From the October 28, 1968 issue of New York Magazine.
The last night of the Democratic Convention in Chicago, with bloodstains still visible on the sidewalks of Michigan Avenue and 20,000 armed men still pursuing fewer demonstrators than have been peacefully contained in Central Park on a summery Sunday, the McCarthy and McGovern and Kennedy forces gave each other one final instruction: to applaud Hubert Humphrey. They would seize on the first decent statement in his acceptance speech—a peaceful step in Vietnam, some distress at seeing students and delegates gassed in the streets; anything—and cheer and applaud that statement in the hope that it would be followed up and enlarged upon, as Humphrey frequently follows and enlarges upon any statement that gets good audience reaction, so that this choice of the Democratic machine might inadvertently find himself committed in public to something constructive.
Of course, it didn’t work. It was a pathetic, heat-of-battle instruction among the ranks, and a high-level version of the same idea had already failed that afternoon when George McGovern and his chief convention aide, Frank Mankiewicz, had met with Humphrey in his hotel suite. “I am here to speak to Democrats, and only Democrats; will all the security men please leave the floor? … Our problem is that we have not talked to each other, have not really been in touch with each other …” That was the beginning of the acceptance speech Mankiewicz had suggested to Humphrey, a dramatic speech that might have bridged some of the terrible emotional distance between the peace forces and the Establishment, between the old Humphrey and his current stance as Cowardly Lion. But the candidate didn’t listen. In the end, he did make some disapproving reference to the fate of dissenters out of respect for McGovern, but it was too weak to bridge any part of the gap, or even to annoy Mayor Daley.
In fact, we were all probably wrong to try. Even a dramatic gesture like the one Frank Mankiewicz had thought up out of despair might have done no good. What a man stands for matters much more than the words he uses; something Wallace supporters have understood right through all the watered-down speeches and the wreaths laid on Lincoln’s grave. Given by a candidate who meant something, the acceptance speech Humphrey finally made might not have been bad at all. But this was a man who compromised more, and with less reason, than even his colleagues expected, and who abdicated leadership so that the forces of reaction could reduce a watershed event to one simple-minded question: Do you or do you not support your local police?
In Humphrey’s own Amphitheatre head-quarters, a poster of his smiling face was left with a hand-lettered inscription on the final day. It said, “The Gutless Wonder.”
So it wasn’t surprising that a spontaneous determination came over a lot of us who had been in Chicago—not by nature ‘nay-sayers or bomb-throwers, but people who had believed in change by participation—to go to the polls for local candidates, but not to vote the Presidential line at all. There were a lot of attempts at explanation: the Democratic Party could best be revitalized out of office; by creating statistical discrepancies at the polls, we could make the point of no confidence in whoever won; Nixon was going to win anyway, so why not use our votes, or non-votes, for another purpose? But the real reason was more emotional than that. We just couldn’t imagine going into a polling booth and pulling the lever for this man who had betrayed so much, no matter who the alternative was.
Back in New York, wearing plain white buttons to indicate we had no Presidential choice and working for local candidates only, we discovered another set of scales had fallen from our eyes. Men change. They grow, and they change drastically. We were finally getting rid of that old liberal leftover-from-Marxism reliance on Correct Positions and party labels. After all, lackadaisical Senator and belated war critic Eugene McCarthy, who once wanted nothing more from life than to be Johnson’s Vice President, had ended up in the parks of Chicago with Yippies, peace delegates, and militants, radicalized, or very nearly. And Robert Kennedy, who started out as the anti-Communist who made Joe McCarthy godfather of his first child, ended up as the only American politician who seemed as concerned about the fate of Vietnamese civilians as that of American soldiers. (The turning point, I’ve always thought, came when he was 29 and went to the Soviet Union where a Soviet doctor saved his life; but these normal human explanations aren’t favored by political scientists.) Even Strom Thurmond, arch segregationist and defender of states’ rights, was once a reformer and disciple of Franklin Roosevelt.
If these men had ranged back and forth across the political spectrum, wasn’t it possible that Richard Nixon had done the same? Well, at least enough to make him more tolerable than Humphrey? If all of us, congenital liberals for the most part, were willing to bypass the voting right we had been educated, or brainwashed, into believing was sacred and/or effective, shouldn’t we also be willing to vote for a Republican? Not just a Democrat-in-disguise like Lindsay, or even Javits, but an honest-to-God mainstream Republican?
I’m not sure how many of us, the McCarthy-McGovern-Kennedy supporters, were seriously considering a vote for Nixon qua Nixon during all these discussions. We still regarded him, even the first-time voters who had no memory of him in office, with a mixture of fear (would he still believe the Adlai Stevensons of the world were “spreading pro-Communist propaganda”?) and boredom (could we stand four years of having all human experience reduced to clichés?). But we had a lot of secondary reasons. Hawkish though he had always been, he at least had no reason to defend this Vietnam war, and therefore might end it sooner. As one of the conservative white middle class, he might be able to move them more easily. Mightn’t it be better to have a pragmatist with minimal philosophy who listened to opinion polls, than an ideologue like Humphrey who seemed still to believe we should be the world’s policeman? And finally, emotions came into play again: we wanted to punish Humphrey and the Democratic Party. It seemed they would benefit by defeat.
Besides, Nixon appeared destined to be President no matter what we did. The more we speculated, the fewer personal impressions or hard information we could come up with. Would familiarity breed more or less contempt for Nixon than it had for Humphrey? As the only one present with a press card, I was designated to become a kind of Manchurian candidate on Nixon’s campaign plane; a personal correspondent who would report—not the respectful, circumspect news one reads in the New York Times—but Nixon’s behavior and the atmosphere of the men around him, and anecdotes revelatory of character; the sort of things politicians tell each other in the Senate cloakroom. Bearing in mind that New York constituency bounded by Zen macrobiotic or soul food on the Left and La Grenouille on the Right, I was supposed to just hang around and keep my eyes and ears open.
And so I did.
There are a whole series of places in New York designed solely to make out-of-towners feel at home—The Playboy Club, those big Times Square motor inns, a certain kind of Midwestern cafeteria—and the heart-of-America Nixon campaign was stopping for a brief fund-raising banquet at one of them: the Americana Hotel, a little bit of Detroit right here in downtown Manhattan. In the lobby, middle-aged women who wore wrist watches and dyed-to-match shoes with their evening gowns were escorted by self-conscious husbands in black tie and cummerbunds. This $1000-a-plate dinner, and a simultaneous Agnew banquet in Los Angeles, were being seen on closed circuit television at banquets in other cities. The net take was said to be nearly $5 million, but the impact on me was not cash but Instant Nostalgia; nostalgia for a Midwestern childhood in which these banquet-goers had been the respectable burghers, and my high school mates—football playing, Negro-hating Hungarians and Poles—had gone to work in their factories and filling stations. Nothing had changed, not one healthy face, or dry-cleaned dress, or John Dewey heart. Could they have been flash-frozen since 1952?
