Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

Review: “…when Nixon turned down his admission to Harvard (because his father would not pay the train fare, which happened to my uncle too) he matriculated at Whittier College. There he attempted to join an elite student society, The Franklins. He was turned down by them and rather than sulk in private, rather than become a campus shooter, or lonely alcoholic bum, he got even. He formed his own club, The Orthogonians (orthogon meaning right angle, Straight and Square), made up of the students rejected by the Franklins. This pattern, of both sharing and exploiting the feelings of rejection and hostility towards the elites of ordinary people, would be Nixon’s meat and potatoes for the rest of his career.”

Here are some highlights from this 2009 book by Rick Perlstein:

* YOU MIGHT SAY THE STORY STARTS WITH A TELEVISION BROADCAST. It issued from the Los Angeles television station KTLA, for four straight August days in 1965, culminating Sunday night, August 15, with a one-hour wrap-up. Like any well-produced TV program, the wrap-up featured its own theme music—pounding, dissonant, like the scores composer Bernard Herrmann produced for Alfred Hitchcock—and a logo, likewise jagged and blaring. It opened with a dramatic device: a voice-over redolent of the old L.A. police procedural Dragnet—elements familiar enough, almost, to make it feel like just another cops-and-robbers show.
“It was a hot and humid day in the city of Los Angeles, Wednesday, August eleventh, 1965, ” the gravelly narration began …
“The City of Angels is the nation’s third-largest metropolis.
“Two and a half million people live here, in virtually an ideal climate, surrounded by natural beauty, and the benefits of economic prosperity.
“Within the vast metropolitan spread live 523,000 Negroes. A sixth of them reside in southeastern Los Angeles in an area that is not an abject slum in the New York or Detroit context, but nonetheless four times as congested as an average area in the rest of the city.
“The community had prided itself on its relatively harmonious racial relations, few demonstrations, no massive civil disobedience, little trouble from militant factions. ”
The camera tracks an ordinary-looking residential block, tree-lined and neat, a row of modest ranch houses fronted by postage-stamp lawns, suburban, almost. The angle came from a helicopter—KTL A-TV’s “telecopter” was the first of its kind. The utility of the Korean War-vintage Bell 47G-5 with the camera affixed to its belly had so far been mostly prurient: shots of the swimming pool where Marlon Brando’s maid had drowned; of the well that swallowed a darling little girl; of movie stars’ mansions being devoured by brush fires in the Hollywood hills. Now the chopper was returned to its wartime roots. Los Angeles’ black citizens were burning down their neighborhood.
When the Watts riots began, television stations sent in their mobile cars to cover it. They were stoned like a scene from Leviticus. The next day militants cautioned, or threatened, the TV crews not to come: they were all-white— the enemy. There was even fear that KTLA’s shiny red helicopter might be shot down, by the same snipers peppering the firefighters who were trying to douse the burning blocks.
The risk was taken. Which was why the worst urban violence in American history ended up being shown live on TV for four straight days, virtually nonstop. %
Then, that Sunday-night wrap-up: The narrator paused, the telecopter slowed to a hover at the end of the tree-lined block, lingering on a single bungalow on the corner. Its roof was gone, the insides blackened like the remains of a weekend barbecue.
The voice-over intensified:
“Then with the suddenness of a lightning holt and all the fury of an infernal holocaust, there was HELL in the City of Angels/”
Cue the music: shrieking trumpets, pealing from television speakers in Southern California recreation rooms and dens, apartments and bars, wherever people gathered, pealing as heralds, because American politics, for those white, middle-class folks who formed the bedrock of the American political conversation, could never be the same again.
Until that week the thought that American politics was on the verge of a transformation would have been judged an absurdity by almost every expert. Indeed, its course had never seemed more certain.
Lyndon Johnson had spent 1964, the first year of his accidental presidency, redeeming the martyr: passing, with breathtaking aplomb, a liberal legislative agenda that had only known existence as wish during John F. Kennedy’s lifetime. His Economic Opportunity Act of 1964—the “war on poverty”— passed nearly two to one. The beloved old general Dwight D. Eisenhower came out of retirement to campaign against the Kennedy-Johnson tax cut. But Lyndon Johnson passed that, too. And then there was the issue of civil rights.

