Down & Out in the Fontainebleau…Nixon Sells Out the Party…Goldwater on the Comeback Trail…Agnew in ’76
“The summer is over, the harvest is in, and we are not saved.”
—Isaiah, circa 8:21
MIAMI BEACH, August 28, 1972—
Earlier tonight I drove down the beach to a place called Dixie’s Doll House, for two six-packs of Ballantine ale. The place was full of old winos, middle-aged hookers and aging young hustlers who looked like either junkies or Merchant Marine rejects; bearded geeks in grey T-shirts staggering back and forth along the bar, six nasty-looking pimps around a blue-lit pool table in the rear, and right next to me at the bar a ruined platinum-blonde Cuban dazzler snarling drunkenly at her nervous escort for the night: “Don’t gimmie that horseshit, baby! I don’t want a goddamn ONE DOLLAR dinner! I want a TEN DOLLAR dinner!”
Life gets heavy here on the Beach from time to time. So I paid $2.70 each for my six-packs and then wheeled my big red Chevy Impala convertible back home to the Fontainebleau, about 40 blocks north through the balmy southern night to the edge of the fashionable section.
“Bobo,” the master pimp and carmeister who runs what they call “the front door” here in these showplace beachfront hotels, eyed me curiously as I got out of the car and started dragging wet brown bags full of beer bottles out of the back seat. “You gonna need the car again tonight?” he asked.
“Probably,” I said. “But not for a while. I’ll be up in the room until about midnight.” I looked at my watch. “The Rams-Kansas City game is on in three minutes. After that, I’ll work for a while and then go out for something to eat.”
He jerked the car door open, sliding fast behind the wheel to take it down to the underground garage. With his hand on the shift lever he looked up at me: “You in the mood for some company?”
“No,” I said. “I’m way behind. I’ll be up all night with that goddamn typewriter. I shouldn’t even take time to watch the game on TV.” He rolled his eyes and looked up at what should have been the sky, but which was actually the gold-glazed portico roof above the entrance driveway: “Jesus, what kind of work do you do? Hump typewriters for a living? I thought the convention was over!”
I paused, tucking the wet beer bags under the arm of my crusty brown leather jacket. Inside the lobby door about 20 feet away I could see what looked like a huge movie-set cocktail party for rich Venezuelans and high-style middle-aged Jews: My fellow guests in the Fontainebleau. I was not dressed properly to mingle with them, so my plan was to stride swiftly through the lobby to the elevators and then up to my hideout in the room.
The Nixon convention had finished on Thursday morning, and by Saturday the hundreds of national press/media people who had swarmed into this pompous monstrosity of a hotel for Convention Week were long gone. A few dozen stragglers had stayed on through Friday, but by Saturday afternoon the style and tone of the place had changed drastically, and on Sunday I felt like the only nigger in the Governor’s Box on Kentucky Derby Day.
Bobo had not paid much attention to me during the convention, but now he seemed interested. “I know you’re a reporter,” he said. “They put ‘press’ on your house-car tag. But all the rest of those guys took off yesterday. What keeps you here?”
I smiled. “Christ, am I the only one left?”
He thought for a moment, then shook his head. “No, there’s you and two others. One guy has that white Lincoln Continental—”
“He’s not press,” I said quickly. “Probably one of the GOP advance men, getting things settled with the hotel.” He nodded. “Yeah, he acted like he was part of the show. Not like a reporter.” He laughed. “You guys are pretty easy to spot, you know that?”
“Balls,” I said. “Not me. Everybody else says I look like a cop.”
He looked at me for a moment, tapping his foot on the accelerator to keep the engine up. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess so. You could pass for a cop as long as you kept your mouth shut.”
“I’m usually pretty discreet,” I said.
He smiled. “Sure you are. We’ve all noticed it. That other press guy that’s still here asked me who you were the other day, when you were bad-mouthing Nixon … “
“What’s his name?” I was curious to know who else in the press corps would endure this kind of shame and isolation.
“I can’t remember now,” Bobo said. “He’s a tall guy with grey hair and glasses. He drives a blue Ford station wagon.”
I wondered who it could be. It would have to be somebody with a very compelling reason to stay on, in this place. Everybody with good sense or a reasonable excuse had left as soon as possible. Some of the TV network technicians had stayed until Saturday, dismantling the maze of wires and cables they’d set up in the Fontainebleau before the convention started. They were easy to spot because they wore things like Levis and sweatshirts—but by Sunday I was the only guest in the hotel not dressed like a PR man for Hialeah Racetrack on a Saturday night in mid-season.
It is not enough, in the Fontainebleau, to look like some kind of a weird and sinister cop; to fit in here, you want to look like somebody who just paid a scalper $200 for a front row seat at the Johnny Carson show.
