Last Refuge of a Rock Critic: A Bicentennial Search for Patriotism

Editors’ note, July 2, 2021: There was so much happening in New York City during the Bicentennial all those years ago that the Village Voice spread its coverage over two issues, spanning June 28 to July 12, 1976. The Big Apple was ready to party: King Kong had just left town and the Democrats were rolling in, preparing for their quadrennial convention two years after a Republican president — a liar, cheat, and bully who attempted to use his office to punish political and personal enemies — had resigned in disgrace. There was some sort of cosmic justice in Richard Nixon flaming out after winning re-election in a landslide but before he could preside over the Bicentennial, that nationwide celebration of American democracy’s survival after one civil war, two world conflicts, and countless cultural battles.

It was in the Spirit of ’76 that Greil Marcus, author of the previous year’s Mystery Train — a monumental collection of essays delving into the heart of rock ’n’ roll to reveal a luminous chunk of America’s soul — undertook a wide-ranging disquisition on the meaning of patriotism in the pages of the Village Voice. (Mark Alan Stamaty’s boisterous, labyrinthine cartoons added to the wild and woolly mood.) As they do in Mystery Train, Marcus’s references, digressions, and footnotes shoot off like fireworks. Radiant as a rocket’s red glare — think of Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” aurally transmuting Francis Scott Key’s “bombs bursting in air” into bombs dropping on screaming Vietnam civilians — Marcus’s Voice article asks us to look at America’s full history, both glorious and savage. He finds beauty in “an essential harmony, a recognition of uniquely American things shared,” but also quotes Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered shortly before the Civil War reached its bloody end. The president, who would be assassinated just 42 days later, was acknowledging that the carnage was penance for allowing slavery to have been a part of the nation’s founding. “Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ ”

Marcus also quotes W.E.B. DuBois from 1897, when America’s freed slaves were still waiting for the forty acres and a mule that had been promised to help them start new lives more than three decades earlier. “One ever feels his two-ness — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

And in typical Marcus fashion, we get a bonus line of dialogue from Claude Rains, in his role as Captain Renault in 1942’s Casablanca: “Well, Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot.” Marcus was in some ways less concerned with whether patriotism is truly “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” as Dr. Johnson so famously put it, than with the divisions that were fracturing the nation into the broken mirror we gaze further into today. “America may be breaking up into separate ‘patrimonies.’ The rise of ethnicity and cultural nationalism on all fronts suggests this; so does the widening split between cities and suburbs, between classes, sexes, races, religions, nationalities.”

In November 1972, shortly after he’d won re-election, Nixon — whose somber Quaker facade in public was belied by the profane conniver heard on the Watergate tapes — discussed cabinet changes with an adviser, noting that he might keep one lawyer on to be the “house Jew” and to “handle the Bicentennial and all that nonsense.” Such nasty cynicism has long permeated the political right — consider Coolidge’s desiccated view, “the business of America is business” — because it cannot reconcile lust for unfettered profit with government’s role of legislating for the common good. Marcus worked on Mystery Train as the Watergate scandal was unfolding. In his author’s note, he points out, “To do one’s most personal work in a time of public crisis is an honest, legitimate, paradoxically democratic act of common faith.” Although this book about the music that bound America together across generational, racial, class, and political divides was not published until 1975, Marcus signed his note with a precise date: “August 9, 1974.”

Certainly not coincidentally, that was the day Nixon resigned the presidency.

So, sometime this week, between helpings of apple pie and baseball games, take a few moments to revisit the 200th birthday of a great, if forever flawed, nation as seen through the typewriter of an ever-thoughtful writer grappling with the meaning of patriotism in these United States. Note how he praises conservative members of the House Judiciary Committee who voted for the impeachment of a conservative president whose lies, capriciousness, self-aggrandizement, and intimidation tactics they could no longer stomach: “They made distinct efforts to trace a line between their particular responsibilities and the founding of the country.”

My, how times have changed. —R.C. Baker


In America Even the Humblest Harmony Is an Incredible Dream

By Greil Marcus
July 12, 1976

…In America, the humblest harmony is still an incredible dream.
— Edmund Wilson, “Night Thoughts in Paris,” 1922 (1) 

“Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot!”
— Claude Rains to Humphrey Bogart, at the close of Casablanca, 1942 (2)

To claim patriotism in America, where the thing is so undefined, is to claim a very great deal. It is to claim, in one way or another, to embody the republic. So as I thought about what I might say regarding patriotism, which seemed to me an appropriate subject in a week that falls between the Fourth of July and the opening of the Democratic Convention, one conviction that took shape very early was that one could not claim to be a patriot and that anyone who does should be instantly suspected.

This no doubt sounds familiar — patriotism as “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” (3) as Dr. Johnson put it — but that is not at all what I mean to get at. Rather it is what I mean to get behind me, and to do that it’s necessary to deal at least briefly with the People’s Bicentennial Commission.

The PBC, organized by activist Jeremy Rifkin, presupposes to offer the real, people’s, revolutionary-at-its heart America, as opposed to the official America promulgated for Bicentennial purposes by various hucksters and governmental agencies. The PBC has received some media coverage for its “counterdemonstrations” held alongside various commemorative exercises and dress-up shows.

PBC members are self-described “New Patriots”; you can become a “New Patriot” simply by joining the PBC. According to the PBC line, America is divided into “Patriots” and “Tories” — in fact, all American history, and the American present, can be seen this way. “Patriots” past and present are those the PBC aligns on the side of social and economic justice, defined in the usual radical/liberal manner; Tories are all those who are perceived by the PBC to have resisted such goals. Thus Alexander Hamilton, despite his role in the Revolution, was really a “Tory,” as are Republicans, bankers, factory foremen, and mean high school principals (I’m not making this up).

This approach is indistinguishable from that of the American Legion. There’s nothing troublesome or ambiguous about PBC patriotism; all it takes is a correct stand on the issues, and maybe a membership card. What’s the PBC program? “Patriots” should publicly expose “Tories.” Political candidates should be forced to sign oaths affirming their loyalty to the creed of the revolution.

The PBC makes me think of James Mann of South Carolina, Walter Flowers of Alabama, and Caldwell Butler of Virginia, three conservative members of the House Judiciary Committee who were crucial to the successful impeachment votes against Richard Nixon. In PBC terms they are quite obvious “Tories”; in a PBC America is it irrelevant that in working out their decisions on impeachment they made distinct efforts to trace a line between their particular responsibilities and the founding of the country. (With Mann there was perhaps no “effort” — that line may have always been visible to him, as it clearly has been to, say, Sam Ervin and William O. Douglas.)

Though the PBC is not to be taken seriously (“Have your political club ask that the Declaration of Independence be displayed at the polling place, so that citizens may spend their time thinking about self-evident truths,” they suggest), the PBC mode of thought is to be taken seriously, if only because it is a mode liberals and radicals often fall into. These days especially, we want our political affairs simple, clean and above all pure. Politics may be many things but it is narcissism first and foremost, because there is more safety in the certainties of separation than in the contingencies of wholeness.

The belief that patriotism is a question of the correct stand on vital social and political issues is not only the most hollow but the most invidious version of the concept; it empties the concept of all possible meaning. The truth is that patriotism makes stranger bedfellows than politics.

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Rather than something that can be easily fixed on individuals for the asking or that adheres to issues because of their necessity, and rather than something that can be claimed, awarded, or withheld, patriotism in America is a conundrum. Most who consider themselves sophisticated in their politics think patriotism is something to outgrow, preferably by the age of 12; many more Americans of all sorts, as John Scholar has written, “are simply without patriotism.… They do not think unpatriotic thoughts, but they do not think patriotic thoughts either. The republic for them is a vague and distant thing.” Yet it seems to me that patriotism should be explored, evoked, doubted, acted, and written out. The language of patriotism needs to be retrieved, invented, nurtured, and spoken, but we should not be too quick to decide who is a patriot and who is not, nor be too careful about establishing standards for the virtuous to meet. It isn’t my purpose here to prove my patriotism to you nor to provide guidelines with which you can prove yours to yourself — should you wish to. Instead I simply want to make the idea real; and I will try to do that by focusing on two themes central to an understanding of the possibilities of the patriotic spirit in America: wholeness, or harmony, and division, separateness.


Three texts:

One ever feels his two-ness — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
— W.E.B. Du Bois (4)

When I think of Greenwich Village, it is almost with tears. For there this battered battalion dress their guns against a whole nation… From the darkest corners of the country they have fled for comfort and asylum. You may think them feeble and ridiculous — but feebleness is always relative. It may require as much force of character and as much independent thought for one of these to leave his Kansas home and espouse the opinions of Freud as for Wagner to achieve new harmonies or Einstein to conceive a finite universe. The thought of them makes me respond with a sharp gust of sympathy, precisely because they are ridiculous and yet stand for something noble. And one is touched by something like reverence when one finds among this strange indifferent people, to whom the rest of the world is a newspaper story, history a tedious legend, and abstract thought a form of insanity, a man who really knows on what stage he is playing, for what drama he has been cast. By his realization he makes us realize, too, for what drama our setting is the setting: for the drama of humanity, in a sense, no setting can be trivial or mean. Gopher Prairie itself, in all its ludicrousness and futility when the human spirit rears itself there, has its importance and its dignity. 

And now that a breach has been made what a flood might sweep off the dam! — what a thundering torrent of energy, of enthusiasm, or life! Things are always beginning in America; we are always on the verge of great adventures. History seems to lie before us instead of behind.
— Edmund Wilson, “Night Thoughts in Paris,” The New Republic, March 12, 1922 (5)

…The patriot is one who is grateful for a legacy and recognizes that the legacy makes him a debtor. There is a whole way of being in the world, captured best by the word reverence, which defines life by its debts: One is what one owes, what one acknowledges as a rightful debt or obligation. The patriot moves within that mentality. The gift of land, people, language, gods, memories, and customs, which is the patrimony of the patriot, defines who he or she is. Patrimony is mixed with person; the two barely separable. The very tone and rhythm of a life, the shapes of perception, the texture of its hopes and fears goes from membership in a territorially rooted group. The conscious patriot is one who feels deeply indebted for these gifts, grateful to the people and places through which they come, and determined to defend the legacy against enemies and pass it unspoiled to those will come after. 

But… we are not taught to define our lives by our debts and legacies, but by our rights and opportunities. 
— John. J. Schaar, “The Case for Patriotism,” American Review 17, May 1973

I suggest that to truly “read” these passages, which is what I will be doing for the remainder of this piece, it’s necessary to pay as close attention to the voice of each writer as to his words. Du Bois, meditating on truths that predated his time and which he does not seem to expect to change, is stymied, perplexed, quietly angry, yet full of a sort of determination that perhaps suggests the bridging of gaps he is telling us cannot be bridged. Schaar, with his eyes on the past (not merely the American past, but the past per se, the past as something that constantly informs the present), speaks in tones of regret; his cadences are measured and restrained, and what is measured out is the pain of loss, the loss of the “way of being in the world” he is describing. All this is evident well before his final disclaimer: that we are not taught the rich and complex values that make patriotism possible but cheaper values that imply the separation of each man and woman from every other as the positive basis for American society.

But Schaar and Du Bois speak as realists; their words communicate an almost tragic refusal to grant a single assumption they do not see as justified by the disappointments and betrayals of the American story. They will not speak a word they cannot prove. But they will whisper. Wilson’s “in America, the humblest harmony is still an incredible dream” — and not harmony as consensus, or lack of crucial disagreement, but an essential harmony, a recognition of uniquely American things shared — is at the heart of what both men are saying. They are saying that whatever the American reality, or even the American fate, the possibilities of such harmony cannot be decently abandoned; that harmony is an absolute necessity if Americans are to keep the promises on which America was founded: the promises that flowed instantly from the original justification of America in 1776 as something new under the sun, and perhaps even the promises as they were reclaimed in 1865, with Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, when he incorporated the truth that the betrayal of those promises in fact preceded the promises themselves into the fabric of official American thought, where it has been officially buried ever since. (See box.)

To turn from the fundamental gloom of Du Bois and Schaar to late-night meditations of a young Edmund Wilson, thinking of America from a distance, where a good deal of the best of such thinking has been done, is a shock. One may have to read what he wrote carefully to appreciate how bizarre it is.

When I first came to Berkeley, in 1963, a campus veteran told me that Berkeley and Greenwich Village were the only places in America where a person could be really free. Wilson begins with this cozily embattled fallacy; a farther shore from the kind of patriotism Schaar speaks of can hardly be imagined. And yet — or perhaps, “and so” — Wilson then drives straight back into the “darkest corners” of the country, to what Fitzgerald called “the dark fields of the republic,” and embraces them with all the restraint of a Fourth of July orator. Suddenly he has delivered himself from the repression of the American present, as only the future is of any consequence. But there is the slightest hint of condescension in Wilson’s “Gopher Prairie itself” — and, perhaps in flight from doubts that not even the most visionary moment can banish, Wilson abandons the fatal pull of specifics for a virtual manifesto of American mysticism. It’s as if he is seeking, against the terrific odds he has been careful to establish in advance, to fix precisely those things Americans can recognize — those attributes by which they can recognize each other — the feeling that “things are always beginning in America,” blown up suddenly with exclamation points into images of a great dam breaking and a flood of — not ideas, not justice, not even freedom (which was what Wilson started with, but which is somehow no longer exactly the question) — “energy, of enthusiasm, of life!” And this is because what Wilson was working out of in Paris was not a “feeling,” but a leap of faith — a leap straight across what were to Lincoln the almost predestined American crimes and divisions, the crimes and divisions that were the source of Du Bois’s torment.

The desperation in Wilson’s voice is as palpable as the joy. A moment later in the essay he will pull back again; America will become a monster of banality. But he can’t quit with this. He returns as an American St. George come not to slay the dragon but magically to transform it. The passage continues: “Our enemy offers huger bulk than the enemy in Europe, but he is much less firmly rooted. Two generations might rout him. To arms then! Let me return; I shall not cease from mental fight nor shall my sword rest in my hand till intolerance has been stricken from the laws, till the time-clock has been beaten to a punch-bowl!”

In the great tradition of John Wesley Harding, who never made a foolish move, Wilson does not choose a foolish word. The struggle he is lining out is a matter of spiritual life or death for him, and — in the sense that a true patriot, one who truly perceives and accepts a patrimony, embodies the republic — for the country equally so. Thus Wilson’s language is overblown, with every pretension undercut by self-parody (“my sword” a seemingly absurd weapon for a “mental fight”; “till intolerance has been stricken from the laws” taken down a peg by “till the time clock has been beaten to a punch bowl”). Only with a frame of the ridiculous can Wilson get away with the absolute and discomforting seriousness of every word he is speaking. He is dedicating — like Lincoln in 1865, rededicating — himself, and his country, to the liberating destiny that his country, like no other before it, set out for itself; he recognizes and affirms that the republic, along with itself, invented a birthright each American would, in a way of his or her own determining, have to accept, as a burden, before he or she could fully claim to be American.

