The Gallup poll showed it 59-36 for the president. One of the people who didn’t believe it was one of the nation’s most respected political columnists, Scotty Reston of the New York Times, the Sunday before Election Day. Nixon would win, “but the thought that the American people are going to give Mr. Nixon and his policies and anonymous hucksters and twisters in the White House a landslide popular victory… is a little hard to imagine.” To believe that Gallup was right, “you must also believe that the American people regret corruption but have accepted it as an unavoidable part of American life and really don’t care about all those millions of dollars given to the Republican party by a few rich men and women, all the secret funds, and the bugging and burglary of the Democratic party and the fake letters and political sabotage and the guerilla warfare used in this campaign… that it’s all right for the President to seek four more years in the White House without defining his program for the next four years, without debating the opposition candidate, or answering questions from the press… that the American people don’t mind or haven’t noticed that Presidential power is now unbalancing the whole American system.”
And, for all demonstrable purposes, the American people — or at least that portion of the Silent Majority Real Americans who bought newspapers and voted in every election — didn’t mind. Which was a great relief to Mr. Reston’s employers, because comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted is so much easier than doing it the other way around. If national elections are just another variety of Survivor or American Idol, then the courtiers of the press get to demonstrate their most finely-honed talents to a much wider audience!
As a coda, it is not possible for me to despise Hubert H. Humphrey any more than I already did, but damned if Perlstein doesn’t convince me that George McGovern wasn’t a good man out of his depth in a particularly filthy race, but a pious fraud willing to make himself a puppet for whichever cabal offered him the best chance at a higher office than his natural talents allowed. Kind of the Democratic George H.W. Bush, with (per best Dem practice) less money and more guts. I don’t think this was Perlstein’s intention, but did it seem to anyone else like McGovern couldn’t have done more to ensure Nixon’s re-election if he had been a GOP plant?