Bobo put the car in gear, but kept his foot on the brake pedal and asked: “What are you writing? What did all that bullshit come down to?”
“Jesus,” I said. “That’s just what I’ve been trying to put together upstairs. You’re asking me to compress about 200 hours of work into 60 seconds.”
He grinned. “You’re on my time now. Give it a try. Tell me what happened.”
I paused in the driveway, shifting the beer bags to my other arm, and thought for a moment. “Okay,” I said. “Nixon sold out the party for the next 20 years by setting up an Agnew-Kennedy race in ’76, but he knew exactly what he was doing and he did it for the same reason he’s done everything else since he first got into politics—to make sure he gets elected.”
He stared at me, not grasping it.
I hesitated, trying to put it all in a quick little capsule. “Okay,” I said finally, “the reason Nixon put Agnew and the Goldwater freaks in charge of the party this year is that he knows they can’t win in ’76—but it was a good short-term trade; they have to stay with him this year, which will probably be worth a point or two in November—and that’s important to Nixon, because he thinks it’s going to be close: Fuck the polls. They always follow reality instead of predicting it…. But the real reason he turned the party over to the Agnew-Goldwater wing is that he knows most of the old-line Democrats who just got stomped by McGovern for the nomination wouldn’t mind seeing George get taken out in ’72 if they know they can get back in the saddle if they’re willing to wait four years.”
Bobo laughed, understanding it instantly. Pimps and hustlers have a fine instinct for politics. “What you’re saying is that Nixon just cashed his whole check,” he said. “He doesn’t give a flying fuck what happens once he gets re-elected—because once he wins, it’s all over for him anyway, right? He can’t run again. …”
“Yeah,” I said, pausing to twist the top off one of the ale bottles I’d been pulling out of the bag. “But the thing you want to understand is that Nixon has such a fine understanding of the way politicians think that he knew people like Daley and Meany and Ted Kennedy would go along with him—because it’s in their interest now to have Nixon get his second term, in exchange for a guaranteed Democratic victory in 1976.”
“God damn!” he said. “That’s beautiful! They’re gonna trade him four years now for eight later, right? Give Nixon his last trip in ’72, then Kennedy moves in for eight years in ’76. … Jesus, that’s so rotten I really have to admire it.” He chuckled. “Boy, I thought I was cynical!”
“That’s not cynical,” I said. “That’s pure, nut-cutting politics…. And I advise you to stay out of it; you’re too sensitive.”
He laughed and hit the accelerator, leaping away with a sharp screech of rubber and just barely missing the tail-light of a long gold Cadillac as he turned down the ramp.
I pushed through the revolving door and crossed the vast lobby to the elevators, still sipping my ale as I thought about what I’d just said. Had Nixon really sold the party down the river? Was it a conscious act, or pure instinct? Had he made a deal with Meany during one of their golf games? Was Daley in on it? Ted Kennedy? Who else?
I finished the ale and dropped the empty bottle into a huge spittoon full of blue gravel. Two elderly women standing next to me looked disgusted, but I ignored them and wandered over to the door of the world-reknowned Poodle bar and cocktail lounge. It was almost empty. An imitation Glenn Miller band was playing the Tennessee Waltz, but nobody was dancing. Three nights ago the Poodle had been so crowded that it was difficult to get through the door. Every high-powered hot-rod journalist in the western world had made the scene here last week. At least that’s what Sally Quinn told me, and she knows about things like that.
I went back to the elevators and found one ready to go. The sight of my ale bottle in the spittoon reminded me of Nixon again…. Who else might be in on that deal? I picked a Miami Herald off a stack in the rear of the elevator, then handed the matron a dollar.
“Twenty-five cents,” she said briskly, bringing the car to a stop at my floor … but before she could hand me the change I stepped out and waved back at her. “Nevermind,” I said, “I’m rich.” Then I hurried down the hall to my room and bolted the door.
The game had already started, but there was no score. I dumped my ale bottles in the styrofoam cooler, then opened one and sat down to watch the action and brood on Nixon’s treachery. But first I concentrated on the game for a while. It is hard to understand how somebody else thinks unless you can get on their wavelength: Get in tune with their patterns, their pace, their connections … and since Nixon is a known football addict, I decided to get my head totally into the rhythm of this exhibition game between the Rams and Kansas City before attempting the jump into politics.
Very few people understand this kind of logic. I learned it from a Brazilian psychiatrist in the Matto Grosso back in 1963. He called it “Rhythm Logic,” in English, because he said I would never be able to pronounce it in the original Jibaro. I tried it once or twice, but the Jibaro language was too much for me—and it didn’t make much difference anyway. I seemed to have an instinct for Rhythm Logic, however, so I picked it up very quickly. But I have never been able to explain it, except in terms of music, and typewriters are totally useless when it comes to that kind of translation.