* Unadulterated political passion was judged a dangerous thing by the dominant ideologists of American consensus. One of the deans among them, University of California president Clark Kerr, used to give his students a piece of advice that might as well have served as these experts’ motto: a man should seek “to lend his energies to many organizations and give himself completely to none.” Lest all the competing passions crosscutting a modern, complex society such as America’s become irreconcilable, beyond compromise—a state of affairs Kerr could only imagine degenerating into “all-out war.”

* He signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on August 6 under the Capitol dome. He intoned about the slaves, who “came in darkness and they came in chains. … Today, we strike away the last major shackle of those fierce and ancient bonds.”
People cried. The Negro’s cause was America’s cause. Who could argue with that? Johnson, the Times’ agenda-setting pundit James “Scotty” Reston avowed, was “getting everything through the Congress but the abolition of the Republican party, and he hasn’t tried that yet.”
The rioting in Los Angeles began five nights later. The spark came at the corner of 116th and Avalon. Two black men, brothers, were stopped by a California highway patrolman at 7:19 p.m., the driver under suspicion of drunkenness. The three scuffled; a crowd gathered. Their mother came out from her house to quarrel with the cops, then another woman joined the fight. The crowd thought the second woman was pregnant (she was wearing a barber’s smock). When the cops struck the second woman—kicking a pregnant woman in the stomach?—the mob surged as one. By ten fifteen several hundred Watts residents were on the street, throwing things at white car passengers, staving in store windows, looting. Police tried to seal off the immediate area. But things had already spiraled out of control.
The images came soon afterward, raw and ubiquitous—and, because of a quirk of technology (the telecopter did not record its images on film, as most news cameras did, but via^ microwave signal), live. KTLA fed it raw into people’s homes for the next four days. As a public service, they shared the feeds with the other L.A. channels and the networks.
You would see the telecopter hovering over a hapless lone individual turning a garden hose on a fire at an army surplus store, whose exploding ammunition had already kindled adjacent drug and liquor stores, as upward of a thousand lingered to watch them burn and to harass the Good Samaritan as fire trucks approached and were turned away by a hail of bricks.
You saw fire trucks escorted by sixteen police cruisers to secure their passage, flames high enough to down power lines, the transformer in front of a furniture store about to blow, black smoke spreading second by second over a massive expanse of roof, then over the lion’s share of the block, the helicopter tacking through banks of black smoke, looking for ribbons of light through which to capture the scurrying firemen below.
The reporter narrates the action in surges and lulls, like a demonic sports play-by-play:
“There is little that they can do. These buildings will he a total loss before they can get the first drop of water on the building—AND ANOTHER FIRE JUST ERUPTED ABOUT A BLOCK AWAY!…
“And the spectators do not seem to be concerned by what’s going on….
“Here are two kids running away from the fire right now!… If the command center can see our picture, I would check the parking lot next to the National Dollar Store for three individuals. . . . AND NOW THERE’S ANOTHER BUILDING ON FIRE ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE STREET!…
“And there’s another group of spectators! All they’re doing is standing around and looking. They couldn’t be less concerned. . . .
“And now we have orders to climb higher into the air as potshots are being taken from the ground. Rifle fire and small-arms fire. So we’re pulling up and out. ”
Then you saw the helicopter swof-swof across two more miles of blazing streets, to Fifty-first and Avalon, for shots of a burning car turned on its back like a helpless scarab, the crowd guarding their treasure with a street barricade of picnic tables, park benches, and trash cans, the flames ascending heavenward.
War, breaking out in the streets of the United States of America, as if out of nowhere.

* There had been race riots in the summer of 1964 in New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Rochester. And then, when Goldwater lost overwhelmingly, pundits systematically breathed a sigh of relief. “White Backlash Doesn’t Develop,” the New York Times headlined. But backlash was developing, whatever the Times’s triumphant conclusion. In a statewide referendum in California, with Proposition 14, voters struck down the state’s “open housing” law, which prevented property owners from discriminating against purchasers or renters on the basis of race, by a proportion of two to one— an anti-civil-rights vote of almost the same size as the day’s vote for President Johnson.