The high point of the evening was a tanned and hearty Richard Nixon standing on stage with arms above his head, fingers moving up and down in his odd, benedictory “V” sign, to acknowledge a standing ovation. He was clearly at ease. He was, as Art Linkletter said in his introduction, “a man whose time has come,” and the New York Republicans who came up for their moment of waving and smiling—Javits, Goodell, and Lindsay—looked sheepish and ill-at-ease beside him.
Then came what the newsmen around me said was The Speech: that collection of good political generalities so inexorably the same that reporters could recite it with him, and could interpret any minute change with the skill of a Kremlinologist. Thus, a seemingly innocuous sentence like Nixon’s paraphrase of Teddy Roosevelt—“This isn’t going to be a good country for any of us to live in until it’s a good country for all of us to live in”—acquires more significance when it is left out in the South. Other stock phrases—like “The most important civil right is every American’s right to safety”—become more important simply because they are left in.
More of tonight’s gems that I am assured are staples:
“It isn’t just the crowds we get, it’s what I call their E.Q. or Enthusiasm Quotient.”
“There isn’t anything I can say bad about Hubert that his fellow Democrats haven’t already said.”
“I say to you that when the capital of the nation has become the crime capital of the world, when bus drivers in Washington, D.C. have to use scrip and carry guns from fear of robbery, when there have been riots in 300 cities, and the President of the United States can’t go to any city without fear of a demonstration, when a second-rate little country like North Korea can kidnap one of our ships on the high seas … then it’s time for the quiet people, the Forgotten People, to stand up and demand a change!”
“I pledge to restore America as a first-rate military power able to deal with the Soviet Union effectively.”
“We must not lose at the conference table what our boys have died to win in Vietnam.”
“People accuse me of not talking about issues. Well, I had my staff count up all the issues I’ve made statements on, and it came to 167 issues. Of course, Hubert’s been on both sides of every question, so he has twice as many.”
“I know these seem like bad times, but now I’m going to say something that may surprise you. As a student of history and one who has traveled all over this world, I would pick the United States in 1968 as the best time and place to live in.”
There were some extra reassurances for this $1000-a-plate audience. (“You have succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of most Americans. You who are participating in this dinner are the luckiest people in the world. You are participating in the great events of your time. Because we’re going to win in November, don’t you worry about that!”) But the rest was an Old-Macdonald’s-Farm recitation of all the places he’s been campaigning so far, a lengthening list that newsmen fear may eventually take over The Speech.
I had the feeling that, had I not been taking notes, I would have been left with no clear memory of what he said; only an impression of confidence. I turned to a waiter as the only other person in the room who hadn’t heard this before. What did he think of Nixon’s speech? “That guy,” he said contemptuously, heaving a full tray to his shoulder. “He’s such a schmuck he doesn’t know what schmuck means.” Clearly not one of the quiet or forgotten men Nixon had in mind.
As I left, Nixon was standing with arms up in his peculiar limp-wristed “V” sign, colored spotlights were raking the audience, and the band was playing, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.”
The publicity is right, this is the only campaign that’s ever run on time; I nearly missed the 9:40 a.m. bus which left Nixon’s Park Avenue headquarters on the microsecond.
Today we go to Philadelphia on big chartered campaign jets, “The Tricia” and “The Julie,” with staff, Secret Service, and press corps aboard. (“The David”—named, of course, for Julie’s fiancé David Eisenhower—will join us for a Midwestern swing next week. Having that painted on a plane seems a big strain on a 20-year-old’s engagement.) After a ticker tape parade and a state-wide television show, the entire entourage stays overnight at a Marriott Motor Hotel before starting a bus tour of one Cardinal and nine shopping centers. Zeroing in, as he seems to be, on that down-the-middle group of white Americans bounded on one side by flour-sack dresses and by Volkswagens on the other (the flour sacks were for Kennedy, the Volkswagens for Eugene), Nixon spends a lot of time in shopping centers of the suburbs. The Cardinal is just scheduled as an early morning courtesy call. He’s a Democrat.
One reward of being late was getting on the staff bus. (Staff not specifically assigned to dealing with press people are not supposed to fraternize.) My seat mate, Ed McDaniels, a quiet forceful man who heads the Capitol Recording Company in Washington, a firm specializing in the radio and television electronic needs of political campaigns, had been with Nixon in 1960, and assured me that the candidate hadn’t changed at all. “Cuba was an issue then,” he explained, “but of course Mr. Nixon couldn’t say anything, because he might have given away the invasion we were planning. That’s the big difference: Kennedy had Nixon in a tough spot because he was Vice President, and now Nixon has Humphrey over the same barrel.”
Had Nixon’s attitude toward Communism changed over the years? “Oh no, absolutely not,” he said, obviously glad to praise his candidate. “He understands those people. He knows you have to be tough or they’ll take us over. You see, I have some special knowledge—though, of course, Mr. Nixon has more. I happen to know he’s had top secret briefings—but I have some knowledge from old friends in the military. They come back and tell me the way it really is. If we don’t stop the Chinese here, they’ll keep right on going. Of course, he can’t say anything about Vietnam because it might interfere with the talks in Paris. Mr. Nixon’s a man of real integrity—he won’t take advantage of his special knowledge if it would help Ho Chi Minh, But he knows the enemy, and he knows they hope to win because of all these misguided sympathizers pressuring us here. I’m for him because he won’t let that happen. I’m the head of this company, and I wouldn’t go out in the field for anyone else.”
“Press conferences only come about when a dozen or so important reporters threaten headlines: NIXON HIDING FROM PRESS.”
