Dictating this to the Spousal Unit; they’re holding me in the hospital after twelve hours in the emergency room and subsequent minor hand surgery (more irritating than dangerous). Since I don’t have Cole’s stamina, there will be no NIXONLAND discussion this Sunday. Also, expect light posting for a couple of days.
Obviously, the world was ending: By 1971, the conclusion was unmistakable. Steve Roberts of the NYT wrote about the enveloping apocalypticism in California, where every trend began… [W]hen it came to existential terrors, Americans could choose from a banquet.
I would like to point out that apocalypticism comes naturally when your Serious Leaders of the Free World treat ‘mutually assured destruction’ as a phenomenon as natural as springtime tornadoes in Kansas or August hurricanes in Florida — devasting, unpredictable, and unavoidable. I did not know that Stephen Vincent Benet’s “By the Waters of Babylon” was published — in the Saturday Evening Post! — in 1937, or that it was written as a result of the bombing of Guernica. But even my non-sf-reading classmates in the early 1960s knew that gradeschool ‘duck and cover’ drills had been abandoned not because the threat of nuclear destruction had abated, but because it had become too publicly obvious how futile such gestures would be in the event. When “everybody knows” that the world could end with 15 minutes’ warning, it encourages political nihilism on either side of the aisle.
On Sunday, April 18, Vietnam Veterans Against the War’s John Kerry appeared on Meet the Press. Their Washington pageant began the next morning, the anniversary of the ‘shot heard ’round the world’ in 1775. Eleven hundred veterans, mostly in wrinkled fatigues, medals pinned to hippie headbands, marched to Arlington National Cemetary; five Gold Star mothers in the lead; two vets carrying the VVAW banner; then a contigent in wheelchairs and crutches, blind men walking with canes. Two mothers and two veterans approached the Tomb of the Unknowns with a wreath. The great iron gates shut in their faces…
Somewhere in the audience, Roger Ailes was taking notes, I’m sure.
The president was at first indifferent to the [Pentagon Papers] whodunit game. He had his suspects […] but he wasn’t disposed to worry about a document completed before he was inaugurated and covering events only through 1968. “Make sure we call them the Kennedy-Johnson papers,” he had told Haldeman at first, prepared to let the chips fall where they may.
Historians would debate the reasons for the president’s subsequent change of heart. They agree Kissinger was crucial in changing his boss’s mind…
But the reasons for panic weren’t really that complicated. Nixon-Kissinger diplomacy made credibly guaranteeing discretion to negotiating partners the first, even sacred, priority.
Yeah, that whole “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up” piety? The sacredness of covering up was the heart of Nixon’s appeal right from the start: Cover up your feelings & ambitions (even from yourself); cover up (lie about) the reasons behind your actions; cover up your actions, because they have strayed outside the limits of lawfulness, since your lodestar is not what should be done but what can we get away with…
“Let me try to bring some clarity to this deliberate confusion,” [Muskie] said. Democrats wanted security against lawlessness too, but Democrats also thought you deserved economic security. The Republicans? “They oppose your interests” and “really believe that if they can make you afraid enough or angry enough, you can be tricked into voting against yourself.”[…] The debate wasn’t between right and left, but between “the politics of fear and the politics of trust. One says: You are encircled by monstrous dangers. Give us power over your freedom so we may protect you. The other says: The world is a baffling & hazardous place, but it can be shaped to the will of men… “
Ehrlichmann added that, after all, “Politics is the art of polarization“.
For those of you too young to remember, Muskie would go on to lose the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 for, essentially, being branded by the media as a girly-man.
All else is commentary.
In 1969, the average factory worker earned 82 cents less a week in real terms than he did in 1965. … In NY, some letter carriers were eligible for welfare. Across the economy, long-term labor contracts that had failed to keep pace with prices were expiring… Where union leaders weren’t able to settle to their restive memberships’ satisfaction, a price was being exacted: the ‘wildcat’ strike…
Richard Nixon judged the inflation risk acceptable. Economics was one more aspect of domestic policy that he tended to ignore. But he did harbor one core economic conviction. In the traditional trade-off between recession and inflation, he would always chose inflation…
But creeping price hikes were shaking that confidence. Dour old financiers were once more warning a president to cool the economy… The Federal Reserve Chairman waxed gloomily in a June 1969 speech to an audience of bankers: with federal expenditures growing 60% in three years and revenues & productivity not keeping pace, the U.S. economy was “a house of cards.” The time had come to cool it down: “We’re going to have a good deal of pain and suffering before we can solve these things.”