* Watts was absorbed, six days after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, as a visitation from another planet. “How is it possible after all we’ve accomplished?” Lyndon Johnson cried in anguish. “How could it be? Is the world topsy-turvy?” Los Angeles radio station KNX fired its most popular call-in host. He insisted on talking about Watts. His bosses wanted him talking about anything but. In this way consensus was institutionalized.

* The most frightening Watts footage did not require a telecopter. The morning after the first day, a series of calm intervals led officials to the false hope that the worst of the riot was over. The Los Angeles Human Relations Commission called a community meeting at Athens Park, eleven blocks from ground zero. A respected black minister with a polite little mustache made an appeal to stay off the streets: “I think that the civil rights drive in America has demonstrated that violence will never be the just end to the grievances we have.” He soon lost control of the meeting. A parade of locals stepped to the microphone with angrier and angrier grievances: at the police (who were known to buck themselves up before ghetto tours of duty by crying “LSMFT”—“Let’s shoot a motherfucker tonight”); at their rotting homes (nine in ten Watts houses were built before 1939); at the 30 percent black unemployment rate.
Then a kid stepped up to the microphone. He was sixteen, but he looked younger.
“I’m going to tell it the way it is,” he began. “I’m gonna tell you somethin’. Tonight there’s gonna be another one, whether you like it or not.”
He raised his hand for attention, his face intensifying. “Wait! Wait! Listen. We, the Negro people down here, have got completely fed up. And you know what they gonna do tonight. They not gonna fight down here no more. You know where they go in’. They after the white people. They gonna congregate, they gonna caravan out to Inglewood, to Marina Del Rey”— someone tried to push him away from the microphone—“and everywhere else the white man’s gonna stay. They gonna do the white man in tonight! ”
There was applause.
The human relations commissioner begged local stations not to air the clip that night. They showed it anyway. Angry whites had begun mobbing sporting-goods stores. More TV images, these ones to scare Negroes: Caucasians siting down the barrels of rifles, stockpiling bows and arrows, slingshots, any weapon they could lay their hands on. Race war seemed imminent. In the integrating community of Pasadena, a little girl lay awake at night wondering whether the new family moving in down the block was going to burn down her house while she slept, she remembered forty years later.

Within two hours the violence in Watts started up worse than before, now in broad daylight. L.A.’s police chief, William Parker, called Pat Brown’s executive secretary to ask for the National Guard—a pro forma request, he thought. A maelstrom of misunderstanding and recrimination unfolded instead. Anderson, who mistrusted Parker as a blustering racist, held off. By the time Anderson made it back to Los Angeles, Parker refused to meet with him.
At four fifteen Parker called a press conference to fulminate against a municipal stab in the back. Watts by then was six thousand rampaging bodies, the most violent civil disturbance since the New York City draft riots of 1863. The first National Guard units hit the streets at 7 p.m.—around the time the first rioter was shot by police. Pat Brown learned his city was out of control from the Athens Daily Post. He embarked on the twenty-four-hour journey home, arriving back in time for a report from a French airline pilot upon his final approach to Los Angeles International that the view looked in no way different from the war zones he had overflown during World War II.

* Watts was subdued once and for all Sunday morning by 12,242 National Guardsmen, twenty-year-olds patrolling American streets in troop carriers with .30-caliber machine guns, looking like scared doughboys from General Pershing’s expeditionary force, guarding the Harbor Freeway, a main Southern California artery that passed directly above the rioting, the imagined vector for some imminent black incursion on Greater Los Angeles. When KTLA aired its roundup documentary “Hell in the City of Angels” Sunday evening, they had to label the violent scenes “videotape” lest viewers think the uprising was still ongoing—though that reassurance was subverted when they had to cut in with live footage of new rioting in nearby Long Beach.