On the plane, I learned that chances of a personal interview were almost nil. Even press conferences only come about when a dozen or so important reporters band together and threaten headlines: NIXON HIDING FROM PRESS. Herb Klein, Nixon’s polite and very intelligent press secretary with whom I registered my interview request, is so confident of no controversy and no crises that he frequently stays in New York, leaving most day-to-day press dealings to two personable young men: Pat Buchanan, a former newspaper man and Young Americans for Freedom advisor, who is brought in when the press gets obstreperous; and Ron Zeigler, formerly J. Walter Thompson’s account executive for Disneyland, who takes care of the press when it’s calm. There are some exceptions to the no interview rule. Monday, Nixon is to have a ritual lunch with the editorial board of the New York Times, and reporters with a certain amount clout—influential columnists who may endorse him, Time-Life executives, wire service representatives, and the like—are sometimes allowed to sit next to him on the plane. But many of those privileged few joke about “three bump interviews”: they’re taken to the candidate as the plane descends and can stay only till the plane stops at the ramp, so length of talk is evaluated by number of bumps while landing.
“Don’t worry about it,” said a kindly Midwestern newspaperman. “You don’t learn much anyway. His technique is to take the first question and run with it. Maybe he doesn’t use the Western Behavioral Institute the way Reagan did—they fed issues cards into a computer, you know, and came out with all the positions that would fit a basically conservative frame of mind; Reagan just took out the card file when we asked him questions. But this campaign is being run by two psychologists in a backroom somewhere. I’m sure of it.”
With open cars full of Secret Service, local Republican candidates, and Nixon staff, we paraded slowly down Philadelphia’s main streets, the air clogged with ticker tape and confetti and balloons. I got out of the press bus to walk through the crowds; whether they were there because it was lunch time or in support of Nixon, it was hard to tell. Standing in a convertible half a block in front of me, I saw the dark suit and short hair cut of the Secret Service man who was guarding Nixon. But when he turned around to wave to the crowd, I saw that it was Nixon himself. He may be the first President since Warren Harding who seems more the servant than the master.
For a block or two, homemade anti-war and anti-Nixon signs were clustered among “Nixon’s The One” banners. “Nixon’s the one, Humphrey’s another one, and Wallace is another.” “Support your local revolutionary.” “Nixon: Biggest Hawk of ‘em All.” Even one lonely sign in support of Cesar Chavez, the Gandhian leader of the migrant workers’ union in California: “Nixon Eats Grapes.” (Nixon, the only Presidential possibility to come out against Chavez’s organization of the poor and against his grape boycott, did so as a favor to his ex-campaign manager, Bob Finch, now Reagan’s Lieutenant Governor. He has been picketed in several cities already as a result.) Two neatly dressed young men were still wearing McCarthy buttons. A matron with four young children held a sign, “Mr. Nixon, if you’ll please God end the war, we’ll be for you.” A cardboard waved from the back of the crowd said, “Nixon is no Soul Brother.” Another simply: “Nixon—No Soul.”
Ahead of me marched one phenomenon I couldn’t understand: a young Negro with his arm around his girl, smiling and waving a placard at the crowd. Every reporter in the Nixon entourage knew about the game called “$1 for the first black face.” Not even in New York had anyone had to pay off. As the crowds began to thin out behind the barriers (“The people stood ½ deep,” a New York Times reporter said acidly), I tapped the man on the shoulder and asked to see his sign. “Sure,” he said cheerfully, and turned around the block-lettered placard: “NIXON IS A RACIST.”
After dinner, we went to a television station across the street from the motel to witness another campaign ritual, “The Nixon Format.” This is a statewide hour television show that Nixon tapes in major cities with an audience of Nixon boosters, but with a panel of questioners—doctor, worker, housewife, Negro, etc.—who are supposed to be a local cross-section. This has been very effective both because Nixon is genuinely good at it, and because, with no professionals and simple answers instead of debate, he is unlikely to suffer by comparison or be put under pressure. (No one has forgotten the famous you ‘won’t-have-Nixon-to-kick-around-anymore’ fiasco, in which Nixon so publicly exceeded his breaking point. That’s the main reason he is used lightly and kept away from critics; a technique, of course, to which the front-runner is traditionally entitled.) Before each show, no matter how minor, he gathers his thoughts alone in some noiseless room for a half hour or so. He learned to be respectful of television’s power in ’60, and he’s taking no chances.
This evening, in response to questions, he favored leaving gun control up to the states and instituting a mandatory prison sentence for any crime committed with a gun; said of Johnson and Humphrey that “Neither Governor Agnew nor myself are raising questions of their loyalty” (“I’m glad there are no traitors running this year,” muttered the Time correspondent to my left); said that air and water pollution could best be handled by “tax incentives to industry,” not Federal legislation; upheld his previous statement that the Rutgers’ professor who spoke well on campus of the Viet Cong should be fired (he was); agreed with a student questioner that the FBI had no place on campus, “unless of course there is an issue involving the security of the United States”; and, reiterated his stand that he couldn’t say what his Vietnamese policy would be while Paris negotiations were going on.
Normally, the questions aren’t followed up; Nixon just proceeds to the next panelist. But Jack McKinney, a Democrat and the host of a television talk show, broke the spell by objecting to asking for further information on camera. There followed an exchange which ended with McKinney saying we were being asked to vote “on a wink and a smile” on the vital issue of Vietnam, and for a moment, the old shaky-jowled Nixon came through. He went back to Vietnam phrases from The Speech, and the moment was gone.
I went back to the hotel dragged down by an unreasoning, unshakable depression. We were going back to the ‘50s again, back to Martinis and anti-Communism and Madras minds. It hadn’t been very pleasant at the time, and having come so close to basic social changes made it, as Bobby Kennedy would have said, unacceptable.
“It’s a phenomenon we all suffer from when we first join up,” said a British journalist. “A sort of re-entry phrase, I think. With this campaign, and with most Western countries right now, we’re in for a time of reaction. We’re re-entering the past.”
An unprecedented event on the Nixon tour: a visit to a Negro neighborhood. Just before nine on this misty morning, our three busses rolled into Progress Shopping Plaza, a big new Philadelphia shopping and office center being built by black capital and black management. Our first schedules had said nothing about it, but our revised schedules indicated a rally. There were twenty black faces there—five carrying two-way radios and other marks of Secret Service men—but a Nixon staffman said there wasn’t a crowd because Nixon’s arrival hadn’t been announced in time.
