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Mitt-steps Abroad Stir Nixon Nostalgia (Almost)

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When Richard Nixon was president, I didn't think the country could do worse.

Then we elected Ronald Reagan and, I thought, surely we couldn't do worse than that. But compared to George W., Reagan was Abe Lincoln.

Should Mitt Romney win, brace yourself for someone even worse than "W."

I'm not saying that Mitt is a worse human being than Nixon was; that would be close to impossible: Nixon was a ruthless, vile, anti-Semitic crook. At the same time, he was a competent president. His domestic achievements -- the creation of numerous consumer protection agencies, the cost-of-living adjustment to Social Security, expanded welfare assistance programs, et al. -- were downright liberal. They're also the funhouse-mirror image of Romney's toxic mix of tax cuts for the mega-rich, financial deregulation and the elimination of programs that help the neediest Americans.

Nixon's foreign policy gravitas provides an even starker contrast to Romney. None of Nixon's actions excuse the fact that he and his amoral aide Henry Kissinger purposely prolonged the Vietnam War and secretly bombed Cambodia, killing hundreds of thousands of innocents. But Nixon had the background (congressman, vice president, presidential candidate, avid student of history), the expertise and, most important, the passion and intensity to successfully pursue a working relationship with China and détente with the USSR.

Romney's recent foreign foray was supposed to demonstrate that he's Commander in Chief material. Instead, it showed an evasive, jingoistic panderer with a tin ear for diplomacy and, worse, a lack of interest in foreign affairs. Romney is worse than a know-nothing -- he's a care-nothing.

Time Magazine summarized the Mitt-steps in Romney's "gaffe-filled foreign tour." The former Massachusetts governor couldn't even get the math right when, during a fund-raiser in Israel, he underestimated the poverty of Palestinians by a factor of 10.

Romney and his supporters blamed the media for distorting a sojourn that Rush Limbaugh labeled a "home run." But Roger Simon, hardly a lefty stooge, spoke for the reality-based community when he wrote in Politico, "A few days ago, I called Romney's trip a disaster. I would like to apologize. It was a disaster wrapped in a debacle inside a calamity."

Asked by Fox News' Carl Cameron to describe "the Romney doctrine," Romney replied, "I describe my views on foreign policy as having confidence in our cause, having clarity in our purpose, and having resolve in the application of might if that were ever necessary." How can you vote against confidence, clarity and resolve?

Mitt's strategy abroad, we're told, stems from a crucial lesson he learned at the knee of his father, George Romney, who ran against Richard Nixon for the Republican presidential nod in 1968. Like Mitt, George -- then governor of the state his son would later laud for having trees that are "just the right height" -- went overseas to establish his own international bona fides. The fallout from a single candid comment about his experience in Vietnam -- "I had the greatest brainwashing anybody (could) get" -- catapulted George out of the race before the first primary.

The son's behavior suggests that the lesson he gleaned was to avoid any trace of his father's candor. Instead, he chose to emulate the secretive, screw-the-media stance of Nixon, a man whose massive personal anxieties helped propel him into the White House -- and right back out again.

As a result, not only are we in the dark about Romney's true beliefs; we aren't sure he has any beliefs at all.

Romney once said of Nixon, "I don't know what the president believes in. Maybe he doesn't believe in anything." That was George Romney, of course. He might as well have been talking about his son, whose air of privilege and condescension Nixon would've despised.

While some of Nixon's policies were more progressive than those of other presidential candidates, Republican and Democrat, his motives were anything but honorable. In a Washington Post piece marking the 40th anniversary of the Watergate scandal, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein -- whose investigative reporting on Watergate won the Post a Pulitzer -- argue that Nixon was actually "far worse than we thought." After poring over hundreds of hours of secret tapes and thousands of pages of documents, Woodstein conclude that focusing on Watergate, "Minimizes the scale and reach of Nixon's criminal actions."

Elizabeth Drew, columnist and author of the book Richard M. Nixon, observed that, "Nixon's pragmatism, his lack of core beliefs and his opportunism throughout his political lifetime offer little reason to doubt that he would be right in step with the conservative Republican politics of today." Of course, Drew wrote those words five years ago, before the GOP sprinted Mittward and rightward -- right off the cliff.