* Some whites noticed a pattern: in 1964, rioting had broken out a few weeks after the signing of the last civil-rights-law-to-end-all-civil-rights- laws. Watts wasn’t even the only riot that week; in Chicago, a black neighborhood went up after an errant fire truck killed a woman. Some whites noticed some liberal politicians seemed to be excusing it all. Time quoted Senator Robert F. Kennedy: “There is no point in telling Negroes to obey the law. To many Negroes the law is the enemy.”
But what were we left with without respect for the law? Time answered that question by quoting a “husky youth”: “If we don’t get things changed here, we’re gonna do it again. We know the cops are scared, and now all of us have guns. Last time we weren’t out to kill whites. Next time is going to • be different.”

* Richard Nixon was a serial collector of resentments. He raged for what he could not have or control.

* As a schoolboy he hadn’t a single close friend, preferring to cloister himself up in the former church’s bell tower, reading, hating to ride the school bus because he thought the other children smelled bad.

* Nixon always had a gift for looking under social surfaces to see and exploit the subterranean truths that roiled underneath. It was an eminently Nixonian insight: that on every sports team there are only a couple of stars, and that if you want to win the loyalty of the team for yourself, the surest, if least glamorous, strategy is to concentrate on the nonspectacular—silent—majority.

* Ever-expanding circles of Orthogonians, encompassing all those who ever felt their pride wounded by the Franklins of the world, were already his constituency. Richard Nixon at their center, yet apart, as their leader. The circle could be made to expand, Richard Nixon might have realized even then. Though via a paradox: the greater their power, the more they felt oppressed. When the people who felt like losers united around their shared psychological sense of grievance, their enemies felt somehow more overwhelming, not less; even if the Franklins weren’t always really so powerful at all, Franklin “power” often being merely a self-perpetuating effect of an Orthogonian sense of victimization. Martyrs who were not really martyrs, oppressors who were not really oppressors: a class politics for the white middle class. The keynote of the new, Nixonian politics…

* Some people say the best way to win at poker is to possess an iron butt: never bet a hand until you are sure you can win, even if that means folding for hours on end. You play the person, not the cards. You always give something to the mark: give him the confidence to believe he has one up on you. That is when you spring the trap.

* It is another psychobiographical theme in the lives of successful men: the deaths of siblings.

* Richard Milhous Nixon was born to beat Horace Jeremiah Voorhis, his first opponent for Congress. The California Twelfth District’s popular five-term congressman was rich, well-bred, a Yale Phi Beta Kappa, and a Yale Law graduate. He had been voted the most hardworking congressman by his peers and the most honest congressman by the press corps—even, in 1945, the year before Nixon faced him, the best congressman west of the Mississippi. It was said that he was the model for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. If nobility was Jerry Voorhis’s liability, nobody had thought to exploit it before.

* The pitch Nixon had spent years setting up, McCarthy hit out of the park.

* George Smathers beat Florida senator Claude Pepper by accusing him of being a “sexagenarian,” committing “nepotism” with his sister-in-law, openly proud of a sister who Smathers said was a “thespian.”

* Nixon marked it well: in the fever swamps of the Red Scare, fears of sexual and political irregularity were deeply intertwined. Hints of sexualized threat suffused his Senate campaign.

* Adlai Stevenson wrote his friend John Kenneth Galbraith, the (courtly) Harvard economist, “I want you to write the speeches against Nixon. You have no tendency to be fair.” Galbraith acknowledged that as a “noble compliment.”

* Went one of the Stevenson/Galbraith jeremiads: “As a citizen more than a candidate, I recoil at the prospect of Mr. Nixon as a custodian of this nation’s future, as guardian of the hydrogen bomb.” Ran another: “Our nation stands at a fork in the political road. In one direction lies a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland. America is something different.”
Of course, saying a President Nixon would unleash the bomb was also slander and scare, and spared not the innuendo. Adlai Stevenson and his learned speechwriter had coined a useful word, Nixonland. They just did not grasp its full resonance. They described themselves outside its boundaries. Actually, they were citizens in good standing.