The press and staff piled out, making the white-black ratio a comfortable four to one, and Reverend Leon Sullivan—confident, good-looking, a kind of black Sammy Glick who was clearly accustomed to dealing with The Man—showed a very nervous, oohing and ahhing Nixon what the future layout would be. It was impressive. Supermarkets, shops, small factories for the making of clothes and electronic supplies, a management training school: Reverend Sullivan explained it all in loving and expansive detail while Nixon said, “hmmm, I see, isn’t that interesting” or “right, right” after every phrase, and rubbed his sweating palms together. The candidate was clearly eager to say something, and before Sullivan was quite finished, he did. “Now, what you fellas need,” Nixon said seriously, “is economic power.” Some of the younger men around Sullivan looked disbelieving, but the Reverend just smiled and let The Man stand in the middle of a multi-million-dollar black-owned shopping center, and deliver his high school civics lecture. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” Nixon went on, “there’s one door you people haven’t gone through yet—oh you’ve accomplished some very important things, of course, but there’s one door you must open—and that’s the door to black capitalism. The boy in the slums must have hope he can one day own the grocery store on his corner; he must have something to work for. That’s what my program of black capitalism is all about. You fellas have got to get a piece of the action.”
Nixon stepped back, looking pleased with his new hip phrase, and Sullivan laughed heartily. “That’s right,” he said, giving Nixon a slap on the back that moved him over a couple of inches. “That’s what Afro-Americans got to work for now, black power and green power. That’s why I’m a political independent.” Either Nixon was dismayed by that “political independent” or he had never heard “Afro-American” before, but his “right right, I see,” was getting noticeably more nervous. The small talk drifted into Nixon telling of his honorary degree from nearby Temple University, and exclamations over the fact that both he and Sullivan had once been designated Outstanding Young Men of the Year by the Junior Chamber of Commerce.
“Say,” said Nixon, “you must know that fella who was a Young Man of the Year, too. You know, the one with a hook for an arm.” Sullivan looked bewildered, and said no, he didn’t. Nixon insisted he must know him—though they hadn’t been elected the same year, and there was no reason for them to be friends—and insisted on describing him, gesturing to show where the hook came. Sullivan said no, he really didn’t, and the meeting came to a jovial end. But not before a possible explanation of Nixon’s mental connection became painfully clear. Black skin and a man with a hook: two handicapped men must know each other.
Today’s New York Times carried a front page story, “Nixon Visits Negro Slum And Warns White Suburbs,” that demonstrates the problems of news as the atypical event. For a Lindsay or a Kennedy or even a Rockefeller, visiting Negro areas is sufficiently routine to get reported only if there is some demonstration or milestone. But for Nixon to go to a “slum” (which was really a rather prosperous area on the edge of the ghetto: every politician from Lyndon Johnson to Rockefeller has stopped there) is so unusual that it is headlined by the Times, thus making what was really a pathetic mini-event into a campaign innovation.
As for the “… And Warns White Suburbs,” that apparently was a five-sentence elaboration of the “this-isn’t-a-good-country-for-any-of-us-until-it’s-a-good-country-for-all-of-us” line from The Speech. Perhaps I’m too new to Nixon’s campaign, or too poor a Kremlinologist, but adding a warning that “You can’t be an island in the world … There are people who haven’t had the chance you’ve had” seems admirable, but not Big News.
To make much of a departure is an understandable reaction of reporters, especially on a campaign as uncontroversial and purposefully bland as this one. But it leads to criticizing from inside the candidate’s character instead of from an exterior reality. We expect a Kennedy to go to the slums, we don’t expect it of Nixon, but the needs of the slums remain the same. Roosevelt had strong anti-colonial feelings, Truman did not, but the needs of colonial countries didn’t change. Had McCarthy been a different sort of man, we would have criticized him for not spearheading the movement for Ted Kennedy at the beginning of the Convention, when he knew he himself would lose. As it was, we were surprised and touched that he offered his support at all.
Those of us concerned with the news ought to be reminded once a week that novelty has to be put in perspective.
I am back in New York for a day of rest, as is the whole entourage, after our Negro Experiment yesterday, and the bus tour of Pennsylvania and New Jersey shopping centers that followed. Nixon is incommunicado in his Fifth Avenue apartment, but film clips from yesterday show up on the television from time to time. The new gestures of the New Nixon are very evident—since ’60, he has given up the keep-your-elbows-in stance recommended by his high school debating coach—but what doesn’t show up on these short takes is in the difference between form and content. For the phrase, “We must reach up …” he may stretch both arms downward; for “the whole world,” he may gesture close to his chest, or tick off the first of two points on the third finger; for the one-arm thrust that marks important statements, he may find himself with his arm raised too soon, and pause visibly to get coordinated. This is a man who has, to an extraordinary degree, created himself; who has worked hard, who never stops working, to fulfill his idea of what a public man should be.
Colleagues say he has one of the highest IQs in Washington. The State Department officials who briefed him for his many trips as Vice President were invariably impressed that he had “done his homework.” In recent years of law practice, fellow attorneys have commented on his ability to grasp all the essentials of a problem quickly, and to analyze afterward what did or did not go wrong. If it can be learned, Nixon will learn it.
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.
Nixon arrived to applause, cheers, and the ritual release of helium-filled balloons. The press corps, its ranks swelled because this Western and Southern swing is felt to be more newsworthy than Eastern shopping centers, made for their roped-off portion of the street and fell to telephones and typewriters that the advance staff had carefully provided. (A third Boeing 727—inscribed, the “David,” but referred to affectionately as the “Zoo Plane” because it carries mostly “animals”: poker-playing camera men, sound technicians, and the like—has been added to take care of the overflow.) The Nixonettes, school girls and secretaries dressed in red, white and blue, organized basketball cheers that drowned out the “Stop the War” chants from the back of the crowd. Then, in the late afternoon sun of this pleasant autumn day, Nixon launched again into The Speech.
It was all there. The jokes. (Trade Hubert for the Pueblo. The little old lady in the wheel chair with a sign, “Sock it to ‘em, Dick.”) The list of towns he’d been to, and the crowd estimate in each town. The appeal to “quiet Americans … you people who have been paying your taxes, obeying the law, supporting your church and school …” The statements against crime, and demonstrations, and the Attorney General “who has opposed the only significant law enforcement or crime bill that came before Congress.” The appeal for “a housecleaning in Washington” and “a new team” and “a new program for progress that will move us forward and upward … that’s what America has meant to me!”
