Sunday, November 2, 2008

Choosing A President, Then and Now

Throwing out some junk today, I found this old 2" x 3" print of Nixon campaigning at the capitol in Albany in the fall of 1968. (He's in there somewhere, along with Nelson Rockefeller and a few other bigwigs of the time.) Nixon was running against unabashed liberal Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey was a compromise candidate, chosen in a tumultuous convention in Chicago that summer, after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. 1968 was a tough year for Americans.

Since Nixon's defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial election, the public consensus had been "Nixon can't win." He'd given a bitter exit speech, telling the press "you won't have Nixon to kick around any more." He sat out the 1964 Goldwater debacle, but campaigned actively for Republican candidates around the country in the 1966 congressional elections, and accurately predicted the gains the Republicans would make that year, re-establishing the "new Nixon" as a viable candidate.

He cleverly exploited the voters' yearning for a return to "normalcy" amid the sea of changes in the Sixties. He'd been Eisenhower's vice-president. Ike had ended the Korean conflict. Nixon claimed to have "a secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam. He used a slogan he claimed he saw on a poster held up "by a little girl" at one of his rallies: "Bring Us Together." Historians will continue to ponder the root causes of what came to pass during his six years in office, but at the end of his presidency the nation was more divided than at any time since the War Between the States.

Are there any parallels between that election of forty years ago and the election that will take place in a couple of days? It's said that the "Imperial Presidency" ended with Nixon's disgrace. We no longer write the word president with a capital 'P,' as we once did. But the power of the presidency and the power of the federal government continue to grow, so that the daily lives of all Americans are affected by what happens in Washington (as we've seen in the continuing "bail out" legislation).

McCain and Palin are calling for massive cuts in federal spending, and playing to the "Middle America" that Nixon exploited so well. They've convinced a great many voters that Obama is a "socialist." They favor winning a war that has already gone on longer than World War II, but which has neither clear objectives nor a successful exit strategy, in spite of the lessons learned in Vietnam.

Obama, on the other hand, has based his campaign on the notion of "change." He's been purposely vague about his plans to bring peace and to restore prosperity, especially in light of the arrival of our day of economic reckoning. Few politicians refer to themselves as "liberal" any more, although the liberal paradigm has actually been the warp and woof of our national domestic policy since Roosevelt. In this race Obama is clearly the liberal.

So what are the parallels? We'll leave that b.s. up to the talking heads. Suffice it to say, whoever wins, let's hope he doesn't go wacko on us like Nixon did.

And one other observation: politicians are like diapers; it's a good idea to change them often, and for the same reason.

Peace, out.

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