* Thus a more inclusive definition of Nixonland: it is the America where two separate and irreconcilable sets of apocalyptic fears coexist in the minds of two separate and irreconcilable groups of Americans. The first group, enemies of Richard Nixon, are the spiritual heirs of Stevenson and Galbraith. They take it as an axiom that if Richard Nixon and the values associated with him triumph, America itself might end. The second group are the people who wrote those telegrams begging Dwight D. Eisenhower to keep their hero on the 1952 Republican ticket.

* The DNC was right: an amazingly large segment of the population disliked and mistrusted Richard Nixon instinctively. What they did not acknowledge was that an amazingly large segment of the population also trusted him as their savior. “Nixonland” is what happens when these two groups try to occupy a country together. By the end of the 1960s, Nixonland came to encompass the entire political culture of the United States. It would define it, in fact, for the next fifty years.

* Luckily when Stevenson began to gain. General Eisenhower gave Nixon license once more to breathe fire. (Nixon later recalled he felt “as if a great weight had been lifted from me.”) Eisenhower was reelected in a landslide. Stevenson—who’d taken to uttering at the mealtime mention of Nixon’s name, “Please! Not while I’m eating! ”—wrote an anguished letter to a friend: “The world is so much more dangerous and wicked even than it was barely four years ago when we talked, that I marvel and tremble at the rapidity of this deterioration.”

* Richard Nixon had tried to win his future wife Pat’s favor by driving her on her dates with other men; Kennedy blithely stole a wife seventeen years younger than Pat from her fiancé when he needed a family to display for his political career.

* Even after the Checkers Speech, coverage of Nixon was quite balanced. Balance was the fourth estate’s religion. They were even, sometimes, unbalanced in his favor. In 1960, for example, the two most powerful magazines in the country, Henry Luce’s Time and Life, were practically Nixon megaphones.

* Write a book, Jack Kennedy once advised him, the intellectuals will love you. Nixon had written much more of Six Crises than Jack Kennedy ever had of Profiles in Courage, which Joe Kennedy had fixed to win a Pulitzer Prize.

* Nineteen sixty-six, and Watts was the nation’s preoccupation.
“Now and then the police cars mount the sidewalk and drive through the ruins, threading through alleyways and behind stores, their searchings darting here and there for hiding youths,” the Washington Post reported, quoting one of those youths: “They are looking at the same old places. What they don’t know is that when it comes it ain’t gonna be like last time.” The Times also quoted an L.A. cop: “There are a lot more guns out there. They looted every pawnshop and sports shop in the area last summer.” The cop repeated himself: “There are a lot more guns out there.”
The meaning of Watts was fiercely debated. Militant blacks spoke of an “insurgency”: “I threw the firebomb right in that front window,” a youngster fondly reminisced to a CBS correspondent. “I call it getting even.” A group of Berkeley radicals, the Vietnam Day Committee, appropriated Watts for their manifesto: “The Los Angeles riots in the summer of 1965 are analogous to the peasant struggle in Vietnam.” Liberal technocrats reasoned, “If the Los Angeles rioting reveals the underlying weaknesses of the current federal approach to segregation, poverty, and housing, and if it stimulates some fresh thinking”—this was a Columbia professor—“it may compensate at least in part for the terrible havoc it wreaked.” Fortune magazine, speaking for enlightened business opinion, counseled understanding, quoting Langston Hughes:
Sweet and docile,
Meek, humble, and kind:
Beware the day They change their mind!
But the debate was dominated by the conservatives. Their spokesman was Chief William Parker, who in press conferences, like a candidate running for office, laid out the party line: it was the civil rights movement’s fault.
They were the ones who preached, “You don’t have to obey the law if you think it’s unjust.” They were the ones who forced guilt-ridden passage of civil rights laws that “sanctified their acts.” Chief Parker had provided this account of the riot’s origins to Governor Brown’s blue-ribbon panel studying Watts: “Someone threw a rock, and like monkeys in a zoo, they all started throwing rocks.” He maintained that unless dece’nt folks did something drastic, the monkeys would be visited even unto their own doorsteps—and for saying it was drowned in forty thousand congratulatory messages a month.

* That Reagan represented Goldwater’s ideas without Goldwater’s liabilities was precisely why his boosters backed him for governor in the first place.