1970: The Summer of Hunkering Down. I was a teenager in NYC then, and my dad worked in the area (for the Port Authority), but I don’t remember the ‘Wall Street Hard Hat Riots’ at all. What I do remember was the increasing polarization, a sort of angry despair, which in retrospect seems to have been very much the goal of the Nixon administration and the Permanent Ruling Party in general. The big local story that I recall — of course, my family had skin in that game — was the state of near-war over the construction of the WTC. Memories have been re-written in the hate-us-for-our-freedom afterglow of 9/11, but when it was actively destroying a vibrant small-business neighborhood the whole project was regarded by a lot of the natives (Daily News and Post readers) as a way for upstate’s Rockefellers (NYT / WSJ readers), working together with Big NJ Crime, to tear a chunk out of Manhattan’s vitals and destroy the city’s status as a working port. I remember it as the time when unions turned against each other, ‘hard hats’ (construction workers) versus ‘city workers’ (Port Authority workers like my dad, but also firemen, cops & other civil-service workers who saw their jobs being threatened when funds & attention were reallocated to the Shiny New Sinkhole). I do remember plenty of media talk about escalation in Vietnam, ‘student riots’, and general state-sponsored murder out there, elsewhere in the big world, but locally it was all about extended family gatherings breaking down into screaming matches and fistfights over much more parochial concerns. We would’ve agreed the whole world was going to hell, though.
This was the Nixon who once shared in a moment of introspection to an aide, “It’s a piece of cake until you get to the top. You find you can’t stop playing the game the way you’ve always played it because it is part of you and you need it as much as an arm or leg… You continue to walk on the edge of the precipice because over the years you have become fascinated by how close to the edge you can walk without losing your balance.”
Ratcheting up the machinery:
Ronald Reagan’s administration prepared for the 1969/70 school year by asking the FBI to help in its “psychological warfare campaign” about student radicals. J. Edgar Hoover responded enthusiastically — “this has been done in the past and has worked quite successfully” — and dispatched his number two man, Clyde Tolson, to help…
Senator Sam Irvine, the North Carolina conservative and civil libertarian, learned that Treasury Department officials checked library lists to see what books certain suspicious Americans read, that HEW kept a blacklist of antiwar scientists, that the Secret Service was asking government employees to report anyone with an interest in “embarrassing” the president.
… The Nixon administration tapped an attorney in the Justice Department, William Rehnquist, to write a memo justifying expanding the program to spy on any antiwar activity. Soon, one thousand undercover agents in three hundred offices nationwide were compiling dossiers on such groups as the NAACP, ACLU, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Clergy & Layman Concerned about Vietnam.
Kissinger and Ehrlichman hosted seven student leaders in the WH Situation Room. They represented 273 student government officers and student newspaper editors who had signed a pledge of draft resistance. Ehrlichman said, “If you guys think that you can break laws just because you don’t like them, you’re going to have to force us to up the ante to the point where we give out death sentences for traffic violations.“
“Every American has a right to disagree with the President of the United States, and to express publicly that disagreement. But the president of the United States has a right to communicate directly with the people who elected him, and the people of the country have the right to make up their own minds and form their own opinions about a presidential address without having the president’s words and thoughts characterized through the prejudices of hostile critics before they can even be digested” by “this little group of men who not only enjoy a right of instant rebuttal to every presidential address, but more importantly, wield a free hand in selecting, presenting, and interpreting the great issues of our nation.”
That last was Spiro Agnew, starting his campaign against the ‘nattering nabobs of negativism’. Of course, Roger Ailes was already embedded in the White House, taking notes (or writing scripts). If the President does it, then it is not a crime…
Of course, I could be reading too much into this. How do you remember those times? What do you think?