Nixon: Like Blair, had an ability to know where the voters were.
Discussing Tony Blair’s legacy with someone recently ( I know, I know!)made me consider the parallels with the late President Nixon. In our media age, so often it is the caricature of a person that seems to get remembered, and Nixon was always ripe for that. Socially awkward, a proto-McCarthyite and then with Watergate and Laos/Cambodia/Allende thrown in, there’s a lot of dislike about Nixon, to the point where the question is asked as to how someone like him ever became president. Tony Blair is going through the same thing at the moment, where it is now unfashionable to say anything good about him or his time in office, or indeed to admit that he won the votes of millions of people in three consecutive elections.
Yet Nixon came from nowhere in 1946 to be his party’s nominee in 1960, got defeated by a fraction, and then, in a feat that would be impossible now, came back eight years later to win his nomination and election. Four years after that he was re-elected in a crushing landslide. This odd, awkward, bigoted and possibly psychologically damaged man was overwhelmingly the choice of the American people because he spoke for them, warts and all.
Blair was like that, being able to judge where the centre of gravity of the British people was, that is, right wing on taxes, left wing on spending, right wing on law and order and willing to tolerate the liberal reform stuff. Like Nixon, he managed to piss off both the far right and the far left (Nixon quietly continued LBJ’s policies on desegregation whilst Blair remained pragmatic about the EU and liberal on gay rights) whilst keeping, for the vast majority of his time in office, the great silent majority on board.
There’s a great line in Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” when the president, played by Anthony Hopkins, is standing looking at a portrait of JFK. “They look at you and see what they want to be” Hopkins says. “They look at me and see what they are”