But if it has to be understood, Nixon—and possibly the country—may be in deep trouble. He has worked so long and so consciously to better himself that instinct and spontaneity have somehow got buried. (“He has a better grasp of Africa’s over-all economic problems than any other American politician,” said a visiting official, “but he doesn’t understand Africans.”)
Over the years, aides have tried to humanize his image with everything from hobbies (in ’60, one of them said he was too neat and should take up something messy like chicken-raising) to posed photographs in sport clothes. Yesterday on the suburban tour, an announcement was made to all three busses that Nixon had lost a cufflink to the crowd. (“Next thing you know, someone will snatch the paper-clips from Wallace’s cuffs,” said one reporter.) But the emphasis now is on being statesmanlike instead of, as Nixon puts it, “a buddy-buddy boy,” so the candidate seems much more at ease.
But there is a philosophical tree-in-the-forest question that will never be answered, one that he raises in our minds by being so relentlessly conscious, politically and personally, of the way he appears to others. When Nixon is alone in a room, is there anyone there?
In this easy, well-oiled campaign, Nixon stayed in his gold-and-white French provincial apartment this morning, surrounded by gifts from famous people that Mrs. Nixon rotates for display—autographed photos from Chiefs of State acquired while he was Vice President, four engraved views of Buckingham Palace from Queen Elizabeth, a permanent collection of 200 curio elephants, and his most prized possessions: two paintings signed D.D. Eisenhower, and one floral scroll by Mme. Chiang Kai-shek. The change from $30,000-a-year Vice President to $200,000-a-year lawyer has not been lost on the candidate. He sometimes looks around the spotless, gold-carpeted ten rooms at 810 Fifth Avenue, and tells dinner guests. “Isn’t this beautiful? Aren’t I lucky to be here?”
At an hour-and-a-half lunch with New York Times editors, Nixon talked a great deal and answered few questions, having performed his usual feat of running with the first one, but he did say that Spiro Agnew might be given responsibility for urban programs (possibly as head of a new body called the Home Front Security Council) in a Nixon Administration. Clearly, he is no longer just a candidate but a President-in-waiting, making plans for his White House years. As he says, only some “great event” can defeat him now, something of the magnitude of a ceasefire in Vietnam. Or, as he does not say, some public loss of cool on his part that would put the Old Nixon on display.
The British journalist was right: I’ve lost the first re-entry phase emotionalism at slipping back into the past, and now I’m left with a kind of removed, academic interest at what it will be like once we get there. (One semi-cynical prediction, said to have originated with Eugene McCarthy on the French Riviera, is that there will be a great resurgence of the arts in America as the Nixon IBM-smooth operation takes over, and we all retire to writing poetry.)
Still, there are a lot of people who can’t afford to be academic.
I picked up the campaign again today in Seattle, having missed Milwaukee last night (where Nixon spoke cheerfully to campaign workers while Selective Service records were burned by Catholic pacifists in a local park) and a series of stops in places like Bismarck, North Dakota, and Boise, Idaho, to help local Republican candidates. If Nixon can pull at least as well in these Western states as he did in 1960, his campaign managers feel that dove Democrats like Senator Frank Church in Idaho or George McGovern in South Dakota may be unseated.
At a midtown Seattle rally being addressed by James Drury, television star of The Virginian, a crowd, well-behaved and well-dressed for the most part, awaited Nixon’s arrival. Some Peace and Freedom Party members had got into the roped-off section to chant “Free Huey” and “Stop the War.” The slow-talking, silk-suited Drury warned them, “Mr. Nixon will soon be here with words of wisdom and guidance that may curl your hair . . . he’s a man who loves this country, not like some of you folks.”
Toward the back were a few college students still wearing McCarthy buttons who had come “to see what this guy is like; if he’s really worse than Humphrey.” Some middle-aged people nearby said that they were for McCarthy, but had switched to Nixon because they felt both men were “good, dependable Americans, men we can trust to keep down all the crime and violence.” At the shopping centers around Philadelphia, there had been working men who were once for Robert Kennedy and were now for Wallace. (Even one elderly Negro carrying a Wallace-for-President sign, who said, “At least he can talk to back-country folks. At least we know where he stands.”) The class difference and social identity of a candidate come across stronger than the positions he takes, something the political analysts often under-rate. Nixon inherits a few of the white middle class who instinctively felt McCarthy was one of their own; Wallace gets some of the lower classes who loved a feisty little Irishman with a fighting heart: it all makes sense. But only basically.