In any case, by the end of the first quarter I felt ready. By means of intense concentration on every detail of the football game, I was able to “derail” my own inner brain waves and re-pattern them temporarily to the inner brain wave rhythms of a serious football fanatic. The next step, then, was to bring my “borrowed” rhythms into focus on a subject quite different from football—such as presidential politics.
In the third and final step, I merely concentrated on a pre-selected problem involving presidential politics, and attempted to solve it subjectively … although the word “subjectively,” at this point, had a very different true meaning. Because I was no longer reasoning in the rhythms of my own inner brain waves, but in the rhythms of a football addict.
At that point, it became almost unbearably clear to me that Richard Nixon had in fact sold the Republican party down the tube in Miami. Consciously, perhaps, but never quite verbally. Because the rhythms of his own inner brain waves convinced his conscious mind that in fact he had no choice. Given the safe assumption that the most important objective in Richard Nixon’s life today is minimizing the risk of losing the 1972 election to George McGovern, simple logic decreed that he should bend all his energies to that end, at all costs. All other objectives would have to be subjugated to Number One.
By half time, with the Rams trailing by six, I had established a firm scientific basis for the paranoid gibberish I had uttered, an hour or so earlier, while standing in the hotel driveway and talking with Bobo the night-pimp. At the time, not wanting to seem ignorant or confused, I had answered his question with the first wisdom capsule that popped into my mind…. But now it made perfect sense, thanks to Rhythm Logic, and all that remained were two or three secondary questions, none of them serious.
The Real Nixon Strategy Analysis
To say that Nixon “sold the Republican Party down the river” in order to minimize his chances of losing this election is probably a bit harsh. Most of the GOP delegates in Miami were eager to make that trip, anyway. All Nixon did was make sure they got safely aboard the raft and into the current. It was no accident that the Nixon convention in Miami looked and sounded like a replay of the Goldwater convention in San Francisco eight years ago. They even brought Goldwater back, and treated him like a hero. His opening night speech was a classic of vengeful ignorance, but the delegates loved it. He was scheduled to speak for ten minutes, but he worked himself into such a fever that it took him half an hour to make sure everybody in the hall—and the TV audience, too—understood what he’d come there to say: That he’d been eight years ahead of his time in ’64, by God! But now the party had finally caught up with him! At last, they were cheering him again, instead of laughing at him … and just in case anybody doubted it, he was here to tell them that the whole country was finally catching up with him, too.
No other speaker at that convention was allowed to ignore the time limit laid out for him in the split-second script, but Goldwater was encouraged to rave and snarl at the cameras until he ran out of things to say. His speech set the tone for the whole convention, and his only real competition was Ronald Reagan. Compared to those two, both Agnew and Nixon sounded like bleeding-heart liberals.
The next step, on Tuesday, was a public whipping for GOP “liberals” like Illinois Senator Charles Percy who wanted to change some of the delegate selection rules so the large industrial (and usually more liberal) states would have more of a voice in the 1976 convention. But his proposal lost by a landslide, and the ’76 convention—at which Agnew is now expected to be the leading contender—will be dominated as usual by rural conservatives from the South and the West.
At this point, thanks again to Rhythm Logic, a blueprint begins to take shape:
Nixon returned from Miami with a commanding 60-30 lead over McGovern in the public opinion polls—but roughly half of that margin would disappear overnight if McGovern could somehow get the support of the Old Guard Democrats (the Jewish vote, the Humphrey vote, AFLCIO unions still loyal to George Meany) who lost to McGovern in the primaries and now refuse to support him.
The reasons they give are generally too vague or unfounded to argue with (“too radical,” “anti-labor,” “anti-Semitic”), and they are not worth arguing about anyway; because the real reason why so many old guard Democrats are backing away from McGovern is a powerful desire to regain their control of the Democratic Party. The McGovern organization has only a tentative grip on the party machinery now, but a McGovern victory in November would give him at least four years to rebuild and revitalize the whole structure in his own image. To many professional Democrats—particularly the Big Fish in a Small Pond types who worked overtime for Humphrey or Jackson last spring—the prospect of a McGovern victory is far more frightening than another four years of Nixon.
Indeed, and Nixon has a keen understanding of these things. He has been a professional pol all his life, through many ups and downs. He understands that politics is a rotten, frequently degrading business that corrupts everybody who steps in it, but this knowledge no longer bothers him. Some say it never did, in fact—but that was the Old Nixon. We have seen many models since then, but now we are on the brink of coming to grips with The Real Nixon.
This campaign will almost certainly be his last, regardless of how it turns out. A win would retire him automatically, and a loss would probably shatter his personality along with his ego. That is one of the main keys to understanding the Real Nixon Strategy Analysis. A loss to McGovern would be such a shock to Nixon that he would probably change his name at once and emigrate to Rhodesia. Not even a narrow victory would make him happy; this time he wants to win big, and he intends to.
