Michael P. Ackley has worked more than three decades as a journalist, the majority of that time at the Sacramento Union. His experience includes reporting, editing and writing commentary. He retired from teaching journalism for California State University at Hayward.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current, events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference.
Howard Bashford looked troubled. When I asked him what the problem might be, he said, “Whenever I see and hear Barack Obama speak, a specter billows up from my memory like a malevolent balloon. It’s the specter of Richard Milhous Nixon.”
I allowed that certainly would be troubling but said, “Certainly, our 44th president bears no physical resemblance to the 37th. Obama is taller, arguably better looking, of African-American lineage, and a Democrat rather than a Republican.”
“Yet every time I see him, I keep seeing that face and hearing that name: Nixon! Nixon! Nixon!” Howard exclaimed, clenching his fists as if preparing to ward off the image.
I asked him to go over the matter calmly and to search his subconscious for clues as to the source of this dreadful apparition. We sat down at a handy sidewalk cafe, and he was silent as I ordered us a couple of zebra mochas.
After he had stewed quietly for a few minutes more, he began: “I first conceived a distaste for Nixon when I was too young to understand the nuances of public policy. However, like many a kid, I could recognize a phony when I saw one. I saw one during the Kennedy/Nixon debates leading up to the presidential election of 1960.”
Hearing this, I whipped out my smart phone, and with a few more hints from Howard was able to employ the Internet to track down the actual dialog. Charles Von Fremd of CBS News asked the candidates about former President Harry S. Truman’s salty language at a Democratic Party banquet.
Truman had said, “If you vote for Nixon, you ought to go to hell.”
Kennedy basically laughed the matter off, but Nixon said, “One thing I have noted as I have traveled around the country (is) the tremendous number of children who come out to see the presidential candidates. I see mothers holding their babies up so that they can see a man who might be president of the United States. I know Sen. Kennedy sees them, too.
“It makes you realize that whoever is president is going to be a man that all the children of America will either look up to or will look down to. And I can only say that I am very proud that President Eisenhower restored dignity and decency, and, frankly, good language to the conduct of the presidency of the United States.
“And I only hope that should I win this election, that I could approach President Eisenhower in maintaining the dignity of the office, in seeing to it that whenever any mother or father talks to his child, he can look at the man in the White House, and whatever he may think of his policies, he will say, ‘Well, there is a man who maintains the kind of standards personally that I would want my child to follow.’”
Howard read over the quotes and nodded.
“The insincerity was palpable,” he said. “Later, of course, we learned that Nixon was quite comfortable with the old ‘expletive deleted,’ not to mention with unalloyed criminality. His problem was, he telegraphed his phoniness. His intonation, his facial expression, his body language all signaled: ‘Look out! A lie is on its way.’”
“So,” said I, “that’s another way Nixon is different from Obama. You still haven’t explained why the incumbent should set you off the way he does.”
“Bear with me,” said Howard. “I think we’re getting to it: Obama doesn’t telegraph his insincerity. His intonation, his body language, his facial expression are those of a liar quite superior to his predecessor of Watergate fame. It helps explain his election victories.
“He can stand before Congress and the American people and say, ‘I’m going to cut the deficit,’ and appear quite sincere. He can say his medical industry takeover is going to make health care less expensive and not betray his contrary knowledge. He can declare himself a friend of Israel while undercutting our only true friend in the Middle East, and not reveal a single, poker-player’s ‘tell’ about his true beliefs.
“He can tell us he knew nothing about gun running to Mexico, or civil rights bias in his justice department, or the communism of his “green czar,” or his ignorance of dereliction in Benghazi.
“He can stand behind a lectern in a factory and tell the workers that he – who never held a real job in his life – understands them and is on their side. He can do, and has done, all these things, and people buy his line, because he is so smooth.”
“Again,” I said, “unlike Nixon.”
“But there you have it!” said Howard excitedly. “Nixon was transparently smarmy; But smarmy is as smarmy does. And that’s why Obama conjures up ‘Tricky Dick.’
“He is the master of crypto-smarm.”
With that, Howard drained his mocha, thanked me for my nonexistent help in tracing the source of his disturbing apparitions, and went happily about his business.
California’s senior senator: The way Sen. Dianne Feinstein snapped when asked a civil question by Texas’ junior Sen. Ted Cruz, we’d like to suggest a new appellation for her: Sen. Dianne Thinskin.