“…‘We cheer when our leader gives us the signal,’ a Nixonette said, ‘before and after President Nixon speaks.’…”
The crowd cheered, but the reporters, knowing this by heart, took desultory notes and muttered small comments to each other. “The real answer to progress in America is not to wait for the government to do something,” said Nixon, thrusting his right fist forward a little too soon, “but to wait for the people to do something!” (“My god, that’s a new Nixonism,” said a lady Washington columnist on my left. “That’s almost as good as, ‘I picked Spiro Agnew and I think he’s a good pick.’”) “America is the place,” Nixon went on, rising on his toes for emphasis. “This is where everybody wants to live!” (“Not me, Mr. Nixon,” said a British correspondent, pausing in his note-taking. “Not me.”) “Many Americans, many that will not support me in this campaign, are concerned about the plight of Indian Americans and Mexican Americans … but the road we have been on is wrong, because it says the answer to the problem is always a Federal government program. Rather than more millions on the welfare rolls, let’s get more millions on the payrolls!” (I considered a little muttering myself on that one, but from a few dozen sign-carrying farm workers behind us came a kind of mass sigh, and one lone Mexican-accented voice, “Then why the hell won’t you support our union?”) “I know there are those who say that the difference between the two candidates is the charge made by my opponent, that he is compassionate, and I am not.” (“It’s not that you aren’t compassionate,” said a young local writer. “It’s just that you’re Plastic Man.” That was a little too strong for several reporters, and he was rewarded with a disapproving look.) “What really does the compassionate man do coming before the American people today? Does he say to you, ‘Spend billions more for programs for Federal housing programs and job programs and welfare programs?’ … No! . . It is true compassion to reestablish the value of the dollar that the money we earn now is worth something 15- 20 years from now … It is true compassion to be realistic and pragmatic in our foreign policy dealings.” (Laughter. Nixon had so neatly supported the young writer’s verdict that even the more staid reporters laughed.)
But the only voter protest, or the only protest audible to Nixon, came from the Peace and Freedom Party’s sign-carriers. Unlike McCarthy supporters who had always capitulated to cries of “Let him speak” at the suburban rallies, they were not too polite to chant while Nixon was talking. And unlike the Cesar Chavez people, they had forced their way into range of the television cameras. That meant that the Nixonettes couldn’t drown them out with “We Want Nixon” cheers (“We cheer when our leader gives us the signal,” One of them had told me before the rally, “before and after President Nixon speaks”), and that the TV audience saw the protest, as well as Nixon getting annoyed by it. “I want to make this clear to you,” he said forcefully, pointing to them on “I” and himself on “you.” “We aren’t going to have peace abroad until we have peace and law and order here at home!”
If that amount of heckling could shake his statesmanlike calm, it would be interesting to see what a session like those directed at Humphrey would do. On the other hand, maybe opposition gains both of them sympathy. Or maybe protesters are thought of as Humphrey’s people now, since the convention. That was a new line Nixon’s advisors had suggested: vote for Humphrey, and you’ll be seeing a lot more protesters like these. Some of the press had gone over to today’s peace group, after all, and reported back that things around the sign-carriers were getting pretty ugly.
After the rally, the crowd jammed into the lobby of Nixon’s hotel headquarters. (“We saw her,” one Nixonette was saying to another. “We saw Mrs. Nixon, and she patted us on the arm and said, ‘I think you’re great!”) I asked one of the protesters, a neatly dressed young man in khakis and a jacket, if there would have been more shouting against Humphrey. “I guess so,” he said. “Humphrey’s more a symbol of the war. But besides, there’s hope there. We yell harder because he might change; he might listen. There’s no point trying to get through to this guy. He doesn’t know what it’s all about.”
In the press room, one group was discussing Nixon’s fuzziness on the powers of the Supreme Court, school desegregation, and other issues. Another was speculating on who the protesters were. (There had been a convention of 10,000 hippies in Seattle a few weeks before, but these kids seemed too neat and too political for that.) “Stop analyzing, why don’t you?” said one of the poker-playing camera men. “All this bastard has to do is stand up and say ‘I’m not Lyndon Johnson.’ And that’s enough.”
To Seattle’s Lockheed Shipyards by picturesque Hydrofoil at 10:30 this morning, to Denver for a rally this afternoon, and all evening free. Never has a campaign left so much time for reading and asking questions.
Money: Nixon’s fund-raisers have a list of 100 names from whom they can’t accept money—supposedly John Birch, Klan supporters, and the like, but nobody’s telling—so that the public won’t be rudely surprised if contributions are revealed.
Still, there are times when the campaign seems like one big industrial tie-in. The family of the late Walt Disney, who gave money to Goldwater, now contributes to Nixon; so says a staff member. Ron Ziegler, a Nixon press officer, is the Disney account executive at J. Walter Thompson in real life; the Nixon party stays at Disneyland Hotel even when Disneyland isn’t open; and, campaign literature features the Nixon family enjoying Disneyland.
Before this morning’s trip to Lockheed Shipyards, Nixon released a campaign white paper—in keeping with his policy of sending special-interest messages to special-interest groups, while keeping the rest of us lobotomized with The Speech—that deplored this Administration allowing us to slip behind Russia in merchant marine construction, and promised a change. Is that promising government contracts?
Then there’s the matter of Greek-American millionaire Tom Pappas, who was an important backer of Nixon’s campaign against Kennedy, and of Spiro Agnew’s campaign to become Governor of Maryland. (Nixon has said Pappas was one of those who “influenced” him in the choice of Agnew.) An avowed supporter of the Greek Junta whose interests include steel, chemical, and Esso oil refineries in Greece, Pappas and his brother also established the Pappas Foundation which has been named as one of the CIA-backed groups transferring money to Greece, presumably to strengthen the Junta. Meanwhile, the Greek regime has cancelled plans to spend a quarter of a million dollars on public relations in the United States. Does that mean the Junta views Nixon-Agnew in the White House as the best public relations of all?
There’s little doubt that Nixon learned a great deal from his 1952 fund scandal, and is making every effort to be honest and/or circumspect; 100-name Black List and all. Humphrey’s staff doing “negative research” (the political euphemism for digging up scandal) hasn’t turned up anything unusual about financing: and Presidents, even front-running candidates, rarely need to be dishonest anyway. They get the use of everything from private jets to vacation islands without signing ownership papers, and the simple presence of power is usually enough to attract cash. (At the $5 million dinner last week, Nixon said he would enter the Presidency “free” because “not one of the people at those dinners has asked for a single thing,” and the donors sat there and took it.)
The IBM Machine: There is an Ideas Department in charge of “packaging and merchandising the candidate.” There is a Production Department to raise money, make campaign schedules, handle press, and take care of all the other elements involved in producing a “quota” of votes in each state.
Top aides do not speak of policy briefings but of “programming the candidate.” The chain of command is definitely corporate, with John Mitchell, a fiftyish Wall Street lawyer who is a Nixon partner, as “Chairman of the Board” over both Ideas and Production. The rest of the staff is almost totally new since ’60. Nixon handled everything himself then, not even letting those policymakers he had hired have much say, and he has learned his lesson. He’s no longer up there “whittling his own pencils,” as his last campaign manager said.