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This overblown way of speaking is the language, or a language, of American patriotism, and its affirmation also a settling of affairs. It sweeps right by Du Bois’s analysis of what cannot be resolved, even though Wilson’s words do not quite leave Du Bois’s statement of the facts out. “How far can love for my oppressed race accord with love for the oppressing country?” Du Bois wrote at another time. “And when these loyalties diverge, where shall my soul find refuge?” (7) Here and above, Du Bois speaks of black people, but the question he insists on contains all Americans who have been, and are, systematically refused America’s promises and excluded form its patrimony. That exclusion has been and is more widespread in terms of class than of race — and it is equally as subtle, as debilitating, and as resistant to fundamental change. As Du Bois would have said, the question of racial oppression is also a question of class. My attempt to follow the meaning of Du Bois’s idea applies, as metaphor, to Americans of all kinds who are excluded — and given that America was once known as “a good poor man’s country,” there are many whites who were included in the past who are excluded now.

Du Bois says that any resolution a black man or woman can make of Wilsons’s contradictions will by necessity be very different from and properly fall far short of, the glorious unity Wilson saw. The black American patrimony is separation and division; not simply because the “American” side is so full of horror and crime, but at least partly because it is so alive with promise. As Theodore Rosengarten’s All God’s Daughters, the life of Ned Cobb, a black Alabama sharecropper, makes clear, a full recognition of “the injustice of the laws” does not preclude the deepest recognition of that promise nor the determination to fulfill it precisely on its original, 200-year-old terms. But the laws refuse to recognize Cobb’s claim to his “American” patrimony, and without that double recognition Du Bois’s words hold.

It is very questionable whether the burden I spoke of Wilson accepting, or the debts and obligations of which Schaar writes, can be set forth by me, or anyone, as a necessary part of the patrimony of a black man or woman in America. Black men and women have made their own history in America, which America ignored or did not even see, and the evidence is strong today that it is in that specific history that black men and women are finding their patrimony — their debts, obligations, promises, possibilities — finding what it is they have to live up to, finding a way of being in the world. In Lincoln’s terms of crime and punishment, it is a measure of the price white Americans of any sort must pay for the forced odyssey of black people in America that a black American patrimony, which grows out of an altogether different kind of heroism and resourcefulness than white Americans draw on — different in kind and in quality — may not only be impossible for whites to connect to, but wrong for them to connect to. With Gayl Jones’s Corregidora, Lucille Clifton’s family memoir Generations (which begins with the story of Clifton’s great-great grandmother, born in Dahomey in 1822, brought to the New Orleans slave markets and made to walk to Virginia at the age of eight, whose message to her family, into this century, was “Get what you want, you from Dahomey, women”), Alice Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland, or the film of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a white American may feel that he or she is somehow violating these tales simply by responding to them. To say, this is part of my legacy, my patrimony, too, which is to say that the “American” patrimony is, or should be, that of a black man or woman is to go much farther than any white can decently go.

Because of such history, and because the language of patriotism in America has not flourished — because it is not easily spoken nor easily understood when it is spoken; because the “way of being in the world” of which Schaar writes is foreign to most of us, so foreign as to be hard to imagine clearly — ­America may be breaking up into separate “patrimonies.” The rise of ethnicity and cultural nationalism on all fronts suggests this; so does a widening split between cities and suburbs, between classes, sexes, races, religions, nationalities. I don’t mean such groupings are always in explicit conflict, but that people are locating their primary loyalties away from “America,” as a place, a society, a republic, an idea, a promise, whatever. Historian William Appleman Williams’s recent Bicentennial book, America Confronts a Revolutionary World, takes this movement apart to one conclusion: He argues that America can best be true to its best self by returning to the Articles of Confederation, and fragmenting, by secession (violently if need be; “I will meet you on the barricades,” he says) (8), into regional socialist republics. This is a bad moment in the work of a valuable historian. But there is some truth in the book — as a skewed metaphor for retreats from America that are already well advanced.

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It may be that this is not a problem to “solve” but a reality to accept or struggle against, on an individual level, at least in the beginning. Schaar writes of America, an invented political and moral society, as a place where patriotism is not simply a matter of inheritance or lack of it — in America, patriotism is an earned choice, an earned recognition. Wilson, 51 years earlier, agreed when he spoke as baldly as he dared of a “mental fight,” of a battle he would carry on, in American letters, as a critic and a reporter, to rout the enemy, to make the wisp of American harmony he glimpsed one night in Paris more real.

When we speak of patriotism in America we must recognize an inevitable division of self in the very act of speaking, and in that sense Du Bois’s statement can serve for anyone. America is big, conformist, monolithic, faceless, cruel, and its economic game is rigged. For any sense of freedom the first impulse is to separate oneself, either following the trail of countless American lone-wolfs, solitaries, and Ishmaels, or settling for the homogeneous familiarities and protections of “one’s own”: family, religion, nationality, race, region. Yet America is still astonishing — too big, too complex, and too various for any mind to take in, and in that astonishment, in the realization of an enormous place finally justified and held together by little more than a few phrases from an old document, comes the yearning to make America whole by seeing it clearly; by pursuing that patrimony, discovering it, retrieving it, inventing it, or simply affirming it. What is it that Americans share? In what images, of crime or beauty, do Americans uniquely recognize themselves as no others would, recognize that in an essential way they are linked, that they can carry on certain conversations about certain things that others could not or would not think to enter?

One probably cannot raise such questions without realizing that if they are asked with the utmost seriousness of intent there may be no encouraging answers. But one cannot wear such questions out either. Schaar’s statement, like Wilson’s, points toward a way of being in touch with America; com­bative, suspicious, and yet deeply accepting of something like a common fate, that cannot, and should not be avoided.


There are two ideas around which this piece revolves, no mat­ter how erratic the orbit has been.The first is the idea of the patriot as one who embodies the republic. This is not as grand or pretentious as it might seem. A civil rights worker linking people to the re­public by convincing them to vote is embodying the republic, in many ways. Many of those on the House Judiciary Committee, by what they said and the manner in which they said it, embodied the repub­lic, for a time. James Agee, writ­ing Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, embodied the republic, in all of its mystical and factual complexity. Those who honestly and visibly refuse to let the repub­lic stop short of itself embody it.

Visibly — publicly — is the key word. Wilson spoke almost mys­teriously of “a man who really knows on what stage he is playing, for what drama he has been cast,” who “by his realization… makes us realize, too, for what drama our setting is the setting.” To say that this can mean anything is to point to the strength of what Wilson said, not its weakness; Wilson himself took this conviction to its extreme only 21 years after he first set it down. He wrote of Lincoln, in “Eight Essays”: “It was as if he had not only foreseen the drama [of the war] but had seen all around it, with a kind of poetic objectivity, aware of the various points of view the world must take toward its protagonist. In the poem that Lincoln lived, Booth had been prepared for, too, and the tragic conclusion was necessary to justify all the rest. It was dramatically and mortally inevitable that this prophet who had overruled opposition and sent thousands of men to their deaths should finally attest his good faith by laying down his own life with theirs.” The patriot is a man or woman, who, in embodying the possibilities of American life, dramatizes them in view of others. That is both an instinct — the yearning for and affirmation of wholeness — and a role — the act of wholeness.

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The second idea is that of “a whole way of being in the world.” Schaar has defined it in the lines I quoted; I cannot really set it forth more fully without a long, close consideration of how specific indi­viduals, or a group of people, made their choices and lived their lives. It is both the treasure of patriotism and the key to it. It is a constant, renewing sensitivity to questions I asked earlier: What do Americans share, what is essential and unique, in their history, experience, fate? It is a state of mind that Edmund Wilson caught as well as anyone.

In Paris, in 1922, he began his meditation on America thinking of Futurism, “born in Italy, where the weight of the past lies heaviest.” “But I can scarcely adore the locomotive,” he wrote. ” I know it all too well.” He went on to wonder at his dreams of America, to criticize America as brutally as he could manage, to pull away, back and forth, back and forth, the double vision of the American pa­triot at work, searching for at least a night’s truce with itself. Wilson turned back finally to that image of the rails: “Where there is a petu­lance and a sadness in the piping of the French engines, I shall hear in the American ones an eagerness and a zest: They have elbow room here for their racing; they can drive on as far as they like; they have an unknown country to explore, a country that no one has ever heard of — What sort of men are these who live in nameless towns? At a distance, they seem, neither intelligent nor colorful nor fine — scarcely members of the same race as the beings who have built civilization. But I know that in the wide spaces of all that wilder­ness, in the life of that loose abun­dant world, for all the reign of mediocrity and the tyranny of in­tolerance, there is a new freshness and freedom to be brought to the function of mankind — the function which, in the long run, we shall never be able to get out of: staring out in wonder and dismay at the mysterious shapes of the world, either to ask ourselves what laws move them or, combining those shapes anew, to makeshift to create a nobler world in which our souls may find a home.”


  1. In Keywords, Raymond Williams’s recent book on the etymology of fundamental con­temporary social concepts, the word “patriotism” is missing (so are “roots” and “fraternity”). But because I like Williams’s idea, if not his choices, I have pulled out words from the quotes I refer to that seem to me keys to an Ameri­can language of patriotism — words that in some way signify an aspect or element of “patriotism.” Here, the keywords are “humblest,” “harmony,” and “still.”
  2. Keyword: “sentimentalist.”
  3. Keyword: “refuge.”
  4. Virtually every word in this statement is a keyword. Still: “two-ness,” “souls,” “ideals,” “dogged,” “keeps it from.”
  5. Keywords: “tears,” “against,” “nation,” “corners,” “comfort,” “character,” “inde­pendent,” “home,” “espouse,” “new,” “harmonies,” “finite,” “sympathy,” “stand for,” “noble,” “reverence,” “indiffer­ent,” “history,” “legend,” “drama,” “spirit,” “dignity,” “enthusiasm,” “beginning,” “adventures.”
  6. Again, since essentially Schaar is writing a brief on the keywords of patriotism, only a few of the less obvious: “a whole way of being in the world,” “defines life by,” “one acknowledges,” “men­tality,” “tone,” “rhythm,” “shapes,” “texture,” “taught.” The grace and civility of Schaar’s writing tells one as much about patriotism as any of his words.
  7. Keywords: “how far,” “accord,” “loyalties,”
  8. Keyword: “I will meet you.”     ❖

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G. Gordon Liddy and the Fall Guys of Yore

In June 1972, G. Gordon Liddy supervised the covert operation to break into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate complex and bug the telephones, a botched caper that eventually brought down Richard Nixon’s presidency.

As the conspiracy to hide this criminal act unraveled in the early days of Tricky Dick’s second term, Liddy offered to take the blame, saying to Nixon’s White House Counsel, John Dean, “I was the captain of the ship when she hit the reef and I’m prepared to go down with it. If someone wants to shoot me just tell me what corner to stand on and I’ll be there.”

Although the taint of corruption and criminality that has surrounded President Trump since his earliest days as a New York real estate mogul is a leviathan that cannot be contained in a single fall guy, there is no doubt that the presidential candidate who once proclaimed, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” probably wishes he had a Gordon Liddy handy. No doubt they would have a salutary meeting of the minds.    ❖

G. Gordon Liddy, November 30, 1930 – March 30, 2021

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FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives Uncategorized

Anatomy of a Rumor

Canceling the ’72 Elections

The story has dropped out of sight and out of print for more than two months — the one about Nixon and the Rand Corporation planning the cancellation of the 1972 Presiden­tial election. The brief life and death of the tastiest rumor of the year leaves three questions still unanswered:

— Was there any truth to it?

— Was it a Paul Krassner hoax?

— Was it a hoax created by a mysterious third force playing its own game?

The story, in the form it first reached the press last April, had Nixon going to some top Rand strategists and asking them to game-plan, as he would say, his responses to expected radical vi­olence during the autumn 1972 campaign. One game Rand planned for Nixon was — and this was the chiller — postponement of the election until it could be con­ducted “safely.” The original newspaper story explained that Nixon was alarmed by the Bank of America burning, the 11th Street “bomb factory” explosion, the Weatherman blast at police department headquarters, and the sudden wave of bomb scares, and concerned about possible bombing of polling places and other left wing attempts to disrupt the Presidential cam­paign. But the rumor that preceded the story and mushroomed all over the country afterward had Nixon plotting to use election-eve violence as an excuse for massive repression of students and blacks, mass ar­rests, and suspension of Constitu­tional guarantees to keep the dis­senters behind bars. It was a rumor not so much about cancellation of elections as it was about cancellation of the left it­self.

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The corollary which most often accompanied the rumor was that the several spectacular acts of “left wing terrorism” in 1972 — the kind of acts that would force a reluctant President to postpone the election while he restored order — would be the work of FBI/CIA provocateurs: the rumor was really saying that a Reichstag fire was in the works.

It was a perfect rumor because, of course, it was a rumor about 1970 as much as it was about 1972. It was perfectly timed. Winter: the conspiracy trial, Bobby Seale, Fred Hampton, preventive detention, repression unlike anything seen before. Late winter and early Spring: the wave of bombings, the rise of Agnew as a vice-chan­cellor figure and the rumor’s first appearance in print. Then came spring — Cambodia, Kent State, Jackson State, the anti-dis­sent hard-hat riots, the sense of an uneven civil war, the feeling that They can do anything and get away with it — and, as if generated by spontaneous com­bustion within that particular compost heap of events, the rumor caught fire.

I believe that the Rand rumor is metaphorically and cosmically true, even if proven mundanely false. It’s a truth about the way the Nixon/Mitchell/Philips/Dent White House mind works. But I am the kind of person who still likes to know things, even if they’re unimportant in the long run — I want to see the entire in­tricate web of the Rand story, whether it is a real covert White House network or a complexly artificed hoax. I have sympathy for the devil who shouted out “who killed the Kennedys?” and wasn’t satisfied to hear platitudes like “after all it was you and me.” And since I was in­volved in spreading the story myself, I’d like to know if I was used and by whom, even if I was used by Our Side.

The story first appeared in print on April 5 in a four-paragraph story written by William Howard, a Washington reporter for the Newhouse chain. But it had been circulating by word-of-mouth at least as far back as September 1969. Paul Krassner says he learned about the 1972 scenarios months before Howard’s story was published. Krassner’s story of how he hap­pened to learn of the top secret study is a weird tale which begins with him acid-tripping with Herman Kahn and climaxes at some kind of elite multi-think tank saturnalia up at Kahn’s Hudson Institute retreat. There, the over-enthused wife of a high level Rand strategist confides to Paul, “… you think that’s something, you won’t believe what my husband’s working on now” —  or something like that — and pro­ceeds to describe the ’72 election study Nixon has just asked for.

The fact that it is Krassner telling this story is both (a) good reason to believe it, and (b) one reason to suspect it. Krassner and Kahn have similar systems — conscious minds, a similar inclination to think about the unthinkable in its many forms. And it’s not unlikely that some bored Rand wife would reveal (or perhaps fabricate?) some exciting secrets for him.

