In his pre-Super Bowl interview with Bill O’Reilly, President Obama was asked if he’s our most liberal recent president. He replied, “probably not” and then offered that “[i]n a lot of ways Richard Nixon was more liberal than I was.” Specifically, he pointed to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency as evidence.
Certainly, most Republicans today wouldn’t argue with the president that Nixon was quite liberal and that the policies he championed would today probably fit better in the Democrat Party than the current GOP.
Obama’s citing of the creation of EPA is certainly good evidence of this. Nixon’s term also featured the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Since their inception, neither agency has earned much praise from business or been recognized favorably by a single Chamber of Commerce. And it’s not because business is in favor of polluting the environment or opposed to workplace safety. Rather, like most federal agencies, these entities seem to measure their worth by how many regulations they can promulgate and enforce. Some are obviously necessary but many are not, and it’s the ones that really aren’t critical that can add up and put an employer out of business.
I practiced environmental law for fourteen years, so I know a little something about this. My clients worried not only about the EPA but about state, county, and local environmental rules and regulations as well. As a compliance attorney, my job was to help these companies figure out how to comply with all these rules and regulations. For me, it was a busy fulltime job.
While I was focused on the numerous environmental statutes and regulations, my counterparts in the Labor Section of the law firm assisted in keeping companies in compliance with not only OSHA rules and regulations but a virtual smorgasbord of other labor and employment related agencies as well.
As an attorney, one of my favorite little handy reference tools was the Glossary of Environmental Acronyms. Ironically, I recall it being called the GEA. Today, I don’t think they even bother putting it in a single document. That’s because there are literally hundreds of such acronyms. Take a moment to Google the term “environmental acronyms” and you’ll see why people in my profession remain gainfully employed.
Since commenting on the comparison to Nixon, several articles describe in greater detail Nixon’s “liberal” policies so there is no need to discuss them here. Suffice it to say, Nixon can easily be described as more “big government” than any living Republican ever thought about being. And he was definitely the polar opposite of Ronald Reagan who spent his political capital trying to shut down federal agencies rather than start new ones.
What’s especially interesting is that President Obama chose to bring up Nixon at all. Did he think that would shut up all those Republicans out there? What message did he want to convey? Was it “the most liberal recent president was a Republican—so there!”
It’s also interesting that he brought up the EPA at all since, while Nixon established the agency, Obama is using it in an aggressively liberal fashion that Nixon likely never would have dreamt of doing.
If Obama wants to compare himself to Richard Nixon, that’s fine.
Perhaps, if given the opportunity, Nixon might have claimed that there wasn’t a “smidgen of corruption” surrounding his most notable scandal either.