Most of this operation is housed in barren efficiency at 445 Park Avenue, but some of it is visible on the planes. All three are equipped with telephones for on-the-ground calls, and will soon have in-the-air intercoms as well. (Before each take-off, reporters calling their city rooms are warned “15 seconds until disconnect.” One humorously requested a count-down, but nobody smiled.) Nixon’s plane is further equipped with electric typewriters and seemingly electric secretaries; a large streamlined object with blinking lights that can reproduce a newspaper story, or anything else communicated to it from the ground; and a slim-line brief case full of James Bond electronics that keeps him in, touch with plane and New York office when he’s at anything so old-fashioned as a rally.
There have been several Advancemen’s Schools at which this lowest echelon of staff gets a weekend of chalk talks on business procedures; also an Advancemen’s Manual. Nixonairs (off-duty airline stewardesses) and the ubiquitous Nixonettes get instruction in handing out buttons and cheering to cover hecklers. The youngsters who pass out hand bills are divided into “Building Disbursement” and “Streets Disbursement”: their two-page instructions include sentences like “Code him [your replacement] in with the original number of the key location.” Just in case any residents might come out and cheer, every Nixon route is marked like the Tulip Route through Holland.
Treatment of the press is impeccable. Do you wish to ask questions about Mr. Nixon’s concept of the Presidency? Here is the staffman in charge of that. About trade barriers and the gold flow? Here is the department head in charge of that. (The fact that there are no Negroes on staff, not even a labor specialist, goes almost unnoticed.) Baggage never gets lost, wire service facilities are everywhere, and I was phoned twice this weekend, once at 1 a.m., to make sure that I knew about a half-hour schedule change in case I wanted to re-join the campaign on Monday instead of Tuesday.
It’s all very pleasant, even seductive, but there is a suspicion that the reporters are inmates and the staff, their keepers; that if we said, “I don’t like Richard Nixon,” it would be like saying, “I am Napoleon”; the keepers would smile their “we’re-the-winners-and-you’re-some-crazy-aberrants” smile, give us our room keys, and pay no attention.
The Press: In fact, the reporters don’t like Richard Nixon. As far as I’ve been able to find out, only two members of the 90-odd press corps are likely to vote for him: the U.S. News & World Report man, who was also for Nixon in ’60, and the Voice of America correspondent, who is thought to be Republican because he doesn’t join in anti-Nixon bull sessions and smokes an unlit pipe. A few, notably Washington columnist Joe Kraft, are not against Nixon because they feel he’s what the rest of the country wants and/or deserves. The rest seem to waver around between Cheerful Resignation and Silent Despair.
But what’s most striking is the air of disinterest in what the candidate does. On any Kennedy’s campaign plane, and even McCarthy’s or Rockefeller’s, there was a feeling of being at the second-best party: that no matter how interesting the reporters’ discussions and dinners might be, the candidate and his chosen few were having a better time somewhere else. But not on Nixon’s plane. Here, reporters clearly feel themselves the first-best, and going off to a rally, or even a private interview, is just part of the unexciting job.
Occasionally, one of several reporters who has covered the White House will call other veterans around for a “one-minute reminder”: then he plays a tape of Johnson talking, and everybody jokes about how glad they are to be away. (“Nixon says he’s going someplace the next day, and then actually goes,” said Life’s Presidential historian, Hugh Sidey. “Johnson wants to keep you uncertain and off-balance even about that.”) Saul Pett of the AP, Marie Ridder from Ridder Newspapers, and other writers who had followed Robert Kennedy, form a second group. Occasionally, as if against their will, they are reminded of stories from the primaries. (Bobby, the day before Oregon’s primary, sitting on a suitcase in the aisle and singing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” to somebody’s guitar accompaniment. Bobby spending three days visiting South Dakota’s Indians, and responding to staff objections that there were no votes there with “You sons of bitches, you don’t really care about suffering.”) They tell their stories, and then are silent for a moment as each one tries to think of something cheerful to say.
In a way, both Kennedy and Nixon have been written about inaccurately because of reporters’ discomfort with personal feeling. Many of them loved Bobby, and so took care to conceal that fact with criticism. Many of them dislike or disdain Nixon, and so give his viewpoints their maximum weight. This desire to balance may be inevitable, but it’s misleading. As we who learned who Kennedy was only after he died, we may find out who Nixon is only after he is President.
Staff Divisions: The men around Nixon fall into prototypes as they go up the hierarchy.
BMOC through YAF: This stretches from advance men, who seem to fall into the Big Man on Campus category (at Columbia they call them Jocks) to the young expediters, who spiritually if not actually belong to Young Americans for Freedom, and tend to be festooned with maximum numbers of earphones and walkie-talkies. It is their responsibility to shepherd baggage, and keep the motorcades on time. They do it very well.
At Lockheed, a short-haired young advance man named Chuck Steward asked about all these people with grape boycott signs. I explained briefly about Chavez and his union. “Gosh,” he said, chuckling. “I asked somebody about penguins once. Now I know more than I need to know about Mexicans, too!”
“Then the dam broke. Not out of control but low-voiced and resentful, like a long accusation, the words flowed out of Mrs. Nixon.”
FBI through J. Walter Thompson: Everyone in this middle ground seems to be young, ambitious, Californian with some Eastern experience (either on Wall Street or Madison Avenue), dark-haired, and dark-suited. The FBI-minded ones wear white shirts, however, while those who are in spirit, and often in fact, from J. Walter Thompson, may go as far as a pale blue stripes and a club tie. The best of this group are probably striped-shirts Martin Anderson (who wrote The Federal Bulldozer, a good factual attack on urban renewal policies) and Ray Price (who used to write editorials for the New York Herald Tribune). Together, they are responsible for Nixon’s more enlightened statements on the role of the Presidency and urban problems; even getting him to use the phrase “black capitalism.” (“It’s within his philosophy of no federal hand-outs anyway,” said a former Nixon associate, “but left to himself, he might have talked about ‘Colored Power.’”) Pat Buchanan, also a former newspaperman but more conservative politically and said to be the smartest of the lot, looks deceptively FBI-ish. But then, the candidate himself applied for an FBI job when he got out of law school. How might history be different had the Bureau not been full up?
The Dickensians: One can see the balding John Mitchell complaining over work lost on Christmas holidays while Charlie McWhorter, a small rumpled bachelor-lawyer who looks older than 45, and an even smaller Bryce Harlow, intelligent bureaucrat and former Eisenhower aide, bend attentively over their ledgers.