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But Krassner has a history of put-ons attached to his name, a history so well recognized that people now create put-on ver­sions of Krassner put-ons: a few months ago an “interview” with Bob Dylan was published in Good Times. The interview turned out never to have taken place … it  was a parody of the disastrous but real interview in Rolling Stone. Good Times subsequently announced that the Dylan inter­view was created by Paul Krassner. But then it was discov­ered that the real creator of the interview was not Krassner but someone who used Krassner’s name in order to get Good Times to run it, convinced they were printing a genuine Paul Krassner put-on. Most Krassner fantasies, including his most notorious, the grisly “Parts Left out of the Manchester Book,” are stabs at larger truths. The Rand rumor seems like a natural for this category — a rumor is an organic satire-in-motion.

But it’s too easy to dismiss the rumor as a satiric put-on just because Krassner was the first to talk about it. The important thing to remember about the story of the boy who cried “wolf” is that there really was a wolf there that last time.

The one key piece of informa­tion missing in tracing the source and authenticity of the Rand story is this: who or what was the source of Howard’s story, the source responsible for getting the rumor in print?

I have spoken with Howard twice — once a week after his April 5 story, and again two weeks after Scanlan’s published its notorious “Agnew memo.” Each time Howard declined to tell me anything specific about the person who gave him the Rand story. The second time I spoke to him, Howard said he believed he had been given either mistaken or false information back in April. He implied that he trusted his source, but that his source’s source, or perhaps his source’s source’s source, may have been playing a hoax. In our second talk, I asked Howard if he knew Paul Krassner. He said he did not. I believe him.

However, two interesting items have come up in connection with Howard’s story. First, in a Wash­ington Post story about the Rand story, Howard told the Post re­porter that he had gotten his story from another Newhouse reporter who had “picked up the story in New York City.” He didn’t name the other reporter. I have since learned the name of a Newhouse reporter who has said he has known Krassner in the past.

In retrospect one other detail in my original April conversation with Howard seems interesting. After Howard refused to reveal his primary source to me, he did mention “also hearing something about the wife of a Rand Cor­poration executive, some Martha Mitchell type, talking about this same thing.” Somehow then, Krassner’s story had reached Howard shortly before or shortly after his primary “source” tipped off the Newhouse reporter in New York. This implies that the New York source either had more solid evidence or told a more solid-sounding story.

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In my August conversation with Howard, I asked him about the Rand wife story, whom he’d heard it from. He didn’t remem­ber anything about the wife’s tale, didn’t remember mentioning it to me back in April, or know who might have told it to him. He asked me what the story was. As I began telling him some details about Krassner’s “source” he just groaned, “Oh, God, some woman on acid. That’s great. That’s a great source.”

Howard was not exactly pleased to hear from me that second time I called him. As soon as I reached him, identified myself, and asked if he remembered me, he groaned: “Remember you. You’re the one who’s made my life so miserable these past months.” He suggested strongly that my story in The Voice about his story had given too much weight to what he described as a “speculative item.” The unwanted prominence he had received when, with my help, the story had snowballed from his buried speculative item to a major scare story had put him in a harried, awkward posi­tion; he had often speculated, he laughed, about meeting me, he laughed, and punching me in the mouth. (Bill, I can’t promise you this is the last one, although I think it is; but I can promise that if it isn’t, there can only be one more after it.

I was led to the story in a rather interesting way. For five days after Howard’s story ap­peared in the back pages of Newhouse papers, no other media had picked up on it. (The story ran in New York City only in the Newhouse-owned Staten Island Advance.) On the fifth day a man — he did not give his name — called The Voice and said he had heard the Rand rumor third-hand — from his girl friend, he said, who had heard it from a Staten Island cab driver who had read it in the Staten Island Ad­vance — and wanted to know if we knew anything about it. Until that call, no one at The Voice had heard anything about the story. Nor was it likely we would have heard anything for a long time, were it not for that call.

A few days after the call, The Voice ran a short article I wrote about the rumor, which, did nothing but summarize the Newhouse story and report the results of three phone conversa­tions — a cryptic one with William Howard, and two absolute deni­als from Rand and a White House press officer. The piece revealed nothing more than the difficulty of learning about a top secret coup from official spokes­man if they don’t feel like talking about it. At the time I wrote the article, I think that deep down inside I believed the story.

A few days after The Voice piece was published I received a brief note from Paul Krassner. In it he told me he had known about the Rand report for a while and was glad it was out in the open so he could escape the burden of paranoia he had to bear while he was the only person telling the secret. I called him up and asked him what he knew and he told me the Herman Kahn-Rand wife saga. I asked him if he had any source other than the talkative Rand woman: I remember his answer being somewhat vague; he didn’t men­tion anything else specific.

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We spoke a little about How­ard’s story, where it came from. Krassner told me he didn’t know Howard and didn’t know how he got his information. He specu­lated that someone within Rand who knew about the project and opposed it in principle may have leaked it to Howard. Or, he speculated, the administration may have decided to leak word of the study as a kind of trial balloon to test public reaction to the possibility and law-and-order rationale for postponing elections. He speculated that maybe even he had become an unwitting conduit for a White House initiated leak. Krassner told me he was preparing a report on the whole thing for his much-postponed 10th anniversary issue of the Realist, and he asked me to keep track of the reaction — official and media — I received to my article.

Meanwhile, the story began to mushroom in that hothouse spring and new “sources” like satellite mushrooms began to spring up all over the place. The Nation picked up the story. The April 24 Wall Street Journal‘s “Washington Wire” published an item about it that appeared only in the Western editions. L.A. Free Press publisher and editor Art Kunkin read it and started an investigation of his own. Kunkin wrote a front page story­ — headlined across the page: “Will Nixon Cancel the Elections?”­ — which appeared in the Free Press one week after Cam­bodia/Kent State. Kunkin’s story made this statement: “Indepen­dent L.A. Free Press interviews with persons close to the Rand Corporation of Santa Monica, California indicate that the White House has indeed ordered such a study and has issued instructions that anyone connected with the project is not to discuss it.” Kunkin concludes his story by asking, “Do you think he is beyond cancelling the elections for the sake of instituting a dicta­torship and blaming it on radi­cals just as Hitler set the Reich­stag fire and blamed the Commu­nists, wrongly as we now know?”  ­

Kunkin has never been in when I’ve called the Free Press office and never returns any of my calls, so I haven’t been able to find out anything about those “persons close to the Rand Cor­poration of Santa Monica” or what they’ve said recently.

By the end of May almost all the underground press and a few straight dailies had picked up the story. In the underground papers the story was either based on The Voice and Free Press stories, or on an LNS dispatch taken largely from Boston’s Old Mole. Because of LNS, stories about Nixon plan­ning to cancel the ’72 election ap­peared in almost every un­derground and activist college paper in the country.

Most of these stories tended to treat the report as if it was based on solid evidence (“reporter William Howard revealed … a Village Voice writer then discov­ered … ” etc.) and gave the im­pression that the whole Rand study was by now an open secret in Washington, one more indica­tion the power structure no longer bothered to conceal its in­tentions. But most of the stories were written shortly after Cam­bodia, Kent, and Jackson State, when the truth of the rumor of the system’s intentions seemed to be acted out in front of every­one’s eyes.

The rumor, spread by word of mouth, campus and underground papers, mention at hundreds of rallies and demonstrations, became common knowledge, or at least popular folklore on cam­puses just as they blew up in anger that May.

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Krassner is said to have told his story at several speaking en­gagements. I remember someone asking Abbie Hoffman about it as he spoke to a crowd of students at Yale on Mayday weekend. “Oh, that’s been known for months,” Abbie said. (Hoffman has not talked to Krassner since the conspiracy trial, so it’s likely he heard it from Krassner at least as early as last fall.) But the crowd was fascinated and told the story people wanted to hear it again: “Run that down again.” “Tell it again,” they called out.

Anyway by the end of May when Nixon felt he had to take a concerned attitude toward our troubled campuses, he ordered every male under 30 on his staff who could read, write, and do sums to go to the campuses and find out just what was troubling them. In addition to finding the obvious answers, it is reported that everywhere they went, Nixon’s young men were bombarded by questions about the Rand Corporation and the 1972 elections. A delegation of Har­vard Law students brought the subject up at a Washington meet­ing with administration people. Suddenly stories about the Rand rumor began to appear in the straight press — only this time they were obviously planted by the administration. The stories were the first public acknowledgement by the administration that the rumor existed. Several times the White House press office had issued denials to indivi­dual reporters, but in the campus­ emissary stories, it seemed clear that some administration officials had brought the subject up with reporters to make sure it was handled properly.

So instead of writing about the rumor, investigating it, taking it seriously even if to disprove it, the straight press wrote stories such as “Nixon men find a rumor hard to scotch,” “Campus rumor plagues Nixon aides,” or “Plot story pops up on campuses.” All of these stories assume from the start that the rumor is a foolish preoccupation of paranoid col­lege students, or accept the flat denials by the White House and Rand at face value, and go on to describe White House aides’ unavailing efforts to clear up the unfortunate but persistent rumor which has been undermining students’ trust of the administra­tion and preventing discussion of serious issues. The straight press reported with a straight face that administration denials did not seem to stop the rumor’s spread, but instead spread it further. The White House was reportedly as puzzled about why it spread as it was over how it was spread.

Then, in early June the ad­ministration went one step fur­ther. The administration’s house liberal was delegated, or opportunely chosen, to lead the offen­sive. Daniel Patrick Moynihan — ­President Nixon’s “counselor” — ­made a speech to a Fordham University commencement, at­tacking increasingly non-ra­tional, even irrational, fear and “growing distrust of all social in­stitutions” among students. The chief, in fact it appears the only, example of this irrationality cited by Moynihan, was a rumor which he said had spread to “just about every campus in the na­tion,” the rumor “that the administration, using radical stu­dent protest as a pretext, is plan­ning to cancel the 1972 election.” Moynihan — who is perhaps closer to Nixon’s counsels than Walter Hickel — denounced the report in no uncertain terms: “Now this is not so — or at least I think it is not so,” he said, reportedly getting a good laugh with that rather superfluous bit of self-deprecation. He went on to say, with a straight face this time, that “ev­eryone in a position to know” de­nied the rumor, that in fact the president of the Rand Corpora­tion himself had taken the trouble to deny it.

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A month later I had a strange phone conversation with Moynihan about the rumor. After the Scanlan‘s “Agnew memo” was released, I called Moynihan to ask for his comment and found him in a no-nonsense mood. It was an incredible, revealing per­formance. He denounced the rumor as “part of the psycho­pathology of the times.” He told anecdotes from Onvell which proved, he said, that leftists believe in conspiracy theories. He denounced conspiracy.

I asked him if a conspiracy theory was a priori false because it came from a “leftist,” or a priori false because there was no such thing as a real conspiracy.

He countered that objection by launching into a description of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (since they were so maliciously false, the ’72 rumor must therefore be false). I ques­tioned this rather flimsy logic, and in response he continued the pattern, dredging up other rumors which had been discre­dited in the past to heap discredit upon the present one.

“You know,” he concluded, “the same kind of people who keep attacking the Warren Report,” he said with an air of elevated contempt.

“You actually believe the Warren Report?”

“Oh, come on. I don’t want to get into that. I have a very busy schedule. The President is leaving for the West Coast soon and we’re all very busy.”

We were both thoroughly dis­gusted with each other and hung up. Five minutes later he called back to tell me he didn’t mean to get overheated but that he was very busy around the White House preparing for the President’s summer vacation at San Clemente, and he might have seemed short-tempered. I sympathized and we started going over the same ground again. He assured me — condescendingly— that “anybody who’s a professional political scientist, as I am, notes that there’s always an element in the population which needs conspiratorial theories of behavior. You know, the John Birch Society believed Eisenhower was a Communist agent. That’s a paranoid invention … Protocols of the Elders of Zion … ” etc.

I asked him if something like this Rand study could be going on in the administration without anyone telling him. He assured me quite confidently: “I know as much about it as any man could know.” Then he started in on “the psychopathology of our times” and the “irrationality of students and leftists for believing the rumor” again.

“I guess I believe in more conspiracies than you,” I finally confessed.

“Maybe you know more than I do,” he said.

“Well, how much do you know?”

“Maybe less than you.”

Maybe. Finally I asked, “Don’t you think that one reason students tend to believe something as obviously untrue as you say this rumor is, and won’t accept your denial, is that your administration has lied so often about Vietnam and Cambodia?”

“Oh come on, this is nonsense. It’s just not true.”

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We hung up again shortly, this time for good. Moynihan probably still dismisses as a dumb conspiracy story the rumor that the Chicago police plotted to assassinate Fred Hampton, or the wild charge about the Mississippi police manufacturing an incident at Jackson State. In the pristine rationalist’s world nothing, absolutely nothing, can be explained by conspiracy. His near-hysterical antagonism to conspiracy theories reminded me of nothing less than a 40-year old Victorian virgin’s rejection of sex: if she gives in just once to its vileness, she’ll start being vile all the time.

Meanwhile, there were at least two other “sources” at work rescuing the rumor from the prema­ture burial Moynihan had attempted.

First, there was that famous Scanlan’s “Agnew memorandum.” Sidney Zion, at Scanlan’s, says that early this summer an old “source” who had proved “extremely reliable” during  Zion’s years at the Times passed on to him a one-page document which identified itself as “page 2 of 4 pages” of a memorandum on stationery headed “The Vice President.”

Zion states that when he first saw the document he thought it was a hoax. But he checked back with his source and made his own investigation, which assured him the document was authentic. Zion says he still does not know who his source’s source is. Scanlan’s has published put-on “documents” before, with a straight face, but Zion continues to insist that this one is authentic.

I talked to Zion in mid-August after the furor had died down, and he said he remains “absolutely sure it’s true … we even have a little more fact now.” He would not identify his ex-Times source further, but denied that he would have hoaxed him. “He wouldn’t do it to me. Someone could have somehow done it to him … but I don’t think so … we hired a private investigator who checked out part of it … if it’s a hoax it’s a right wing hoax.”

Krassner’s name came up. I forget if I brought it up or Zion did, but Zion told me that when they first received the document and thought it might be a hoax, they called up Krassner to ask him if he had done it. “He read the thing,” Zion recalls, “and told us ‘I’m the only one who could have made that up and I didn’t.’ ”

That’s not what Krassner told me he said. I called him up shortly after Agnew himself denounced the Scanlan’s docu­ment as a “complete fraud,” just to find out what he thought was going on. Krassner told me that Zion had shown him a copy of the document and he told them he thought it was a hoax, and not a very well-crafted one at that. But he was no longer quite as sure it was fake, he said, after Zion in­sisted to him again his source was good, and he looked the doc­ument over again.

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The Agnew memorandum seemed so phony to me when I first read it that it made me think seriously, for the first time, that the whole Rand rumor was a hoax from beginning to end. (An interesting reaction, because that’s exactly what a putative right wing or even administra­tion author of the memo might want me to think.) The memo­randum, dated “11 March 1970,” seems phony from its first words, which are a continuation from the missing first page:

” … and the Rand team agree that a judicious leak of a general nature concerning segment alpha of their study for the C/E, that relative to holding no national elections in ’72, to the media (selected, of course) at the right time to test the water so to speak is a vital step in the eventuation or their scheme. However, under no, repeat no, circumstances is any information regarding seg­ment beta of their study, the Bill of Rights repeal, to be made public.”