* These bizarre outbreaks of black people burning down their own neighborhoods, what did they mean ? Was it some kind of political blackmail, a gun pressed to the head of a Congress debating a civil rights billP^he opportunism of greedy criminals? The mania of a people losing its collective mind? The natural expression of people who were savages to begin with? A Communist plot? How was it related to bearded picketers against the Vietnam War, the orgies so vile, or singer John Lennon, who had blasphemously called his rock band “bigger than Jesus” and had to apologize that August to the pope? Was this the whirlwind a civilization reaped once the seeds of moral relativism were sown?

* The Wall Street Journal articulated an argument echoing through Congress: “It is strange, although to an extent understandable, that the more civil rights legislation is piled onto the statute books, the more Federal money poured into attempts at Negro betterment, the more help freely prof erred by businesses and individuals—the more the anger rises. . . . Every legislative enactment seemed to incite more mob activity, more riots, demonstrations, and bloodshed.”

* In Chicago, movement Turks like Jesse Jackson were insisting it was time to move on Cicero—the nation’s largest municipality without a single black resident. The last time a black man tried to live there, in 1951, the ensuing white riot was so big it made news around the world. This very summer a teenager who crossed over the border looking for work was beaten to death. “We expect violence,” Jackson said, “but it wouldn’t be any more violent than the demonstrations last week.” Another King deputy, James Bevel, said, “We will demonstrate in the communities until every white person out there joins the Republican Party.”
At that, Daley gave in: he would negotiate with King.

* Joseph Alsop, perhaps the most influential columnist in the United States, wrote a series of columns making the same argument demographically: in 1961, twenty-six thousand white children attended Washington, D.C., elementary schools. Now so many whites had fled to the suburbs that the number was thirteen thousand. He predicted there would be, “one day, a President Verwoerd in the White House.”
Hendrik Verwoerd was the prime minister of South Africa, the architect of apartheid.

* Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the “party of Lincoln” was identified by the public as the party more favorable to the aspirations of Negroes.

* Decades later, two political scientists crunched the opinion poll numbers and identified 1958 as the key date at which both parties were judged equally Negro-friendly. After that, the two parties diverged.

* Nixon knew the issue was the royal road to Republican victory in November—in California, he told his protégé Robert Finch, running on Reagan’s ticket for lieutenant governor against the incumbent lieutenant governor, Glenn Anderson, “I want everyone in California to believe that Glenn Anderson was responsible for Watts.” Nixon just left it to others to push it.
Race had always been the best-oiled hinge in the strange contraption that was Nixon’s ideology, swinging from one position to the next year to year, month to month—even, at the 1960 convention, from hour to hour. In 1963 he supported JFK’s civil rights bill. Then, when the bill was debated in the House, he savaged efforts “to enforce integration in an artificial and unworkable manner.” He had no problem catering to fear of Negroes if political expediency demanded it. (It was indeed what he felt in his heart. Went through his whole thesis re: blacks and their genetic inferiority, Bob Halde- man wrote in his diary one day of a May 1969 meeting with the boss.) Why he didn’t wish to be associated with the hottest Republican issue, as he jockeyed for the Republican grass roots, was a bit of a mystery. The front-runner for the nomination, George Romney, was appealing publicly for Title IV to be kept in the civil rights bill, riots be damned. Behind closed doors, Richard Nixon was telling other Republicans to hit the riot issue as hard as they could. And he was an ex officio member of the House Policy Committee, which had come out against the open-housing title of the civil rights bill as a menace to law and order.

* For twelve years, Southern schools had hardly done a thing to honor Brown v. Board of Education. The federal government had hardly done anything to punish them. County after county maintained “dual” school districts: superior schools for whites, inferior ones for blacks.

* Nixon had given himself license to lie about Vietnam. The trick was devising the most politically useful lies for any given interval. Hindsight makes the pattern obvious. Nixon had taken just about every possible position on Vietnam short of withdrawal—we should escalate, we should negotiate, we should bomb more, we should pause the bombing, we should pour in troops, pouring in troops would be a scandal.

