I apologize in advance for such wankery on Saturday night, but I just stumbled across this in a Gail Collins article:
Back in 1971, Congress passed a bill aimed at providing high-quality early childhood education and after-school programs for any American family that wanted them. It was bipartisan, which in those days meant more than a whole lot of Democrats and somebody from Maine. “Having been a working mother, I knew what day-care problems were like,” said Martha Phillips, who was at that time a staffer at the Republican Research Committee in the House.
Then Richard Nixon surprised almost everyone by vetoing it, with a scathing message written by Pat Buchanan, claiming the bill would “commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing.”
The social right, which was just beginning to come into its own, was delighted! Opponents reinforced the message with a massive letter-writing campaign. They accused members of Congress of plotting to deprive parents of the right to take their offspring to church, give children the power to sue their parents for forcing them to do chores, and, in general, turn the country into a Maoist concentration camp.
Which made me think of this (from a Kathleen Parker piece):
A telling anecdote recounted by Pat Buchanan to New Yorker writer George Packer last year captures the dark spirit that still hovers around the GOP. In 1966 Buchanan and Richard Nixon were at the Wade Hampton Hotel in Columbia, S.C., where Nixon worked a crowd into a frenzy: “Buchanan recalls that the room was full of sweat, cigar smoke, and rage; the rhetoric, which was about patriotism and law and order, ‘burned the paint off the walls.’ As they left the hotel, Nixon said, ‘This is the future of this Party, right here in the South.’ ”
I’ve read much of Nixonland, but I still don’t understand how much Nixon changed American politics, since I know nothing of pre-Nixon (or even pre-Reagan, really) politics. How much did Nixon change things? I know there were all kinds of crazy rightists before Nixon, John Birchers and so on, but that seems a separate issue. It’s one thing to have crazy right-wingers, it’s another to mainstream their paranoia in a way that turns the entire nation’s politics into a crazed right-wing drama. Which, if we’re honest with ourselves, is what our politics has been for quite some time. Was Nixon the primary catalyst for this?
I think of this also because I’ve been following the silly Kaplan “Most Influential Person of the Decade” tournament, where the finalists are Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush. And I wonder: was Nixon the most influential American of the last 50 years?
I don’t mean for this to be an anti-Republican screed. What I’m referring to here is a general political atmosphere, one that some Republicans almost certainly don’t like.