It reads like either a fairly clumsy left wing attempt at imi­tating Kevin Phillips/Harry Dent’s right wing technocratese (“eventuation of their scheme”, “test the water so to speak”, “segment alpha”), or a mildly clever right wing effort to parody a left wing fantasy of a Nixon­-White House conspiracy. But look how frantically that one paragraph tries to reveal as much as possible to you, while still pretending it is written for someone high up and in the know. Whoever it was written for probably didn’t have to be reminded about top, top secret “segment beta:” “segment beta, you know, the Bill of Rights repeal” or about segment alpha: “that relative to holding no na­tional elections in ’72.”

The rest of the memo, dated March 11, seems to go out of its way to prove itself prophetic. It links segments alpha and beta with another scheme to bring about “in late April or early May (1970) a series of ‘spontaneous’ demonstrations by labor groups publicizing their support of this administration’s Indo-China poli­cy,” and their “discontinuances of any silent indulgences of the excess of peace groups … ” Note the use of “Indo-China” before Cambodia, the precision of the target date, and the hint that the Cambodian adventure had already been given a definite date back in early March.

The memo goes on to name one Vic Borella, Rockefeller’s labor consultant, as a coordinator of the hard hat spontaneity, and to cite an assurance that the opera­tion could be funded with CIA money from their “Rufus Taylor’s mandated ‘internal se­curity’ fund.”

When I spoke to Zion, he went to great lengths to point out to me how prophetic the memoran­dum had been, particularly all the details about the hard hat demonstrations. “If someone had told you that back then, that these  guys were going to beat up kids in the streets, and that the next day Nixon would have his arms around them, thanking them at the White House, you wouldn’t believe it, right? It would have been too impossible. But … it happened.”

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If the memo was written on March 11, it would be a very prophetic document, hard evidence of a conspiracy. If the documents were created some time in June, however, and then dated 11 March, it would not be quite as prophetic.

But the validity of the Scanlan’s document has nothing to do with the validity of the whole Nixon/Rand rumor­ — unless you think that because the Scanlan’s memo sounds false the whole story must be false. It seems likely to me that some free lance operator seized upon the pervasiveness of the Rand rumor and decided to do up a “confidential memorandum,” ei­ther to help along the cause, or as a clever political satire, or perhaps as a device to discredit the Rand rumor by planting an easily discreditable hoax upon it. In any case I am reasonably sure the Scanlan’s document was not Krassner’s work. It seems below his usual standards.

It took Attorney General John Mitchell to give the document at least an extrinsic authenticity: on July 29 he announced to the press an investigation of the whole rumor, an investigation which seemed to be prompted by Agnew and linked to his outrage at the Scanlan’s memo. Mitchell told reporters that the purpose of the investigation was to stop the spread of the story — which he called “an example of Hitler’s big lie technique” — to stop it by publicly identifying the person or persons who originated it. “We think we know where it started, There’s an investigation going on and we want to trace it more distinctly.”

He seemed to imply that the Justice Department has now as­sumed the right to investigate people who spread stories the Administration denies. One unique virtue of the Rand rumor is that it apparently has the power to bring out the latent fas­cism in any administrator who deals with it, even in those who have not been very latent in the past.

I called the Justice Depart­ment shortly after the story to find out how their investigation was proceeding. I was put in touch with a Bill King (they couldn’t put me in touch with Mitchell personally, I was told) who tried to play the whole thing down.

“It’s nothing official, really. We’re just informally, you know, trying to find out how the rumor started.”

“Under what statute could you prosecute someone for this, or what statute gives you the right to even investigate?”

“Well, I don’t know if there are any statutes until you found out who it was, and then, well, there are probably no statutes … ”

“Unless the Vice President wants to sue, right?”

“Well, I guess so. It’s really not an official thing over here. It’s just that we noticed that the thing was unknown one day and common knowledge the next.”

“Who’s doing the inves­tigating?”

“Well, it’s really not an investigation, just everybody was chatting about it. I guess the Vice President’s office would know more.”

The Vice President’s office said they weren’t doing anything, call the Justice Department. Which means that something probably was going on.

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It was about this time (late July) that still another “source” began circulating. I learned about it in August when I heard Felipe Luciano of the Young Lords Party give a talk in which he mentioned the Rand story with some new details I had never heard before. Afterward he showed me a photocopy of a memorandum on National Urban Coalition stationery which some­one unidentified had sent to the Young Lords headquarters. This memorandum was dated 9 June and marked “Confidential.” An introduction cited “a variety of extremely disturbing rumors from highly reliable sources so recurrent they deserve immediate attention.” The memorandum then listed three new sources in addition to the Newhouse story:

1) “a former State Department employee — now president of a consultant firm” — who reports that the White House “commis­sioned MIT to test voter reaction to cancellation of the election;”

2) a “well known lobbyist on Capitol Hill who knows a right wing general” who has been saying that within 18 months the administration will declare martial law, suspend constitutional guarantees, and round up and de­tain thousands of dissenters;

3) “a Vice President of the New York Bar Association” who told a class he taught that the ‘White House had asked the Bar Association to study the constitutionality of martial law.

I couldn’t find anyone at the Urban Coalition’s Washington of­fice who knew anything about the memorandum. If the document is genuine and the Urban Coalition believes its sources, why have they been so silent about it? If the document is a fake, someone sent it to the Young Lords at­tempting to deceive. Unlike the Scanlan’s memo — which can be accepted as a good piece of satire — the Urban Coalition memo is meant to be taken seriously. If the source were left wing, it reflects a rather arro­gant attempt at manipulation for reasons hard to figure out. A right wing hoax upon the left seems more likely, if the docu­ment is, in fact, not genuine.

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What’s going on?

— The rumor is true and word leaked out against the Adminis­tration’s will.

— The rumor was a White House trial balloon testing public reaction before giving the real balloon a go-ahead order.

— The rumor was a “judicious leak” about a project already going ahead, to gauge reaction and to prepare the country for later, fuller disclosure.

— The rumor was a White House inspired hoax designed to put the left in the position of the little boy who cried wolf when they finally go ahead and do it.

— The rumor was a right wing put-on, to make fun of student Movement paranoia.

— Paul Krassner did hear the story from a Rand executive’s wife, planted it in the Newhouse papers and watched it grow, while other “sources” helped nurture it.

— Paul Krassner made the whole thing up as a warning, a device to reveal more clearly the real character of the Nixon Administration and of its think-tank counselors.

— Herman Kahn planted the rumor on Krassner not as a weapon for either side (Kahn would not be automatically for or against the plan, but would find its dazzling maze of implications very interesting) but as another probe into “the unthinkable,” a test to discover more about what America is like, or perhaps whether he ought to take on the ’72 contract himself.

One evening while trying to fig­ure out, from the little I knew what was going on. I decided to visit Krassner and ask him to tell me what was going on. Simple, right? When we met he told me that he had been just about to call me up when I had called.

I told him I had been won­dering about the Rand thing for a long time and wanted to know whether he …

You know, with something like that, if it didn’t exist we’d have to invent it right, he said. It’s the kind of thing that’s really true whether or not the …

I know that, I told him, I know it’s cosmically true. I still like to know how things work.

Really, your wanting to know has nothing to do with the truth, it has more to do with me wanting to know where Angela Davis is — it’s curiosity, but it’s not important. I mean, I don’t even know if someone is using me for their own game the way it happened with that Dylan inter­view.

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I still want to know, not for a story but just for myself.

Anyway, how will you know, if I tell you something; what’s to prevent you or someone else from thinking I’m just playing another game with you with what I say?

Well, I could look into your eyes while you were saying it.

He laughed, said something about acid heads, giving me the feeling that he agreed. Then he started telling me about how he had just come back from speaking at Oswego State College in upstate New York, where he had talked with students victimized by police super-under­cover man Tommy the Traveler. It has long been a rule in the movement that undercover cops would smoke grass with the peo­ple they were trying to fool, but never take acid, because the act could not go on with everyone as they say, grokking it. The Os­wego students had taken acid with Tommy, had “seen him put it on his tongue and swallow it,” and had not figured him out. The same thing reportedly happened with the FBI informer who infil­trated Weatherman, passed sev­eral marathon acid tests, and turned in Linda Evans.

I’m sure Krassner did not mean this as a warning; I think he tells the truth. But I became less confident about finding anything out — I shudder at the idea of staring into Herman Kahn’s face and asking him the truth about himself. We talked about some other matters which made me feel I could trust him not to lie to me (or that, if he were lying, he was perhaps more amoral than Kahn, which I don’t believe).

We came to a street crossing where we noticed a nearly fist-­sized insect wandering aimlessly around the center of the intersec­tion. It was so large some drivers could see it yards ahead and swerved to avoid it. Others didn’t see it and drove on through, always coming very close but never quite running it over. The beetle never gave any indication he was aware that four-ton vehicles were whizzing by inches away, and never reacted to near misses or changed his course from the random circlings which somehow kept him safe. It went on for about 10 minutes before Paul guided it into the safety of a drain sewer.

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What can I do? It happened, and it’s taken me until now to figure out what it meant. If someone were to tell the beetle (Japanese beetle, Paul said) that there was a rumor around that a four-ton blue-green mechanical vehicle 1000 times its own size, was on its way to crush it to death, the beetle would probably call his informant a paranoia freak. And the informant might be wrong. The blue-green one might miss like the others had. But unless this was a very together beetle, he was going to be crushed to death by a car and the particular color of the one that got him wouldn’t mailer. We walked on, the subject kept changing, and Krassner seemed content to leave 1972 behind for good. Finally,

“Paul…  ”


“You know … I mean? you know.”

“Okay, as soon as I get back I’ll tell you.”

“Well, if I could just ask you now and… ”

“I’ll tell you when I get back.” I decided to let it go at that. Not knowing can be as interest­ing as knowing, because when you know you can no longer be surprised, and surprise is a unique pleasure — unless, perhaps, you are that Japanese beetle.

One more thing happened that night. We were watching televi­sion on Krassner’s TV set when I discovered, or thought I did, a subtle new form of subliminal ad­vertising. I know I just lost a lot of people on that one — oh shit, they’re saying, another head who’s been staring too long at the electrons on Channel 6. But it was there. Paul saw it too. Oh shit, the rest of you are saying, another poor naif taken in by a Krassner put-on.

We were watching the begin­ning of a movie on Channel 4 when it happened. (“Crazy Desire,” starring Catherine Spaak and someone who looked just like Clark Gable.) The movie opened upon a scene in ancient Rome, which turned out to be from a play which the modern Italian characters were watching. Suddenly I was pointing at the TV screen and yelling. Because on the screen three shadowy words had emerged and remained: “Tora! Tora! Tora!” The words were not superimposed but appeared as if they were shadows cast on the film, or translucent after-images stencilled on the screen. All the images of the movie could be seen moving through the words.

The three words were ar­ranged in the receding pattern and letter-style of the 20th Centu­ry Fox movie’s billboard ads. And sure enough, after the words floated through the movie for 15 minutes, a commercial came on for “Tora! Tora! Tora!” It opened with a fleet of Japanese planes buzzing ominously on their way to surprise sleeping Americans, who had ignored all the rumors, signals, and warnings which had slipped out about the planned Japanese attack.

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“All the lies, the deceptions, the intrigue,” the announcer promises. The shadowy words seem to have disappeared from the screen. Then the commercial ends with the announcer intoning “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and Wham! Wham! Wham! the words rush up onto the screen exactly where the shadows were, filling up the shadows with big black letters — ­very fulfilling and effective. When the commercial ends the letters disappear, and the shad­ows are gone as other commer­cials appear. Then they start the movie again and the shadow-­words return until the next com­mercial.

I was amazed. Was it possible we had stumbled on the first late-­night experiment with total commercial TV? Was it possible that the message was designed to be even more subliminal, perhaps even unnoticeable to the conscious mind on an average set, but that the peculiar reception fuck-ups of this set had revealed it more clearly than it was supposed to be revealed? Krassner said he wasn’t particularly surprised: “The more you know about these people, the less any­thing they try surprises you.”

However, he called Channel 4 to ask them about it. He reached an operator who was watching Channel 2 at the time and who didn’t quite understand what he was talking about but who said yes, she had heard of “Tora! Tora! Tora !” He asked her if anyone else had called up to complain about it and she told him no, he was the only one who had called.

Back on the TV set we noticed that “Tora! Tora! Tora!” had disappeared and that in its place was a new shadow-and-light pat­tern, this time a small circle with a star inside it and a word flickering below it that I gave myself a headache trying to deci­pher, but couldn’t. We noticed that in general the pattern disap­peared during other commercials and appeared again when the movie went on. It seemed to dis­count the possibility that we were merely seeing an image that had been burned into Krassner’s tv screen earlier.

I called Channel 4 and asked to speak to the station manager. The operator said he could not come to the phone, but after I explained my question to her, she put me on “Hold,” and returned to tell me she had spoken with the man in charge of broadcast operations, a Mr. Walter Ehr­gott, who said he had been moni­toring the program all evening and had noticed nothing at all un­usual, and saw nothing like the image I described. She said I could talk to him about it the next afternoon. I asked, then, al­most as an afterthought, how many other people had called the station.

“No one,” she said.

“No one called earlier?”

“You’re the first.”

“Has there been another oper­ator taking calls?”

“Not for the last two hours. Just me.”

“And I’m the only person who’s called about this?”

“That’s right”

“No one else.”


I hung up, finding this almost stranger than the advertising on the screen. Is there an NBC poli­cy which deals with complaints by telling people who call with complaints that they’re alone? If so, it’s an effective way of turning anger at the networks back upon one’s own mistuned set or, worse, upon a possibly mistuned head.

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Taking a cab back that night I couldn’t get over how outrageous  it was if the network or 20th Century Fox actually was experimenting with total-advertising TV. Of course I told the cab driver about it, and of course he turned out to be an ex-advertising man with J. Walter Thompson, who told me he quit advertising because “it was so immoral, you wouldn’t believe how immoral it is.”

“I think I saw something pretty fucking immoral tonight.”

“Oh, that’s nothing, you won’t believe some of the things they’ve got in store.”

“Like what?”

“Just wait, you won’t believe it until you see it.”

The next afternoon I spoke with the daytime chief of broad­cast operations at NBC. He told me in effect that I probably didn’t see what I had seen, but if I had seen it, it was merely an easily explainable technical mistake at the studio, not a sneak attempt at undercover advertising or a trial balloon to test viewers’ reaction.

He said the shadow images could have been caused either by “studio leakage” or by “burn through.” The latter occurs when a camera focuses too long on one image and retains an imprint which shows up when it focuses on other things. It sounded like the most logical explana­tion for “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” but it failed to explain why the words, burned through only during the feature film and not during other commercials, why the image disappeared so suddenly, and why a second image (which, unlike “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” was never shown overtly) replaced it. And, of course, there is also the possibility that burn-throughs could be created intentionally by someone in the studio who was properly motivated by, say, 20th Century Fox.

