Saturday, July 5, 2014

Re-inventing Nixon

I see Pat Buchanan is busy plugging his new book, calling Nixon's "Southern Strategy" a "Liberal Big Lie."  Pat was a close adviser to Tricky Dick, kind of a "Karl Rove" of his day telling Nixon to steer away from particulars and speak from his gut, wooing dissatisfied Democrats by appealing to their base instincts.  At least this is how The Greatest Comeback is reviewed in The Economist.

Pat himself feels that the Democrats have promoted this shameful lie for decades, when in fact Nixon better read the American voter than they did.  He points to the Dixiecrats, whom he sees as a canker in the Democratic Party, noting how FDR tried to appease them to keep them in the party.  He recalls the many grave injustices, and notes how Nixon "blasted Dixiecrats."

It is true that Nixon let Wallace do the dirty work for him the first time around.  Wallace ran as an independent candidate in 1968, siphoning off Democratic votes throughout the South, taking five states that definitely made a big difference in the electoral count.  As Kevin Philips wrote in his 1969 book,  The Emerging Republican Majority, the strategy that year was to isolate the liberal Northeast in the elections, taking advantage of the general dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party among the rest of the nation.

Nixon would later capitalize on this unrest in his sweeping electoral victory in 1972, promoting himself as the "law and order" president in the wake of the civil rights protests and race riots that rocked the nation.  Hunter S. Thompson had great fun with this election in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, but he struck a sad note in the wake of election night, which left the Democratic Party in complete disarray.  It was the end of "Liberalism" as we knew it, although Northern Democrats were loathe to admit it at the time.

It doesn't seem that Pat deals with nuances in his book.  His aim is to restore the image of Nixon, which has long been a Republican black eye in the wake of Watergate.  Maybe Pat should have stolen a refrain from Lynyrd Skynyrd,

Now Watergate does not bother me, does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth.

The truth is Nixon played both sides of the same coin, which Philips unabashedly wrote after that deeply divisive campaign.  He was able to eek out a victory thanks to Wallace driving a wedge (or should I say stake) into the Democrats.

Nixon with Wallace in 1971
Nixon would later sign off on Affirmative Action during his administration.  But, let's not forget that these were all Democratic Congressional initiatives that served to alienate the Southern white wing of the party, which came over to the Republican Party in droves following the sweeping electoral victory of Reagan in 1980.  Even before this watershed moment, former Dixiecrats like Strom Thurmond and Thad Cochran actively campaigned for Goldwater in 64 and Nixon in 68.  Nixon warmly embraced these segregationists and helped promote Cochran when he first ran for Congress in 1972, as well as made amends with Wallace as you can see in the picture above.

It is hard to see how any of this differs significantly from the Democrats attempt to placate the Southern wing of the party in the 40s and 50s.  One of his Secretaries of Treasury was John Connally, former Governor of Texas and conservative Democrat.  Winton Blount, his Postmaster General, hailed from Alabama, and like Connally had formerly served in Johnson's administration.  So, it was clear Nixon made concessions to the South.

Tricky Dick tried to have it both ways, as so many politicians do, but eventually it caught up to him.  He found himself with very few friends in Congress in 1974 when an impeachment vote loomed over his cover-up of the Watergate affair.  Even Spiro Agnew, who Pat extols, had been forced to resign the year before due to charges of political corruption and income tax invasion.  There was nothing for Nixon to do except slither out of office and hope that the newly confirmed President Gerald Ford would pardon his many transgressions, which he did.

1 comment:

  1. Bucky is doing his damnedest to reinvent the image of Nixon,