* Johnson was haunted by a sense of illegitimacy. Even at the height of his popularity in 1964, he had considered dropping out of the presidential race. Now, as he approached his 1,036th day in office—the last day JFK served— his popularity was dropping week by week. It didn’t take much for a man like Nixon to probe LBJ’s deepest anxieties. Many of those anxieties he shared.

* A new movie, Planet of the Apes, imagined what life would be like if whites suddenly found themselves a subject population.

* Godfrey Hodgson wrote of the media about-face: “They had been united, as rarely before, by their anger at Mayor Daley. Now they learned that the great majority of Americans sided with Daley, and against them. It was not only the humiliation of discovering that they had been wrong; there was also alarm at the discovery of their new unpopularity. Bosses and cops, everyone knew, were hated; it seemed that newspapers and television were hated even more.”
Nixon paid attention. The public was on his side in his war against the media Franklins, in a way deeper than Nixon had ever dared dream. Again, he had it both ways: for actually the media was, if anything, accommodating him.

* A Nixon campaign commercial called “Convention”:
A brass band, like the brass band that played over the McCarthy delegates standing on their chairs singing peace songs, blares “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.” The familiar, old-fashioned convention scenes: standards, balloons, placards, Hubert at the podium, exuberant delegates.
The music distorts electronically into a hideous pulse. With each new picture, someone’s mouth is open wider. Hubert’s is the punctuation mark. It looks as if he is screaming.
A new set of photographs, cutting quicker: firemen and flames; bleeding protesters running from the police; a bearded, screaming peacenik; more flames; another bearded screamer.
(No black people were seen rioting in commercials like these; that would have been labeled “racism.” Instead, only the aftereffects of black rioting were shown: rubble and flames. Rioting white hippies in Chicago were thus a visual godsend.)

* “Now let’s get serious a minute,” the president of a Polish-American club told Wallace’s right-hand man, Tom Turnipseed, arranging a rally outside Webster, Massachusetts. “When George Wallace is elected president, he’s going to round up all the niggers and shoot them, isn’t he?” When the aide replied, laughing, “We’re just worried about some agitators. We’re not going’to shoot anybody,” his host responded, with dead seriousness, “Well, I don’t know whether I’m for him or not.”

* At his next press conference the New Republic’s correspondent thought he heard a sneer in Nixon’s voice when answering a question about Clark Clifford’s suggestion in Foreign Affairs that the drawdown should be greater. During Clifford’s year in the defense secretary’s chair, Nixon responded, “our casualties were the highest of the whole five-year period, and as far as negotiations were concerned, all that had been accomplished, as I indicated earlier, that we had agreed on, was the shape of the table.” A sneer was a sign Nixon was feeling himself again. Afterward he spent hours on the phone asking associate? how he had done—something he did only when he was confident he would hear praise. The president was in the arena, and all was well with the world.

* 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 choose inflation. As Haldeman wrote in his diary, “P made point that he never heard of losing an election because of inflation.” But a recession, he was sure, had lost him his first try at the presidency: Eisenhower had taken his dour former treasury secretary George Humphrey’s fiscally conservative advice instead of his labor secretary Jim Mitchell’s fiscally liberal advice, allowing a slowdown in 1960. Nixon’s was the first Republican presidency in eight years, he pointed out to his economic policy committee in April of 1969—and those eight years had seen no further such slowdowns. “We can’t allow—wham!—a recession. We will never get in again.”

* “I think you will find that chain stores who generally control these prices nationwide are primarily dominated by Jewish interests. These boys, of course, have every right to make all the money they want, but they have a notorious reputation in the trade for conspiracy.”

* Nixon came across an episode of CBS’s All in the Family in which an old buddy of Archie’s came out of the closet. “The show was a total glorification of homosex…. Is this common on TV?—destruction of civilization to build homos. Made the homos the most attractive type.” He added a fillip on classical civilization: “You know what happened to the Greeks! Homosexuality destroyed them.”