The NBC man told me that  what I saw — or the mistake I didn’t really see — was not exactly subliminal advertising. Subliminal advertising had been outlawed for TV by the FCC, he explained, after the original testing of it at drive-in movies in the ’50s had created such a backlash. (Since it was outlawed it certainly could not exist.) There was nothing subliminal on today’s TV except, he said, a cer­tain meaningless visual signal at the beginning and end of most commercials, put there to trigger unmanned videotape machines at the ad agency which produced the commercial. The signals turn the machines on and off so that the agency won’t have to hire a man to watch TV all the time or tape everything merely to catch its own commercials.

I found this interesting, but the NBC man assured me that he personally, and everyone he knew at the studio, was against any kind of advertising during regular programs. “We just don’t want to get into that,” he said.

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I think what I saw probably was a studio mistake (keep an eye on your screen anyway). But the point of this, the point of the whole ’72 rumor, is that there’s no way of knowing. You just can’t find out. If like the beetle you dismiss all rumors as para­noid fantasies, your only reward will be the ability to be surprised when one of them materializes and runs you over. Remember, two years before 1972 the At­torney General is wandering drunkenly around cocktail parties declaring with satisfac­tion, “This country is going so far to the right you aren’t going to recognize it.”

I would suggest that the 1972 rumor, true or false, now belongs to an earlier, more optimistic season. The thought that Nixon has something to fear from hold­ing elections is hard to take seriously any longer. A more demoralizing rumor than the Rand report certainly devised by someone far more paranoid than Krassner or more amoral than Kahn, is that the ’72 elections will be held and that the candidates will be Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace. ❖


Stop the G.O.P.! The Rise of the Counter-Constitution

I’VE BEEN WATCHING THE HOUSE Foreign Affairs hearings on television and am struck with the much­ remarked Yogi Berra sense of “déja vu all over again.” For it’s not just that current happenings bring to mind the televised Watergate spec­taculars. Dimly I recall from earlier eons, as an infant sprawled at my mother’s feet, watching yet other congressional hearings illumined on the screen. Senators were put­ting questions to their colleague, Joseph R. McCarthy. And the thought occurs that in each of the Age of Television’s three great contests over the Con­stitution, the rogues’ gallery has never really changed. Those are proud and pa­triotic Republicans sitting over there.

Gerald Holton tells the following story. Sir Peter Medawar, the British scientist, applied for a visa to America, went to the consul, and was asked if he intended to overthrow the Constitution. Sir Peter re­plied: “I would certainly not overthrow it on purpose, and I can only hope I wouldn’t do so by mistake.” The best that can be said of modern Republicanism is that three times in a generation it has nearly done so by mistake.

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Each of the three modern scandals has derived from a mania for anticommun­ism. Exactly what loosed that mania in the McCarthy era hasn’t ever, in my view, been adequately explained, and can’t be, since it has to do with the irrational. But there’s no mystery regarding the causes of the more recent scandals. In Watergate and Irangate alike, the mania got out of hand because of the big dys­function in American political affairs, which is the crisis, by now endemic, in foreign policy.

Everyone describes that crisis differ­ently, but the people to listen to are the ones who evoke it with the despairing phrase “the country has become ungov­ernable.” They mean, of course, that poli­cies acceptable to themselves no longer command automatic consensus, hence can’t be put into effect without going to a lot of bother. In the old days, from the late 1940s to the Vietnam War, things were different. There was a national poli­cy, the Truman Doctrine. The Truman Doctrine quite properly declared commu­nism a tyranny and worried about its spread. It identified Soviet tanks and machinations as principally responsible for the expansion. It pledged a stalwart American resistance. And since the doc­trine was drawn with an eye toward East­ern Europe, where its analysis was accu­rate enough, most Americans approved and in regard to Europe generally still approve, and aren’t entirely wrong to, as the trade unionists of Poland will leap to instruct us.

Unfortunately, the Truman Doctrine, having been devised for Europe, was de­ployed planet-wide. A fatal mistake: to err is Truman, as they used to say. Like all superinstitutions, the Catholic church, for instance, communism has different meanings in different places. On the banks of the Vistula it was a spearhead of Russian imperialism, but in regions far from there, in countries of the Third World, it was a spearhead of anti­colonialism. It wasn’t necessarily any more decent or democratic in these re­moter regions. Most places where com­munism led the anticolonial revolt it proved a disaster, just as Islam, Hindu­ism, and Negritude proved disasters. But like these others, the disaster that was communism didn’t lack, in one region or another, for popular support and national legitimacy. This fact turned the Truman Doctrine upside down. The same policy that led us, in countries like Poland, to champion the rights of the ordinary Poles, led us, in countries like Vietnam, to outdo the communists themselves at exterminating the peasantry. It became a monstrosity, that policy.

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The old Truman consensus split into three. Some people wanted to guide American policy along lines of realpolitik and have done with costly crusades­ — these people were the pragmatic center. Others wanted to follow a compass of humanitarianism and sympathy for whatever was sympathizable in the global anti-colonial revolt — they were the liber­als and the left. And these defections from global Trumanism placed the third group, the hard-line ultras, in a difficult spot. The ultras wanted no retreat at all from the “containment” crusade, or wanted something even tougher — active aggressions against communist move­ments and states. They wanted the sort of policy that, since it touches on mortal­ity and fate, requires, in democratic soci­eties, a consensus. But they didn’t have a consensus.

What happens when such a movement gets into power? Richard Nixon is what happens. Nixon is recalled as a man ani­mated solely by mean motives, namely the desire to be reelected. That’s unfair. Nixon’s motives ran high as well as low. His hairline was their graph. In wreaking his havoc over Indochina, be was making the usual fight for Western ideals and values. He was resisting the ruthless worldwide enemy. But he was discover­ing, too, that America was “ungovern­able.” No country can prosecute a war when TV nightly alarms the public and students riot in the streets and the oppo­sition party runs a virtual pacifist for president.

So the Republican president faced a choice. Either bend with the political winds, which some might call democracy, and lose the war that was defending Western civilization … or, what? Tell himself that necessity creates legitimacy, that the people were with him willy-nilly, that constitutions can take care of them­selves. Then summon the FBI and CIA to their miserable duties. Set up some frisky little agencies of his own. Call in a bit of California ruthlessness. Enlist those high-spirited right-wing Cubans.

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It’s said on Nixon’s behalf, hence on behalf of modern Republicanism as a whole, that Nixon did nothing that wasn’t pioneered by Franklin Roosevelt or by Truman and other presidents who stepped beyond the law, cut legal corners, swelled the powers of their office, operat­ed unconstitutionally. Well, true. When Dean Acheson was acting secretary of the treasury, Roosevelt ordered him to take the country off the gold standard. Ach­eson refused. There were laws; the laws forbade it — to which Roosevelt thun­dered, “That will do!”, promptly accepted the acting secretary’s resignation, and the gold standard was gone with the wind. So the imperial presidency is not a GOP invention.

But this argument evades a rather large point about the great Republican scandals. All government outrages aren’t alike. Every breaking of a law causes two injuries: to law itself, and to the victims at hand. The victims at Roosevelt’s hand tended to be marginal groups, tiny minor­ities, splinter factions. To oppress these people, to persecute small ethnic commu­nities, to harass the Socialist Workers Party, to torment and destroy the politi­cal groupings that champion or are sus­pected of championing one or another foreign power — that is terrible, horren­dous. Government abuses of that sort subvert democracy.

But Joe McCarthy, it will be recalled, ultimately started in on the U.S. Army. Nixon, not content with persecuting the Socialist Workers, went after the Demo­crats. The obstacle that Reagan has found ways to get around isn’t just the pesky peace movement; it is the House and Senate. There is subversion, and there is subversion. Democracies, let’s say, are governments that trample minor­ities. Despotisms are governments that trample majorities. And if, in America, the trampling of minorities has in prac­tice turned out uglier than the trampling of majorities, that’s only because Ameri­can majorities eventually notice what’s going on, and reflect on their historic rights, and then the Constitution does take care of itself, and the gates of Allen­wood prison fly open.

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CALAMITIES LIKE THAT WEREN’T supposed to happen to Ronald Reagan. The Reagan Revolution was supposed to be the modern colossus in American politics, something almost geological, a new mountain range, “the realignment.” It was the right-wing New Deal and Reagan was the new FDR, impervious to the ups and downs of political life. And if the administration was truly in tune with the moment, if it represented that great a shift in American life, what damage could a few moronic escapades inflict? New Deals don’t slip on banana peels.

Yet here are the peels, there is the slipping, and suspicion dawns that Rea­gan’s relation to the public is not like FDR’s. It is, on the crucial issues, like Nixon’s, the famous personality notwith­standing: Nixon with a human face. We haven’t really needed obscure Lebanese newspapers and down-at-heels Wisconsin mercenaries to see this. It’s been plain in the entirely open and public debate over Nicaragua. For what happens when a Reagan Revolutionary stands up to ex­hort the public on this topic? He begins with honest sentiments. Call them Rhetoric A. Global struggle between incompatible systems, says the exhorter. Ruthlessness. Western values. Strategic catastrophe. The Truman Doctrine and its militant codicil, the Reagan Doc­trine — all of this offered in justification of the administration role in Central America. Until suddenly, aghast, the Rea­gan Revolutionary espies his audience. There are canny pragmatists out there, sneers upon their lips. There are de­ranged nuns, people who have never heard of Nicaragua, readers of The Vil­lage Voice, Vietnam War widows. It is the American population. It is ungovernable.

So the Reagan Revolutionary makes a mid-breath shift, the shift we’ve been watching for six years with fascinated horror. From the speaker’s platform pours an unexpected new language, strangely left-wing in origin, of Human Rights, Resistance Movements, Demo­cratic Revolutions, Founding Fathers. It is Rhetoric B, offered in the same cause. Rhetoric A was coherent and plausible, though it makes most people duck. But Rhetoric B is preposterous. You can’t lis­ten to three words without reaching for a mental blue pencil. Nicaragua, no democ­racy, you remind yourself, still is not the human rights hellhole that El Salvador and Guatemala surely are. Somocista thugs are not the legions of the Lord. No one honestly believes in Rhetoric B, no one has ever been convinced by it. Yet it drones in our ears, and for an obvious reason. Any clever government that wished to stuff a minority policy down a majority throat would drone on like that. Who can’t convince, confuses. Who can’t lead, manipulates.

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I pick up the summer issue of Irving Kristol’s foreign affairs quarterly, The National Interest — a sectarian journal named with the right-wing hubris that has brought the country to its present fix — and flip through various disagreeable but honest celebrations of the Tru­man Doctrine, until I come to pages by Elliot Abrams, assistant secretary of state, El Maniotico of the Managua press, who is instructed with applying that Doc­trine. The assistant secretary assures his fellow ultras that from 1984 to 1986 the contras received no armaments aid, as per the congressional ban: “Thanks to the Democratic leadership in Congress, our humanitarian aid program to the resistance forces in Nicaragua has expired, and for two years we have given them no military aid whatsoever.” This from con­tra aid’s “general strategist,” in an article published at the very moment the strate­gist is now reported to have been conspir­ing with the Sultan of Brunei for the $10 million that subsequently disappeared! And if the urge to confuse and manipu­late is at work so cynically in even the soberest journals of the right, what skul­lduggery and disinformation campaigns must have been launched in less friendly terrains?

The Irangate details, what we know of them so far — the role of stupidity, in par­ticular — testify further to the uncolossal quality of the Reagan Revolution. Wash­ington is full of brand-new right-wing in­stitutions reeking with intelligence, de­scribed by Sidney Blumenthal in his brilliant and witty book, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment. They are think tanks and foundations and they account for Reaganism’s heft and deft, the eco­nomic ideas (such as they’ve been), the strategic initiatives, the administration’s ability to find ideologically suitable staff­ers. If we mention Reaganism at all in the same breath as the New Deal, it’s because of these new institutions, which were never available to Nixon and Republicans of long ago. But the right-wing counter-establishment is strangely limited. On its own it could never have captured Wash­ington. Right-wing thought hardly domi­nates the 1980s the way left-wing thought dominated the 1930s. An ordinary right­-wing politician could never have led the new organizations to spectacular double landslide triumphs. The right-wing move­ment was able to conquer only one way: by attaching itself to a miracle candidate, a once-in-history vote-getter.

Something peculiar results. The new right-wing institutions offer Reaganism an extraordinary base of power; but these same institutions depend helplessly on the one irreplaceable man. Nothing in the literature of American politics describes what such an arrangement can be like. I turn therefore to Leon Trotsky, the ex­pert. In his History of the Russian Revo­lution, Trotsky analyzed strengths of the Czarist Regime. There were powerful in­stitutions of every sort, the army, the bureaucracy, the aristocracy, the big capi­talists, who counted among them many capable and decisive people. But by the nature of their system, these people wielded power only by gathering around the throne. The regime was therefore cru­cially compromised. It was no stronger than the czar who held it together, and nothing at all could guarantee that a giv­en czar would be anything more than a royal jerk.

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As it happened, Trotsky tells us, the czar in 1917 was the sort of man who, with revolution breaking out around him, wrote in his diary: ”Walked long and killed two crows. Drank tea by daylight.” He was “a jolly, sprightly fellow in a raspberry-colored shirt.” His own aides were perplexed. “‘What is this?’ asked one of his attendant generals, ‘a gigantic, almost unbelievable self-restraint, the product of breeding, of a belief in the divine predetermination of events? Or is it inadequate consciousness?’ ”

Really, Trotsky has the last word on the Age of Reagan. “The sole paper which Nicholas read for years, and from which he derived his ideas, was a weekly published on state revenue by Meshchersky, a vile, bribed journalist of the reactionary clique, despised even in his own circle … He felt at ease only among completely mediocre and brainless people, saintly fakers, holy men, to whom he did not have to look up … He selected his ministers on a principle of continual deterioration. Men of brain and character he summoned only in extreme situations when there was no other way out, just as we call in a surgeon to save our lives. The czar was might­ily under the influence of the czarina, an influence which increased with the years and the difficulties.” She in turn was un­der the influence of “our Friend,” Raspu­tin, and complained that the country didn’t appreciate the mad monk. And this czar was actually governing.

Thus the life of the vast Republican coalition. We always knew about Rea­gan’s brain; but bamboozled by the mythology of realignment and a right-wing New Deal, we never really thought the brain was making decisions. We thought the miracle candidate was a sort of dum­my put up by the real government, the way bubbleheaded newscasters read scripts written by the real journalists. We thought George Shultz and Caspar Wein­berger were the government and Reagan their newscaster, which was, of course, reassuring, since Shultz and Weinberger appear to be moderate mullahs among the medieval fanatics, to indulge a crazed distinction. But no: Shultz and Weinber­ger were the dummies, there to project the proper image. Reagan was ruling all along. The right-wing institutions pollulating along the Potomac, the national conservative alliance, the cabals of new capital and Sun Belt entrepreneurs that we took to be the powers-that-be — none of these counted in the end. They were strong, but without the miracle man they were nothing. The miracle man therefore held the power. This we learned at Reykjavik, when the jolly, sprightly fellow went into the room all alone with Gorbachev, and not even the American press doubts Gorbachev’s version of what next occurred.

