practical good for poor people at the least possible cost. (Nixon knew that we spend far more money on poverty programs than it would take to “abolish” poverty if the same money were simply given to poor people, and he had no attachment to social workers.) What I find harder to understand is how he justified price controls, since he had some understanding of economics. But Nixon came of political age in an era that is now long gone, when a fierce anti-communism was often combined with what would now be considered very liberal domestic policies. I don’t think Nixon’s politics were very different from Scoop Jackson’s or even, perhaps, Harry Truman’s. But he survived into an era in which conservatives were anti-Communist and liberals were not, and in that era his politics often seemed puzzling. Whether his foreign policy initiatives made sense I’m really not sure, but with detente substituted for anti-Communism, there wasn’t much conservatism left.
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