* Meanwhile the city had realized it needed more low-income “scatter site” public housing to conform to HUD guidelines. Lindsay chose to put some of it in Forest Hills, in Queens, where Brooklyn and Lower East Side Jews had moved from crowded tenements after World War II in their first step on the upward-mobility ladder. Jews, Lindsay thought, wouldn’t protest the arrival of poor blacks; they were liberal. But Jews who had mortgaged everything they had to leave crime-ridden poor neighborhoods, it arrived, did not prove so obliging. Lindsay had ignored the existing racial tensions in Forest Hills schools. The meetings to explain how most of the new public housing residents would be senior citizens, how families would be carefully screened, that the development would bring a slew of new social service amenities, were scheduled on Friday nights, when elderly refugees from Hitler’s Germany—the most scared and vulnerable members of the community—attended synagogue. Jack Newfield tagged along at a damage-control session at the Forest Hills Jewish Community Center and heard them “call Lindsay redneck names under the shadow of the Torah.”

* One especially nasty operator was loaned by the College Republicans to the campaign to defeat the Democratic candidate for state treasurer in Illinois in 1970, Al Dixon. Dixon was having a formal reception to open his Chicago headquarters. This kid assumed an alias, volunteered for the campaign, stole the candidate’s stationery, and distributed a thousand fake invitations—they promised “free beer, free food, girls and a good time for nothing”—at communes, rock concerts, and street corners where Chicago’s drunken hoboes congregated. The kid’s name was Karl Rove. The RNC soon hired him at $9,200 a year to give seminars on his techniques.

* It was partially a Camelot thing, this notion that having liberal Hollywood celebrities ever at his elbow helped a candidate. The 1960 Democratic convention, the first held in Los Angeles, was a riot of celebrities, from Marlon Brando to Harry Belafonte to Frank Sinatra. Beatty and his sister, Shirley MacLaine, had been at the outskirts of that circle then. Now they were at its center—and the circle kept expanding. Celebrities hungered for meaning in their lives. “Why does McCarthy need you?” someone heckled Paul Newman in New Hampshire in 1968. “He doesn’t need me,” Cool Hand Luke replied. “I need him.” Celebrities filled politicians’ hunger, too. Even modest McGovern was bitten by the bug; it showed in how he tied his tie. It also seemed to solve a political problem. Everyone had a story about the first time they entered a room George McGovern occupied without realizing they were in the presence of a senator (Hunter S. Thompson’s version of the story took place in a lavatory). For a politician who blended into the woodwork, a little glamour seemed only a plus. The proximity to stars, after all, had never hurt Jack Kennedy.

* Shirley MacLaine’s alienation from her audiences was never plainer than when she addressed a black women’s luncheon and fashion show in Pittsburgh during the Pennsylvania primary. She spoke extemporaneously, as she always did, and said underprivileged women like them understood, as she and McGovern understood, that material things didn’t matter, that too many Americans cared about the wrong things. The response was stony silence. The wealthy movie star was baffled. A young black man had to explain it to her: “You can’t tell those women that stuff. You can’t tell them they don’t have much. They’re proud people.” They “want the things—those very things—you think are useless.” Her brother Warren was politically undisciplined enough to tell a reporter that he favored the legalization of pot. Perhaps that’s how people got the idea that was his candidate’s position.

* RNC chair Bob Dole had recently been divorced from his wife of twenty-four years; on the prowl, he had started sporting chocolate brown bell-bottom suits and, a Chicago reporter observed, “one of those all-year tans that celebrities manage.”

* Prostitutes were lonely, too. The New Politics, this movement of acid and abortion for all, had a Calvinist work ethic. Many McGovern delegates had won their spots by outlasting the flabby old regulars in caucuses, just as they’d outlasted rival left factionistas at endless antiwar meetings. They were not in Miami to party. Germaine Greer, the women’s liberationist, complained she “couldn’t find anyone to ball.”

* Richard Nixon knew Americans didn’t want to know their politicians had psychological problems like anyone else. That was why, back in the 1950s, after Walter Winchell raised suspicions about the number of visits Nixon was making to a certain Dr. Hutschnecker on Park Avenue, Nixon started seeing a military doctor in Washington instead.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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