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Events have followed, then, an intelligible course. The ultras are committed to policies like overthrowing the Sandinistas that can only be accomplished with broad consensus support. They get in office and learn there is no consensus. Their own philosophy obliges them to forge on nonetheless, meaning, to connive and manipulate. And since they hold power only because they made the cynical deci­sion to back a miracle candidate, the con­nivances and manipulations necessarily take no shrewder form than the miracle man is capable of providing. Power seeps into the hands of Oliver North, the mad monk. And the path proceeds thusly: In­competence (the blowing up of the Beirut Marines and CIA station), Panic (the ef­fort to ransom Agent William Buckley after he’s instantly captured trying to re­build the CIA), Sentimentality (the effort to ransom everyone). Next comes Cupid­ity (the discovery that the Ayatollah pays cash, good for undercutting congressional bans on contra support). And finally the decision was taken, probably the weirdest move ever made by an American presi­dent: the decision to sell off half the na­tion’s foreign policy under the table in order to subsidize the other half. The popular part of the nation’s policy, ad­mired worldwide, the policy, that is, of antiterrorism: sold! The unpopular part, terrorism of our own: bought! It was a moronic thing to do. It was an action that probably thousands of Republican office­holders could have accomplished with more finesse. But in its main lines, in its ruthlessness to battle what is imagined to be the Soviet foe, in its willingness to have done with the inconveniences of de­mocracy, in its sense that now is the moment of danger and all is permitted, no matter what Congress or the people may desire — in these ways it answered perfectly to what the right has wanted of its president.

Of the members of the Nixon adminis­tration and underground, 20 were con­victed in the aftermath of Watergate. In the present affair, the pile of broken stat­utes has already grown knee-high, even without knowing what happened to the Sultan’s $10 million and the profits from the Ayatollah. There’s no way to figure, of course, who exactly will be convicted. North, the half-late William Casey, John Poindexter, Felix Rodriguez (who wears Che Guevara’s plundered watch), Luis Posada (the mass murderer), Elliot Abrams (the essayist), Richard Secord, George Bush, Robert MacFarlane, Robert Owen, Colonels Mott and Broman — these have to appear on everyone’s list of possibilities. The trials, when they come, will center on specific offenses, such as violat­ing the Arms Export Control Act (pun­ishable by two years in jail or $100,000 or both). But as always in cases like these, the real offenses will have been the “high crimes and misdemeanors” of traditional English law, meaning crimes against the essence of the state.

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THE HEARINGS SHORTLY TO radi­ate anew from every television will spread gladness and delight, of course, and for weeks and months to come, oh joy; but they will spread nonsense, too. For there is a reigning ideology in affairs like this, shared by prosecutors and legislators of both parties and the lawyer class general­ly, according to which politics is nothing and procedure is all. If only Defense and State had been consulted, as correct pro­cedural rules mandate. If only the Na­tional Security Agency was kept to size and not allowed improperly to swell. If only Oliver North’s long-ago hospitalization for “an emotional illness” had not been covered up, thus keeping the ex­-patient’s hands off the national steering wheel. If only Senator Pat Moynihan and select colleagues had been brought into the secret, as by law ought to have oc­curred. If only, then surely …

Lists of new procedures will therefore be proposed for the purpose of “saving the presidency,” as variously interpreted by conservatives and liberals, to wit: the conservatives wish the presidency saved from the liberals, and the liberals wish it saved from itself. The conservatives will seek less restraints for White House may­hem, reasoning that what really caused the Nica-Persian fiasco was a meddling press and hypocritical liberals. The liber­als will seek congressional control, rea­soning that sanity and common sense vary inversely with the geographical spread of a politician’s electorate. The liberal proposals will be vastly preferable. But what will even the most liberal of procedural reforms accomplish in the end? It can be predicted.

The year is 1995. For six years there’s been a new president. It is Jack Kemp. Why shouldn’t he be? Looks like Bob Forehead. Never been accused of selling a nuclear weapon to the Ayatollah. Ex-star. Chairman of the House Republican Con­ference. And President Kemp, a sincere man, sets about enacting his program. This program is not a secret. He outlined it on the New York Times op-ed, Decem­ber 23, 1986, under the ominous title “Trust the President’s Foreign Policy.” Key points are: support for the South African-backed mercenaries in Angola (“freedom fighters”). Support for the So­mocista cocaine traders in Nicaragua (more “freedom fighters”). Opposition to the Contadora negotiations, in spite of State Department preference for diplo­macy. No SALT II. Opposition to any congressional attempts to restrain these extremist policies (the president “must draw the line, and, if necessary, veto any reduction in his authority to conduct for­eign policy”). Also, “immediate deploy­ment” — never mind r&d, those are for sissies — of star wars. The reason: only thus can “Western ideals and values” be defended against the “ruthless, dangerous enemy.” The source of legitimacy: the Truman Doctrine, or rather, “the Roose­velt-Truman-Kennedy tradition.”

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So Kemp acts, and since his program is war-ish and produces actual corpses at the hands of U.S. proxies, he stands in need of across-the-board political back­ing, the kind of backing that the Truman Doctrine enjoyed in its early years. A large Cold War consensus is what he needs.

But there is no consensus. The scien­tists balk at star wars, hardly anyone likes the Somocista drug runners, support for South African mercenaries is confined to three counties formerly under federal occupation in Alabama. Since Kemp’s forehead is, after all, hirsute, Congress votes halfway support. But halfway mili­tarism is no use. President Kemp there­fore faces a choice. He can bend with the wind, which some might call democracy, and abandon his ultra position … or, what? Tell himself that necessity creates legitimacy, that the people are with him willy-nilly, that constitutions can take care of themselves. Then set up some frisky little agencies of his own. Hold a meeting with some aging but ever-spry Cuban-Americans. Be decisive, by God.

So it’s 1995, and the TV is on. Con­gress is holding hearings. Prosecutors prepare preliminaries. Much has gone wrong, the simplest laws have been vio­lated, and everyone is astonished. Shocked! Everybody agrees what caused this new fiasco. It was the violation of procedures; they need to be strengthened. No one will propose the other explana­tion: that political parties can go bad, traditions can turn rancid. Yet this has plainly happened to the GOP, once the party of the upright business aristocracy, now the party of plots and conspiracies, the gangster party in modem politics. ❖


Richard Nixon’s Real Motive Was Tyranny

Despite all the Watergate disclo­sures, despite the now-public re­cord of perfidy, crime, and repres­sion, we have not yet taken the measure or Richard Nixon’s vil­lainy. In an odd way, the Water­gate scandal, in the very process of exposing that villainy, diminished and domesticated it. What, after all, was Nixon’s intention when he covered up the Watergate burgla­ry — to safeguard his reelection, a political motive so commonplace that the very people who hated Nixon the longest were the least moved by his Watergate doings. They saw no essential difference between the young Nixon who red-­baited an election rival and the president who committed a number of crimes to avoid losing a number of votes. We have been in danger of remembering the first American president who ever harbored despotic ambition as just another crooked office-seeker in the long gray line. If so, the danger is past, thanks to a 32-year-0ld New Yorker staff writer (and native New Yorker), Jonathan Schell.

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In THE TIME OF ILLUSION (which Knopf will publish early in January — it first appeared as a six-part article in the New Yorker, last summer) Schell, the author of two books on the Vietnam war, has done what no Watergate expositor has done or could do. He has shown for the first time that the story of the Nixon administration, told fully from start to finish, from Judge Carswell to Judge Sirica, is nothing less than the tale of a tyrant’s rise and fall. “I am not a crook,” said Richard Nixon. It is not the least merit of this powerful and perceptive book that we learn why Nixon thought he was telling the truth.

In January, 1969, when the 37th, president of the United States took his solemn oath of office, the American Republic presented a spectacle which filled him with personal loathing and high stra­tegic fears. Nixon believed, or eagerly chose to believe, that the United States was in dire peril, its security radically impaired, its defense against Communist aggression perilously weak. Nixon’s fears were not based on anything either Russia or China were doing or threatening; both had been not­ably docile for years. Nixon’s fears, according to Schell, were entirely theoretical. They were based on an elaborate strategic doctrine first espoused by Presi­dent Kennedy and distinguished both by its rigorous internal logic and its complete want of common sense. It is known, says Schell, as the “credibility doctrine” and Nixon’s adherence to it was immediately attested by his appointing its chief intellectual sire, Dr. Henry Kissinger, as his chief foreign policy adviser.

According to the credibility doc­trine, the only way the United States can forestall world-wide Communist domination without resort to nuclear warfare is to present to the totalitarian enemy an “image” of national “toughness” so ruthless and frightening that the masters of the Kremlin will think twice about reaching for global hegemony, thus sparing the human race from nuclear destruction. The price for this would be trifling — the occasional “limited war” in remote places to demon­strate America’s “determina­tion,” its “will and character” as President Nixon was to put it.

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By the time Nixon was elected, however, the credibility doctrine had developed a serious hitch. Be­sides omitting all human experi­ence except the 1938 Munich Pact, the doctrine had overlooked two salient domestic truths: (1) that the American people were not as “logical” as Dr. Kissinger, and were unwilling to offer up their sons’ lives indefinitely so that America might look “determined,” and (2) that the American people still had a voice in their own affairs. Specifically, as Schell rightly emphasizes, the American people wanted out from Vietnam, and by 1968 had proven themselves powerful enough to prevent a war president from seeking reelection and to exact from the new incumbent a hedged-about pledge to get us out.

In voicing their opinions and exercising their liberties however, the American people had committed the gravest of offenses in Nixon’s eyes: They had undermined America’s “credibility.” How would America project an image of toughness and determination when the body politic was corrupted by antiwar sentiment, by “neoisolationism” and war-weariness in general? How could America prove its credibility as the foe of totalitarian designs when the electorate was not only weak­-kneed and corrupted, but free to express its views? “It was Ameri­cans, not Russians or Vietnamese, who aroused the bitterest hatred in the administration. There might be foes abroad, but the ‘vultures’ and ‘eunuchs’ were all at home.”

Given the new president’s ad­herence to the credibility doctrine, given his absolute faith in its logic, Nixon felt compelled, in Schell’s words, to “make war against the American people” and against their ancient liberties in order to save America from Americans. This is Schell’s brilliant and fruitful thesis. At one stroke, all the deeds and misdeeds of the Nixon administration, its public policies and private machinations, its siege mentality, its secrecy, isolation, and obsessiveness, and, above all, its despotic ambitions, fall into place as intelligible elements of a consistent, compulsive strategy: to force a war-weary people to appear as ruthlessly tough and bloody-minded as the credibility doctrine required them to seem.

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How an American president and his henchmen waged war against their fellow citizens is the story Schell unfolds, and no brief sum­mary can do justice to Schell’s skill and intelligence in telling it. Consider, for example, what the White House conspirators re­ferred to as the “Presidential Offensive.” This was the bitter assault on the peace movement which the administration launched in late 1969 and conducted with increasing frenzy through the 1970 elections. At the time, the cam­paign alarmed and puzzled the commentators and since they could imagine no motive for dubi­ous presidential deeds save cheap electioneering, it was taken for granted that Nixon was simply trying to pull together an alleged “Republican majority” (in the 1970 elections Republicans lost 11 governorships). In fact, as Schell shows, the “Offensive” was dictat­ed, not by election tactics, but by Nixon’s overall credibility strategy, that of recreating the national image of toughness.

Knowing he could never hope to revive prowar sentiment, Nixon was attempting, with all the massed power of his office, to arouse what might be called anti-antiwar sentiment. Exploiting and provoking every rancor and re­sentment infecting American hearts, the administration un­leashed them like firebombs against the organized peace movement, which was variously held to be the advance guard of foreign Communist governments, of “rad­ical-liberals,” of the Democratic party, of a sinister “Establish­ment” and by the time of the 1970 elections, of nothing less than our entire corrupt “permissive soci­ety.” By silencing vocal antiwar critics Nixon hoped to repair somewhat the prevailing image of national weakness; by creating an atmosphere of rancor, hostility, and “hard-hat” nastiness, he hoped to arouse a kind of left-­handed support for terror-bombing, “incursions,” and nastiness in general. As Schell very shrewdly points out, even Nixon’s appoint­ment of Judge Carswell to the Supreme Court was part of his campaign of rancor. By deliberately provoking the Senate to re­ject a southern appointee, Nixon intended to fire the wrath of the South and so pump sectional bitterness, too, into the general emotional tumult.

The Presidential Offensive proved a limited success. Only a totalitarian dictator, wielding the weapons of terror, is powerful enough to make white appeal black by fiat. The more Nixon tried to turn America into the appanage of the credibility doctrine, the more impotent he felt himself to be, the more obsessed he became with his “enemies” the more se­cretive and lawless grew his tactics. “The most powerful men in the country — men armed not only with the great, unimpaired constitutional powers of their offices, but with an awesome array of new powers — had, in their own minds maneuvered themselves into the position of victims, whose rights were menaced by usurpers in television studios, rambunctious citi­zens in the streets, upstart congressmen, and saboteurs in the federal bureaucracy.” The more Nixon felt his “rights” being infringed, the more he was determined to concentrate all national power in the bunkers of the White House.

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What Nixon ultimately sought, says Schell, was power so great that he and he alone would repre­sent America. His power would be such that his own ruthless will would be the nation’s one will, his “toughness” the sole image of the national character. Congress, the press, the people, all the institu­tioos of a free republic were to be cowed or corrupted into silence and impotence, capable no longer of marring the image on which national survival ostensibly depended. At the end of Schell’s long and complex narrative we know beyond all doubt that this was Nixon’s mad final ambition, and that he had almost achieved it when the Watergate scandal broke and turned his ambition to dust.

One difficult and nagging ques­tion only does Schell leave unresolved in his narrative. The question, to put it starkly, is this: Did Nixon aspire to a presidential dictatorship because of his fanati­cal devotion to an abstruse stra­tegic doctrine or did he cling to that doctrine, with all its despotic implications, because he harbored despotic ambition? At first Schell gives an equivocal answer: “When President Nixon arrived in power, it seemed, he entered a realm of complex and demanding global military strategy … It was as though there were an isolated world of cold, abstract strategic theory which endured unimpaired from administration to administration.”

Well, is there or isn’t there? The Founding Fathers, who took poli­tics more seriously than theories, would not have equivocated this way. Here was an American ruler willing to destroy liberty in Ameri­ca in order to avert a danger which was entirely theoretical and, at best, remote. Indeed, the enemy was so far from our gates that Nixon visited their capitals to swap toasts, compliments, and trade agreements. Here, moreover, was a ruler who amply revealed a despot’s passion to control every­thing in reach (including the dura­tion of applause at the 1972 Repub­lican Convention) quite apart from any “global military strategy.” The Founding Fathers, I believe, would have concluded in a trice that Nixon’s tyrannical ambition was primary and that the credibil­ity doctrine, consciously or semi- consciously, provided the fuel upon which it fed. Of course Nixon would see himself as the national savior. Does anyone suppose that any man would lay siege to a 200-year-old republic armed with anything less than a savior’s pre­tensions?