This is the top level: less neat and more human and likable than the J. Walter Thompson-ites. Tall, lumpy-faced Herb Klein could be head clerk in a frock coat. Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s personal secretary for 17 years, would be fine as the crotchety maiden bookkeeper. (She is the only one who still tongue-lashes Nixon’s critics.) Even former Kansas Congressman Bob Ellsworth, a spatulate-fingered man who resembles a blond and balding Ichabod Crane, could be the quiet but independent young assistant who eventually takes over the firm.
From Denver, back into our three jets for a teenage rally (mostly private and parochial students) in St. Louis: then another flight to Louisville, Kentucky, for a ride on the last Mississippi River Boat in existence. The first leg of this flight yielded an interview with Pat Nixon.
She had worked her way through college, tried to be an actress, and had become a teacher of shorthand and typing in a small California high school; married her husband with apparent reluctance after a two-year courtship at the age of 28 (he had proposed on the first date) and been introduced by him on the famous Checkers show as “a wonderful stenographer.” She had shared all the vilification and praise without ever emerging in public as an individual. I was eager to meet her, but all her other interviewers said Mrs. Nixon had put them straight to sleep.
She was sitting in the front of the plane, freckled hands neatly folded, ankles neatly crossed, and smiling a public smile as a sleek young staff man sat me next to her. I didn’t want to ask the questions she had answered so blandly and often about her husband (“I just think he’d make a wonderful President”) or politics (“You’ll have to ask Dick about that”) but to ask about herself.
Explaining my doubts about writing from clips, I asked if there were any persistent mistakes in the press that I should take care not to repeat. “No, no,” she said, smoothing her skirt. “You ladies of the press do a fine job. I think the stories have been very fine.” Did that mean she liked everything that had been written? “Well, actually, I haven’t had time to read a lot of them lately.” (Other “ladies of the press” had told me she read everything and had been annoyed by a Seattle story that made her seem a catatonic smiler.) But she liked all the stories from past campaigns? “Yes, of course. I don’t object to what’s been written. I know you do your best, and most of you have been very kind.” We went round with that a few more times. Then she was, I told her, the only person I’d ever met, including myself, who liked everything written about them. There was a flicker of annoyance behind the hazel eyes; the first sign of life.
But after painfully slow questioning, I learned only the following: No, she was never bored with campaigning, brought no books along, needed no distraction. (“I’m always interested in the rallies, they’re so different. Some are outside; some are inside. Some have old people; some have young people like the one today.”) There was nothing special she wanted to do with her influence as First Lady. (“I think a person has to just be herself.”) But she was glad she’d had so much “on-the-job training” for the entertaining she would have to do. Her only other interest was education. (“As a teacher, I agree with Dick’s education program 100 per cent. I’d like to work on job and educational opportunities for all. I don’t like this dropout system we have now,”) She was keeping a journal on life as Mrs. Nixon for her daughters, but never used anecdotes, of course, because she might have to write down the names of real people. She liked the theatre, especially My Fair Lady, and had seen Hello, Dolly! three times: twice with visitors, and once because their “family friend,” Ginger Rogers, was doing it. (“I feel there’s enough seriousness in the world without seeing it in the theatre.”) She liked historical novels, especially the lives of Queen Victoria and Mary Todd Lincoln, also Thomas Wolfe’s novels, but seldom had time to read “just for entertainment.” Or to go to fashion shows. (“I’m pretty selfless about things like that. I just keep busy with all our friends. Instead of a long lunch, I like to take them to a museum or the park. I find we all like that much better than just making social conversation.”) There is no Generation Gap at all in her family. (“Why only the other day, Tricia and Julie didn’t go to one of their parties. I said. ‘Aren’t you going out?’ And they said, ‘Oh no, we’d much rather have dinner with you and Daddy.’”) The woman in history she most admires and would want to be like is Mrs. Eisenhower. Why? “Because she meant so much to young people.”
Each of these answers had required several questions. She wasn’t pleased at having to dredge around for such subjective information as what she identified with, other than daughters and husband. (She didn’t answer that one at all.) And I wasn’t overjoyed with so many bland answers. Mrs. Eisenhower was the last straw.
I was in college during the Eisenhower years. I told her, and I didn’t think Mrs. Eisenhower had any special influence on youth. “You didn’t?” Long pause. “Well, I do,” she said finally. “Young people looked up to her because she was so brave all the time her husband was away at war.” Longer pause. We eyed each other warily as I searched around for some fresh subject.
Then the dam broke. Not out of control but low-voiced and resentful, like a long accusation, the words flowed out.
“I never had time to think about things like that—who I wanted to be, or who I admired, or to have ideas. I never had time to dream about being anyone else. I had to work. My parents died when I was a teenager, and I had to work my way through college. I drove people all the way cross-country so I could get to New York and take training as an X-ray technician so I could work my way through college. I worked in a bank while Dick was in the service. Oh, I could have sat for those months doing nothing like everybody else, but I worked in the bank and talked with people and learned about all their funny little customs. Now, I have friends in all the countries of the world. I haven’t just sat back and thought of myself or my ideas or what I wanted to do. Oh no, I’ve stayed interested in people. I’ve kept working. Right here in the plane I keep this case with me, and the minute I sit down, I write my thank you notes. Nobody gets by without a personal note. I don’t have time to worry about who I admire or who I identify with. I’ve never had it easy. I’m not like all you … all those people who had it easy.”
The staffman had been signaling vainly to me for some time. We had landed, stopped at the ramp, and I was interfering with routine. Mrs. Nixon fingered her old fashioned diamond ring for a moment, then, public smile re-fixed firmly, she patted my arm. “Now I hope we see you again soon; I really do; bye now; take care,” she said, standard phrase upon standard phrase. “I’ve really enjoyed our talk. Take care!”
For the first time, I could see Mrs. Nixon’s connection with her husband: two people with great drive, and a deep suspicion that “other people had it easy,” in her phrase, “glamour boys” or “buddy-buddy boys” in his, would somehow pull gracefully ahead of them in spite of all their work. Like gate-crashers at a party, they supported each other in a critical world. It must have been a very special hell for them, running against the Kennedys; as if all their deepest suspicions had been proved true.
That night, sitting in the bar of the Brown Hotel with some of the press corps and staff, we talked about what positive emotions Nixon must have. Both he and wife seemed to become human and spontaneous only when their fears, some small paranoia, were aroused. But there must be more. What proofs were there of Nixon’s unself-conscious self?
“Well, he once forced me to eat snails in Paris,” said Bob Ellsworth, trying to be helpful. A woman correspondent explained that he’d once used the word “motel” in a rather innocuous sentence, but she didn’t want it quoted. Joe Kraft contributed Nixon’s comment that “I would have made a good Pope.” Somebody else assured us that he had been known to make jokes, and that he had not been born, contrary to rumor, in a dark suit and a tie.
We all laughed, conscious of our own ridiculousness. Nixon was human, after all. Of course. But what makes the jokes about Plastic Man and a-key-in-his-back and the dark suit so funny? What makes the question of humanity come up at all?
We got a plane-side press conference this morning because there was a row about the lack of one at the hotel last night. Reporters had wanted a reply to George Ball’s accusation, just then on the wires, that Nixon didn’t have the character or principles to handle world crises as President, and that Agnew was a “fourth-rate political hack.” Nixon had said he would not reply, then gone on a local interview show and done just that. When he finally stood on the plane steps to take questions, the reporters were angry enough to bring the Old Nixon out. He accused them of putting words in his mouth, then pulled himself together and added, “Of course, you boys have a right to put words in my mouth, that’s your job.”
“A choir began to sing ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ ‘They shouldn’t sing that,’ said a reporter. ‘It doesn’t belong to them.’”
On the flight to Chattanooga, as if to show everything was going smoothly, George Ball or no, Nixon came out of his private compartment for a Walk-Back. He moved through the aisle making a point of remembering names. A staffman introduced those of us who were new. Nixon and I had the following exchange.
When are you coming to New York?
Nixon: “Well, you do that at the end of your campaign, you know. You want to end up those last few weeks with a …” [He trailed off, making a wrap-up gesture. When speaking of politics, he often says, “you” do this or that, as if rules were graven in stone.]
Will you go … Uptown?
Nixon: “Uptown? What’s Uptown?”
Harlem is Uptown.
Nixon: “Ohhh, that. No, I have no plans to go there. We’re going to Queens. All over Brooklyn.”
Maybe you should go up there. They’re feeling neglected.
Nixon: “Well, I just do what my local people tell me. Gilhooley [John J. Gilhooley, New York campaign coordinator], he tells me what to do.”
Will you go to Bedford-Stuyvesant?
Nixon: “No, I have no plans to go there. We’re going to Queens.”
This dialogue amused another reporter who was tape-recording Nixon’s exchanges. (“How many years in New York and he doesn’t know what Uptown is?”) But I learned only that a) he looked no less Plastic close up, and b) it was my personal and irrelevant opinion that he dyed his blunted widow’s peak, but not the sides.
At the Tennessee Valley Authority, with Pat dressed in red, white and blue, we all inspected the locks and thought about the contrast of Nixon with FDR. (“Are you going to sell TVA if you’re President?” asked an AP man. “No, no, I have no plans to sell it,” Nixon replied seriously.) At a Chattanooga auditorium, the Tennessee Singing Republicans serenaded us with “America, America, America, Absolution, Absolution, Absolution”; balloons floated aloft, broke, and rained down spit.
In a Tampa motel, Governor Claude Kirk, looking hale and hearty and a little obsessive around the eyes, greeted Nixon warmly and took him off to a meeting. Thruston Morton treated the rest of us to an anti-George Ball press conference.
In the Tampa auditorium for that night’s rally, bleachers climbed up three sides from a floor full of folding chairs, making a solid valley of faces and signs: “A White House Wedding,” “Nixon—Remember Cuba,” “Pat for First Lady.” At the open end of the valley was a stage bearing Nixon, Governor Kirk, and local Republicans. “That’s a swell group of people up there,” the Midwestern reporter next to me said bitterly. Max Frankel of the New York Times tossed us a note, “$1 reward still available for the first black face.” Nixon smiled and nodded and made waggling signs to the crowd. The ovation went on so long that he relaxed with hands on hips, fingers splayed our over his hipbones, and smiled and nodded some more.
Behind us, a choir began to sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” For a moment, it didn’t quite sink in. “They shouldn’t sing that hymn,” said the Midwestern reporter softly. “It doesn’t belong to them.” June 6th. A long slow train. Old hopes that I had managed to forget since that first re-entry phase despair a week ago washed over me again. Only worse.
Governor Kirk and Nixon stood with their arms around each other’s shoulders. A banner read, “Register Commies Not Guns,” and the valley of beaming satisfied faces ignored the hymn. I discovered, to my humiliation, that I was crying. It suddenly seemed that we were surrounded by the enemy—by anti-life, conserving, neighbor-fearing people: or rather by good people whose neighbor-fearing instincts were being played upon—and that the enemy was going to win. Not just this election, which might not matter much, but the power to impose themselves, here and in many other countries where waves of reaction were beginning, for a long dark time to come. I had got through funerals, Chicago, and most personal sadnesses dry-eyed, but this ridiculous rally in Tampa was too much. The hymn went on and on, and the Nixon cheers went on and on. It wasn’t the victory of one man or the death of another. It was the death of the future. And of our youth, because we might be rather old before the conservers left, and compassionate men came back.
The hymn stopped. Nixon had got to the city-listing part of The Speech when a small group carrying black flags of mourning and peace signs walked slowly out. The crowd booed them, and Nixon deplored them. No contest.
I woke up this morning in the Key Biscayne motel where the press corps is being pampered for the weekend, incorporating into a dream the chant, “Nixon afraid to debate Humphrey. Why? Nixon afraid to tell the people the truth. Why?,” I had the feeling it had been repeated over and over in the dream, and it continued awake. A small plane, I learned from the bellboy, was circling overhead with a loudspeaker. And a wired-for-sound boat was cruising back and forth off the beach.
As usual, the Humphrey camp had miscalculated. Nixon was not staying at the motel, but with Bebe Rebozo, a longtime friend and local millionaire, who kept a posh vacation home nearby.
But reactions are truthful that early in the morning, and I discovered I was cheering that little mis-scheduled, bad-taste plane along. The chant was ridiculous, but I was glad to hear it. There was no rational choice between the Plastic Man and the Cowardly Lion, but there was an emotional one. Nixon was intelligent and pragmatic, but what good is intelligence in the service of no instinct at all? At least there was some dim chance that Humphrey was still emotionally available. And that might make a crucial difference to me, as well as black people and poor people. It might even make a difference in Vietnam. Can a man put all his energies into ending the war, after all, if he can’t identify with the victims?
As Nixon himself says, “People who talk about the New Nixon didn’t know the Old Nixon very well.”