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While reading The Time of Illu­sion I wondered why Schell had hedged. I thought perhaps he was reluctant to unsettle his narrative with that harsh, half-forgotten po­litical truth which the founders never forgot for a moment: that the love of lawless power is a genuine passion of the soul and though it appears in many guises — nation-saving is the gar­den-variety — it requires no politi­cal explanation, least of all by dubious talk of an “isolated world theory.” Then in a final chapter devoted to the credibility doctrine Schell cleared up the puzzle in a manner I can only describe as astonishing.

In this chapter, a sort of appendage to the book, Schell comes to the defense of the credibility doctrine. It is, he says, the first and only “sustained, intellectually co­herent attempt to incorporate the implications of nuclear weaponry into national policy.” He believes that the rulers who adopted it­ — Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon­ — were honestly, responsibly, and courageously groping for a means to stop communism without re­course to nuclear war. He believes further that if these three ruled in isolation from the people it was because the people, wallowing in consumer pleasures, lacked their leaders’ courage to stare mega-death in the face.

What is astonishing in this is its sheer credulity. Schell is ready to admit that the credibility doctrine is flawed even “on its own terms.” He grants that much of it is “pure guesswork.” But his criticism is mild and his heart is plainly not in it. Understandably so, for if the doctrine is flawed on its own terms, if its arguments consist largely of guesses, why on earth does he think Nixon was compelled to believe it. There is nothing compelling about a syllogism with a hole in it or an argument propped up with conjecture.

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The truth is, the credibility doc­trine is scarcely more than a concoction of begged questions, official effrontery at its worst. Its essential ingredient is not, as Schell supposes, the fact of nuclear weapons, but the old tattered Cold War assumptions about America’s need to stop a Communist drive for world domination, a mouthful of begged questions if ever there was one. Masked behind its fancy verbiage, the credibility doctrine lays d0wn the ridiculous proposi­tion that the only way America can show its will to fight for its vital interests is to show its eagerness to fight for nothing. The credibility doctrine did not provide Kennedy with a rational means to avert nuclear war. It provided him in 1961 with a handy rationale for reviving armed intervention and for fabricating endless foreign “crises” (“tests of will” as Ken­nedy called them) at a time when the old Cold War ideology was crumbling and Cold War passions waning. What “credibility” pro­vided Richard Nixon the reader of Schell’s book can judge.

Here, in all fairness to Schell, I must cease and desist. The final chapter of The Time of Illusion forms no essential part of the story he tells. He is rather like the author of a first-rate novel who foolishly appends to his narrative an afterword stating his “credo.” Such being the case, we ought to follow D. H. Lawrence’s advice about Tolstoy: “Trust the tale and not the teller,” for no one has told the story of the Nixon years with a tenth part of Schell’s intelligence, penetration, and eloquence. ❖

Walter Karp is author of “Indispensible Enemies,” an analysis of American politics.  

From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The New Politics: Leaders or Guerrillas

In the last 10 days I have read about 20 sophisticated articles analyzing the results of the 1968 elections. Most of these pieces of punditry contained the same two assumptions — which I believe are misleading, and perhaps paralyzing, illusions.

One is that the election returns are proof of a sharp veering to the right by the electorate. And the other is that the future hope of liberal politics rests with the “new politics” Democrats. I disagree with both these interpretations.

First, George Wallace ran much weaker than most of us anticipated. He carried only five Southern states, for a total of 45 electoral votes. He failed to get the bit white working-class vote in the industrial backwaters of Gary, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. And he did not carry any of the border states such as Kentucky, Maryland, or Texas, that his supporters hoped he would.

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Second, most of the incumbent anti-war Senators and Congressmen were re-elected, despite Nixon’s strength at the top of the ticket. The only really outstanding Congressman to lose was John Dow of New York. And he was elected in 1964 because of the Goldwater debacle, and was re-elected in 1966 only because the Conservative Party in his district ran their own candidate, rather than endorsing the Republican. In the Senate, two incumbent. doves — Wayne Morse and Joseph Clark — lost. But I think they lost not because of their prophetic opposition to the war, but because o( their own prickly personalities, and Morse also lost because Nixon swept Oregon. Fulbright was re-elected, however, even though Wallace took Arkansas, and McGovern won, even though Nixon took South Dakota.

Perhaps more revealing of the mood of the voters was that three pro-war, conservative incumbent Democrats lost their Senate seats — Mike Monroney in Oklahoma, Frank Lausche in the Ohio Democratic primary and Daniel Brewster in Maryland, to young, anti-war Republican Charles Mathias.

And most significantly, I think, were the insurgents who won Congressional races. Harold Hughes, the populist, colorful Governor of Iowa, won his Senate race even though Nixon won by a landslide statewide. Allen Cranston beat right-winger Max Rafferty for the Senate in California. And 39-year-old Tom Eagleton, an early supporter of Robert Kennedy, was elected to the Senate from Missouri.

And in New York, although most of the comment has gone to the Conservative Party’s one million votes, three remarkable freshmen were elected to the House — Edward Koch, Allard Lowenstein, and Shirley Chisholm (in Bedford-Stuyvessnt).

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My second point is based more on speculation and theory than on hard evidence. Many liberal observers are relatively sanguine that the “new politics” coalition can now easily move to consolidate control of the National Democratic Party. And, although it might seem to follow from my first optimistic interpretation, I don’t believe this for a minute.

For one thing, I don’t know what “new politics” means. On the Sunday before the election, I heard Jacob Javits define new politics as “problem solving.” Jesse Unruh and Jack English say they are for new politics. But they are just suburban liberal bosses.

It will not be easy at all for McCarthy, McGovern, or Teddy Kennedy to win the nomination in 1972 without the backing, not just of Unruh, but of Daley and John Connally as well. It is necessary to recall, for example, that Daley actually wanted Teddy Kennedy nominated in Chicago last August.

My own view of the future is that the roots of change are still outside the Democratic Party. The civil rights movement began outside the Democratic Party. So did the anti-war movement. And, although the leaders were Democrats, the “dump Johnson” movement also began outside the party structure. And these movements remain the model of the future.

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I think the focus of what is labeled the new politics should be primarily on movements and issues, and only peripherally on candidates. What most people call the new politics, I call guerrilla politics. Which is different from guerrilla warfare. For the immediate future, I think we have to move freely and quickly in and out of institutions and political parties. The priority is to build a movement against the draft, against the power of the military, and for decentralization and community control. Forget McCarthy or Teddy Kennedy — the pornographers of power will gravitate to them. As Dylan says, “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parkin’ meters.”

In most cases, the Democratic Party is still going to be the enemy of serious change. In New York City, for example, it is already clear that Congressman James Scheuer, an early McCarthy supporter, is running for Mayor on the bitter ashes of the school strike as super-Jew, for law and order, and against decentralization. When that happens, I am for John Lindsay, and I would hope the people who worked for McCarthy would also be for Lindsay.

What I am saying, finally, is that political parties, unions, churches, and personalities, will mean less and less in the future. Guerrilla politics with its emphasis on movement and its commitment to issues, is the best antidote to the banality of Nixon. But first, we must puncture the myth that the election was a mandate for reaction. ❖


John F. Kennedy at NYU

‘Make It Shine, Make It Move Forward,’ Jack Tells Students

An estimated crowd of 3500, held in check by a small army of police, gathered in front of NYU’s Loeb Student Center on Washington Square South last Thursday to hear a fast, hard-hitting attack on the Republican administration by Senator John Kennedy.

The highly-vocal crowd con­sisted mostly of students, Villag­ers from the vicinity, and three busloads of newsmen traveling with the Presidential candidate’s entourage. There were so many blue-jacketed police accompany­ing Kennedy that they resembled a Union cavalry charge on motor­cycles as they swept down the street.

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“This race is between comfort and concern,” the blond, tanned Kennedy began, speaking from a convertible which also bore Car­mine G. DeSapio. “Let’s see what eight Republican years have done,” Kennedy went on briskly. “We have had three recessions. We are running at only 50 per cent of steel capacity. There are approximately 4 ½ million out of work. And our world position has deteriorated so badly the Admin­istration won’t release the facts.”

The audience lining the side­walks and standing in the park found it difficult to hear Ken­nedy. The Senator obligingly went up to the roof of the student center where microphones had been set up for him.

Image of Uncertainty

“The issues which separate Nixon and I are clear and sharp,” Kennedy continued from the higher altitude. “Nixon has said ‘we never had it so good’ or ‘pres­tige has never been so high.’ I could not disagree more. We will no longer be the leader of the free world unless we regain the confidence of the world. We have an image of uncertainty.”

A small but vociferous group of Nixon boosters in the crowd began to chant: “Nixon will win.”

Kennedy never smiled. But leaning into the microphone he said to them softly: “I’m afraid he won’t.”

Returning to Nixon and the Republican record, Kennedy said: “I don’t think a man who has had 40 accidents should be given a new driver’s license.” He went on to criticize sharply the Re­publican handling of African and Asian affairs, stating the Admin­istration had “shamefully” neg­lected the opportunity to bring foreign students here and send American teachers abroad.

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As Kennedy concluded his rap­id-fire indictment of Republicanism, he pointed to what appeared to be a large group of students who were cheering him across the itreet. “How many of you will be willing to pick this country up,” he asked “make it shine — make it move forward again?”

The Kennedy columns closed ranks again, roaring off to another speech amid shrieking sirens and a broken chant from the students of “Let’s back Jack.” ❖


Who Will Tape the White House Tapers?

A professional tape recorder technician who worked on the White House tape recording system as late as April 1973 has supplied additional information about the plexus of secreted microphones and hidden cables that enabled conversations to be recorded, according to the technician, in virtually every room in the White House complex, including Nixon’s offices, and relayed to an emplacement packed with approximately 14 highly professional Scully tape recorders, located on the first floor of the Executive Office Building (see “Nixon at the Console: A Second Tape System in the White House?”, Voice, February 21). The EOB, as it is fondly known, is situated just across the private street on White House grounds from Nixon’s Oval Office in the West Wing.

The plexus of Scully tape recorders is maintained by United States Army personnel of the White House Communications Agency, which is under the over-all supervision of the Secret Service. The system is serviced and repaired through contracts with outside civilian companies, including the Scully-Metrotech Corporation, which sends in employees from various Scully offices in the East. According to the technician, the recording has been used for everything from an eight-track mix-down of a performance of “Hello Dolly” to the recording of meetings of the Join Chiefs of Staff. The system was created during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations but was kept operative, and apparently even augmented, during the Nixon regime. Visitors to the public part of the White House, for instance, can look at the fluted columns in the room and have the wonderful knowledge that the flared panels at the bottoms of the columns have secreted in them microphone connection which lead by hidden wires clear to the data hive at the EOB.

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Since Army personnel staff the Scully tape system, the possibility comes to mind that perhaps, Nixon installed the secret Sony 800-B system in February 1971 (the year of the leaks, of hassles with the CIA, of the theft of Kissinger’s papers by the military) and had the system maintained, not by the Army, but by Secret Service officers, in order perhaps to avoid his words being bled via scrambler lines into Richard Helms’s offices over in Langley. The tapes from the Sony system, however, were kept stored, according to Alexander Butterfield, in locked closets in the Executive Office Building, where the Scully monitoring system already was in place, so it is likely that knowledge of the tape collection might have spread to service personnel.

In any case, what the Scully technician has to say is very interesting because it sheds light on equipment that may in fact have been called into action during any incidents of tape tamper, since for instance the Scully machines could plugged into the Oval Office to pick up the ambient room noise, which would have been necessary to place upon a tape in order to make it appear to have been actually recorded in the Oval Office.

Here are some things he has revealed:

1. When asked if he knew of any continuous logging of conversations or phone calls by the Scully equipment in the Executive Office Building, he replied that when he went into the tape recording room, of the 14 tape recorders, some were running, and some were not, but that it was impossible to tell what was being continuously recorded.

2. He said that there are mixing consoles over at the EOB such that conversations in any room in the White House (with the probably exception of Nix’s private living quarters, one supposes) could be mixed down onto a cassette. They had cassette duplication equipment at the Executive Office Building and there was a whole library room over at the EOB filled with cassette tape recordings.

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3. He never heard of a professional tape system in Nixon’s private quarters.

4. He said that the Scully tape recorders were of three types. There were Scully Series 280 monophonic tape recorders, Scully Series 280-2 stereo tape recorders, and Scully Series 284-8 eight-track tape recorders. The eight-track Scully recorders now retail for about $11,250. There are two eight-tracks, one of which is portable and which flies all over the world for Nixonian recording assignments. If Nixon had wanted to do so, he could have recorded his John Dean conversations on these eight-track machines, because the technician indicates that  there is what they call a “patch bay” which connects to microphones in all the rooms-said patch bay being a complex of electrical hook-ups, any mike line able to feed immortal babble into the eight-track equipment. Nixon also could have mixed onto a cassette from the Scully recorders.

5. On July 16, 1973, Alexander Butterfield was asked by the Senate Select Committee where the Sony tape recorders used for Nixon’s conversations were kept and Butterfield replied that “most of the recording machines were in the basement of the West Wing of the White House.” The former Scully technician was asked if he knew of any Scully equipment under the West Wing or under Nixon’s Oval Office and he said there was, in fact, a large space down there where there was a caged storing area for tape equipment, i.e. for storing speakers, mixers, mikes, mike stands, and so forth. But he didn’t know of Scully taping being done there. The technician did not know of the secret Sony tape system set up by the Secret Service in February ’71, but notes that it is difficult to understand why they sneaked in the Sonys when every room was already wired to such a professional system as the Scully plexus.

What is the importance of all this? Well, the tape experts are due soon to issue their reports on the Nixon tapes, not just in the 18 1/2-minute buzz, but also as to whether some of the tapes are re-recordings, or have been edited, or as in the case of the March 13 and 21, 1973, conversations with John Dean regarding hush money, executive clemency, and presidential cancer, whether or not there has been a switcheroo, so as to make it appear that Nix heard of the coverup on the 21st instead of the 13th. For indeed, a presidential lie, at this stage of the game, is adios for Nix. And one could us that 18 1/2-minute buzz on the June 20 babble session with Hank Haldeman as a sound track for a Kenneth Anger movie which would be titled “Nixon Sinking.”

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Judge Sirica has received into evidence all the Sony 800-B’s used for Nixon’s babble. The hidden microphones were left in place, possibly in order to be able to recreate if necessary conversations so as to match the ambient room noise against that on the subpoenaed tapes. Ambient room noise, so we are informed by recording engineers, is the peculiar noise characteristics that each room has, and which, in the hands of experts, can apparently serve almost as fingerprints in determining if a tape was actually recorded in a certain room. Accordingly, in my opinion, Judge Sirica should subpoena all the Scully tape equipment and any tape equipment, for that matter, in the Executive Office Building, because that equipment was in place and operating all during the Nixon regnum. They should subpoena the tape equipment in the wire cage in the basement also.

For instance, there is the ominous possibility, mentioned in the New York Times of March 3, 1974, that an Army Security Agency psy-war tape expert unit was sent into the White House the day after John Dean concluded his testimony last June 30, on a possible mission of tape-tamper, using equipment in the EOB. This was investigated by Special Prosecutor Jaworski ‘s office, with no apparent conclusive results. But we are beyond trust at this point, and the country can ill afford to inaugurate Chiquita Banana as its national anthem. The equipment should be taken into custody.

In the meantime, it is not untoward to propose that congress enact legislation requiring a 69-cent Woolworth phone lock to be installed on the red nuclear telephone, just in case Milhous should catch in mind late at night, after drinking martinis with Bebe in silence, a possible answer to the question facing us all. ■


Postal Strike: Moving the Mails

Neither Nixon Nor Troops Should Stay These Men

“Solidarity,” that tired labor union catchword, took on real meaning for me on Monday afternoon, at the moment President Nixon announced that he was sending troops to New York. I stood with about 500 postal workers in front of the General Post Office across from Penn Station, listening on transistor radios to the President’s pious rhetoric. There was about half a minute’s hush while each worker seemed to ponder all that awesome power of the United States government and its mighty army — all seeming to focus on him alone, or on his family, or on a pension only a year or two away. But then there was a great roar of “no” to the president as 500 men felt the strength of sticking with the union.

Solidarity but not community, for these men are politically as diverse as the society at large. A small minority wearing American flag pins and “Support Our Boys” buttons tried to destroy newspapers and leaflets being distributed by members of the Workers League, Progressive Labor, and the International Socialists. “We don’t need help from reds,” they said. But most were tolerant of the leftists, and accepted and read the leaflets, some of which were notable for their irrelevance. At least one postman, however, came to the conclusion that “to the people who run this country we are the same as the Vietnamese.”

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Everyone agreed that without the blacks and the young whites there would have been no strike, not because of the politics of these elements but because of their fearlessness. “They just aren’t going to take the shit we came to accept as normal,” an older worker explained. Militancy rather than radicalism was the keynote.

The postal workers judged that the troops were being sent to inspire fear rather than move the mails, and that the fear might do the job for the government, especially outside the city, where solidarity is weaker. Workers claimed that postal sorting schemes take weeks to learn and that any resumption of normal mailing by the public would result in colossal foul-ups by untrained soldier-scabs. Almost all the postmen are veterans. One humorously presented this as a typical scene: “Private Schmuck: ‘Sir, where does zip code 07548 go?’ Sergeant Putz: ‘Why the hell you asking me, I’m a non-commissioned officer.’ ”

Whether the postmen are correctly estimating the complexity of their jobs, a postal outsider cannot evaluate. With few weeks on the job and with the aid of supervisors, some of whom are unsympathetic to the ordinary clerks and carriers, the army might actually be able to deliver the mail — provided they are not physically interfered with by striking  postmen. Those I spoke with were overwhelmingly against the use of any kind of violence, but the arrogance of the Nixon administration has been so successful at angering the government’s most conservative and loyal workers that it just might provoke more desperate acts. Compare your mailman to a cop, a garbage man, or a cab driver. He is definitely the least surly of our public servants. Imagine the pent-up rage. One of the most repeated complaints I heard from strikers was about the “patronizing attitude” of the government toward them.

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If they don’t interfere with the troops, they can try something even more shattering to the American status quo — organizing a general strike. A friend of mine with experience in both Europe and America laid out the revolutionary dream scenario: postmen, wearing the hats from their uniforms and with their union pins prominent, go in car pools to workers at the Ford assembly plant in northern New Jersey, to factories all over the metropolitan area, to subway, rail, and truck depots, and to every worker who will listen and say: “This struggle is yours as well as ours. Troops used against us may be used against you. Put down your tools and join us on strike.”

The workers all go out and a shaken government accepts their demands (or faces overthrow). It doesn’t happen often in Europe, but it has happened enough times to produce consciousness of labor as a great slumbering giant not to be casually awakened.

But in America, this is very much a dream only, my friend admits. Power is expected to reside in politicians and corporations who belch “constitutionality” and “legality.” (Was the New York Times ever so bitter about the illegality of the war as about the illegality of this strike?)

One thing is certain: if there ever is a general strike, it will be called by workers, not by their leaders. James H. Rademacher, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, says he will ask George Meany to call a nation-wide strike if the government offers nothing by Friday. But Meany will be about as willing to do this as Rademacher was to lead his own men out. And there have been few statements of support from union leadership in the city or in the country. This strike is as much against the union leadership as against the government employer.

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Moe Biller, Manhattan and Bronx Postal Union president, who had fled through a kitchen at a meeting last Thursday, flashed the V sign to his men at the General Post Office. He looked frightened. If he is forced to pay $10,000 a day in fines or sent to jail, he will be the first victim on the altar of Nixon proposed postal re-organization (to which the President has tied postal pay raises).

All of us who use the mails will to a lesser extent follow. Nixon wants to create a “public authority” to run the Post Office. As with all public authorities — like our own Port Authority and and Transit Authority — this is a way of diminishing public accountability in the name of fiscal solvency. We can look forward to a postal authority run for the benefit of big mailers like Time Inc., Readers Digest, Sears Roebuck, and Chase Manhattan. They already receive preferential rates subsidized by our taxes and our six-cent stamps. With a self-sustaining authority, we would be subsidizing them with 10-cent stamps.

What’s wrong with the post office is its bureaucracy, low pay, and inequitable rates, not its status as a government agency. The private telephone company isn’t managing service so well. It keeps its profits up, however, by charging twice as much for service as anywhere else on earth. In most countries, telephone profits go into the postal service.

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Nixon’s Postal Authority is supposed to put postal service on a pay-as-you-go basis, like the New York subways. I might see this principle as more reasonable if it were applied across the board to all government services. We could have a pay-as-you-go army, air force, CIA, and FBI. When these agencies failed to show profits, services would be cut back. Forces in Laos or Thailand, for example, could be brought home for being in the red by the same procedure the Transit Authority used in closing the profitless Myrtle Avenue line in Brooklyn last autumn. And the bill for Vietnam could be footed by those who like the war.

I would choose to sustain my brave and friendly mailman. ■


Hard Hat Riot: Working Class on Wall Street

Requiem for the Payday Patriots

It seems we have under-rated Richard Nixon. Not only does he play the dummy admirably, but in the last week, he has shown a flair for ventriloquism by finding a voice for his silent majority. But it’s a shame that it was the working men who were wooden-headed or hard-hatted enough to climb upon his knee.

At first glance it seems incongruous that the working class would gravitate toward Nixon. His style is not theirs. Wallace, yes. A face in the crowd, a small lonesome road that runs through dirt farmers’ country and pauses in the early morning hours at truck stops. But Nixon’s odyssey isn’t even on a working man’s map. The class debater, benchwarmer for the football team at good old Whittier College, a man who sees Knott’s Berry as America’s happy farm, the master of the cheap shot (or a “shy rap artist” to use a laborer’s term), a whiner in defeat, and a paranoiac by profession.

Then why the recent alliance between Nixon and the workers? lt is a wedding of his pomposity and, sadly, their circumstances. The key word is “majority.”

If you came out of a working-class family, you always wanted to belong. Only aristocratic politicians long for “humble beginnings.” Anyone who was born there doesn’t want to go home again.

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It isn’t that this class has suffered the abject poverty of blacks that either deadens or ignites the soul. The working class always has lived financially, ethnically, and culturally from hand to mouth. There was sufficient, but not enough. Were you Irish or Irish-American? Italian or Italian-American? You’ve come a long way, baby, from a “harp” or a “wop,” but would you ever be honest-to-God American in your breast or in your brain?

The schools were as half-assed as everything else. You knew your catechism, could read all the books that didn’t mean anything, and had learned the one fundamental lesson. When you graduated, the odds were eight to five you would work for a smart Jew. Or perhaps a Protestant, if any of them except Henry Cabot Lodge could be identified.

So you wanted in. An identity, but more a non-identity to blend in with those who moved around without disturbance. Not the top. You knew better than that. “Just a small piece of change,” as Brando said in “On the Waterfront,” but surely a small piece of the pieces you’d never had. ”To be liked, well liked,” as Willy Loman said. “The majority,” as Nixon says. Or a “regular guy,” the canonization members of the working class themselves devoutly wish.

But one thought there was a limit on the dues they would pay to belong. It seems wreaking havoc at a memorial for four dead kids is a stiff tariff to pay for such limp company as Nixon and Agnew, though in retrospect it had been coming for a long time.

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The kids are scattering that “small piece of change” by demanding that blacks and Puerto Ricans receive equal employment in restricted unions. Worse, they are sacrilegious to such “regular” relics as the draft, the American Legion, and dying for someone else’s notion of their country. So the stomping, the skull-cracking with tools, the five on one beatings (whatever happened to the saloon society ethic of one on one?) were only a matter of time. And, of course, some of McLuhan’s Marauders (“I’m pissing on the flag up here, CBS”) and those purveyors of love who oink-oink behind their dailies have helped speed up the action, get the cameras rolling, and put out the lights in many peaceful demonstrations.

So now the more zealous workers, along with their exotic opposites, pose, parade, and pontificate for posterity nightly at 6. It’s a shame David Merrick doesn’t move in and take the stripe-and-star-struck on the right and the bombs-bursting-in-air-segments of the left and move them up to New Haven for the summer to get the kinks out of their act.

But the workers would have struck without provocation anyway. Their street smarts told them they finally had the credentials for the All-America Club that nobody else on the scene possessed — muscle and the nastiness to use it. It came as no surprise that the most rampant brutality happened on a Friday — payday, which means early boozing and 90-proof patriotism. And the Wall Street workers cheered them on, showering them with capitalism’s sperm, ticker tape.

The working class finally had made it — grimy John Glenns and Tom Seavers, not only being accepted but adored by those they viewed as their betters. In a fine article in the New York Post, Tim Lee quoted the feeling of one of the ironworkers: “… I was Jesus Christ walking among them, and people in the crowd shouted, ‘God bless you,’ and patted me on the back. That was the proudest day of my life.” The need and subservience in that quote stuck with me.

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I knew these men when they were better than that. Over the years I’ve admired their penchant for tough work and their strong sense of family, and on many bleak nights I’ve been warmed by their humor. Moreover, I have been the recipient of their kindness time and again. The working-class community has that generous quality of the early settlers’ barn-raisings. One helped his neighbor paint his new apartment or move his furniture. The stores had an intimacy and standards that the plastic Prussian supermarkets never can achieve. Then there are the moments of happiness and sadness. The men gathered around a formica table in the kitchen drinking a round to the new-born and the women in the living room offering condolences for the dead. It seems odd that these robust people (both in body and spirit) seek the approval of a bunch of white-collar lackeys.

The office workers and clerks who had any spirit quit the Street when their Republican masters told them to remove their FDR button or lose their jobs. The ones who remained now tell you how democratic their company is, because on their annual outing “the old man himself joined the softball game. Singled to right in the fifth, and when it was over sat right down with us and drank canned beer. The old so-and-so is a regular joe at heart.” Meanwhile, the regular joe’s wife was bitching at him for acting so common, until he told her to stop being a cunt, because all such bullshit counts a lot to these boobs when he has to negotiate salary.

And, of course, there is the new breed on the Street — with his first snap-brim hat, his attache case, and his tightly wound umbrella, trying like hell to forget his father cleaned out the holds of ships or emptied trash cans to put him through a course in business administration, so now he can walk into the Bull and Bear on Friday nights and order a Beefeaters up, instead of a beer or a rye and ginger. So he roots for the ghosts of his violent past to keep his new-found world secure. And who knows? If he gets lucky, he just might meet someone like Julie on “Dating Game.”

Then, too, there is the workers’ much-needed image of macho. I suppose the thinking goes Tough on the Job, Dynamite in the Sack. So the word most frequently heard during the demonstrations (excepting USA) was faggot — Lindsay was one; the protesters had no fear of being drafted, because they all were faggots; and bystanders who made peace signs also were included. The specter of homosexuality seems to haunt many of these men. It seems ludicrous and illogical to make these charges of a generation that probably has been with more women in 15 years than mine and the workers’ has seen in 30.

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The phenomenon of growing up in the ’50s was that when someone asked you how many times you had scored that week he was talking about masturbation, not fornication. Old men ought to admit their envy. As a class, we rubbed our groins up against more bars and shuffleboards than we ever did against women. And when you saw the hard-hats carrying a scantily dressed Miss Liberty on their shoulders, you knew she was the Flying None of their movement.

But the real sadness is that the working class has allowed their unions to rob them of their pride and manhood in their work. Like the socialist sob sisters of the telephone company, they have opted for “security” (a guarantee of pensions, medical care and 37 toasters and waffle irons when they become engaged), and the integrity of their work be damned. The only evil they’ve ever seen in automation is the loss of jobs, not the demeaning of their life blood-work.

As a class, they have reneged on their standard of acceptance — achievement in a decent job. When the blacks and Puerto Ricans took the same route out of oblivion they did (as laborers and civil servants) they still were looked on as “spades and spicks.” A class cannot discard the foundation of their lives without madness resulting.

But the most tragic placard in sight at these demonstrations was one proclaiming “God Bless the Establishment.” It’s pathetic to think that the workers really believe they’re a part of the power structure — the same structure that indiscriminately uses their sons as cannon fodder in a war they don’t really understand, a war that has driven up the unemployment rate among their own to the highest level in a decade. The same beloved establishment that rapes the quality of their daily lives by channeling their tax dollars into Terry and the Pirates adventures, building highways they’ll never use, and granting tax exemptions to fat cats who sneer at them. Whatever happened to their built-in shit detectors that told them the only way to win the Congressional Medal was to come home in a box. Last week, Nixon handed out a dozen at a White House ceremony as if they were crackerjack prizes to add some glitter to this gory war. To be shilled by the powerful is expected, but to join them in the dupe is disgusting.

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These men weren’t raised to hit boys and girls in the street and to spit on grown women who disagree with them. At their best, they are as generous a group as I have ever met. Easy terms like “neanderthal” or “fascist” should be left to the granite-tongued Maoists. Johnson and Nixon have sent their sons and relatives off to die, and it’s hard for any man to admit his issue died for a crock of shit. But it’s harder still when the message comes from draft-deferred college students who, in the workers’ minds, have it made. But understanding their exploitation goes only so far. They still are men with singular minds and souls who consciously are selling both for acceptance to a dismal dream of “respectability.”

Hamlet’s tragedy was “to be or not to be.” A choice of the cosmos — all or nothing at all. Most agree Willy Loman’s odyssey was less profound, since he conspired with forces that were destroying him. But was it less profound? Hamlet was; Loman populated that neuter terrain of the never-beens and the could-have-beens.

So the working class, like the country in which they labor, have to be relegated to an unfulfilled potential. Not quite failing, but also not adventurous enough to attempt real fulfillment. Their souls and the soul of their country reside neither in heaven nor in hell.

So the silent majority’s tragedy will come full circle. In the end no one weeps for the citizens of limbo.

Patriot party riot in downtown Manhattan 1970

Patriot party riot in downtown Manhattan 1970