The intensity of his Big/Sure Win obsession became apparent to Clark McGregor, his new campaign manager, even before I picked it up with Rhythm Logic. On the day after the convention, most of the talk among Nixon’s staff members was about “how to avoid complacency.” Their Doral Hotel fortress was rank with overconfidence. McGregor, sitting happy on a campaign war chest of “between $35 million and $38 million,” had just decided to use some of the cash to fight complacency by organizing Nixon volunteer groups in some of the states. Then he went downstairs to a meeting of the GOP financial committee and was surprised to hear Maurice Stans, Nixon’s chief fundraiser, announce that the presidential campaign budget had just been boosted to $45 million—$15 million more than the 1968 Nixon campaign used in the tight race against Hubert Humphrey.
The President was not immediately available for comment on how he planned to spend his 45 Big Ones, but Stans said he planned to safeguard the funds personally.
At that point, McGregor cracked Stans upside the head with a Gideon Bible and called him a “thieving little fart.” McGregor then began shoving the rest of us out of the room, but when Stans tried to leave, McGregor grabbed him by the neck and jerked him back inside. Then he slammed the door and threw the bolt. …
JESUS, WHY DO I write things like that? I must be getting sick, or maybe just tired of writing about these greasy Rotar-ian bastards. I think it’s time to move on to something else. But first I guess I should finish off that story about how Nixon sold his party down the river:
It was basically a straight-across trade: Agnew for McGovern. By welcoming all the right-wingers and yahoos back into the front ranks of the party—then watching silently as “liberals” fought vainly for a fair share of the delegate seats in ’76—Nixon aimed the party as far towards the Right as he could, while charting his own course straight down the center and opening wide his arms to all those poor homeless Democrats who got driven out of their own party by that jew-baiting, strike-busting, radical bastard George McGovern, “the Goldwater of the Left.”
Meanwhile, Barry Goldwater himself is riding high again in the GOP. The party is back in step with him now, and by the time the ’76 convention rolls around, Spiro Agnew is likely to find himself hooted off the podium—like Rockefeller in ’64—as a useless backsliding liberal. That convention will want to nominate one of their own, and whoever emerges to carry the party colors will almost certainly be doomed from the start and mocked by all the Humphrey/Meany Democrats—who will have gone back home, by then—as “The McGovern of the Right.”
Nixon sees his margin of safety on November 7 in the number of anti-McGovern Democrats he can coax across the line to vote for him. Despite his huge lead in the polls, he knows better than to believe he’ll be 30 points ahead on election day. Sooner or later, McGovern’s top command will get bored with this brainless squabbling among themselves. They’ve been at it for more than a month now, like a bunch of winos locked in a small closet.
Gary Hart insists the “real work” of the campaign is going along just like it was in New Hampshire, or Wisconsin, or California—but the press can’t see it now, just like they couldn’t see it back in the early primaries. Hell, our organizers don’t hold press conferences; nobody interviews our canvassers.
“I’d say we’re at the same stage now (Sept. 1) that we were back in the third week of February. Stop worrying, we’re doing fine.”
Well … maybe so. If it’s true, Nixon is going to need all the Humphrey/Meany Democrats he can get. Once his margin starts slipping he’ll get nervous, and if that Watergate case ever gets into court he might get very nervous.
But he has already bought his insurance policy. The old guard anti-Mc-Govern Democrats might not be so willing to dump McGovern if they thought they might lose again in ’76. But Nixon appears to have taken care of that problem for them, quietly opening the way for a Kennedy vs. Agnew fiasco four years from now.
…Dance of the Robots…
Compared to the Democratic convention five weeks earlier, the Nixon celebration was an ugly, low-level trip that hovered somewhere in that grim indefinable limbo between dullness and obscenity—like a bad pornographic film that you want to walk out on, but sit through anyway and then leave the theater feeling depressed and vaguely embarrassed with yourself for ever having taken part in it, even as a spectator.
It was so bad, overall, that it is hard to even work up the energy to write about it. Not even the frenzied efforts of the TV news moguls could make the thing interesting. According to a Miami Herald reporter who monitored TV coverage from gavel to gavel, “at any given time, only about 15 percent of New York metropolitan area households—where early returns are available—were tuned to network convention coverage.”
On the Sunday after the convention, Mike Wallace presided over a CBS-TV roundup “special” on what happened in Miami, and when he summed it all up in the end—after an hour’s worth of fantastically expensive film clips—he dismissed the whole thing as a useless bummer. Speaking for the CBS floor reporters, he said, “We labored mightily, and brought forth a mouse.”
Most of the linear press people seemed to feel the same way. Every midnight, at the end of each session, the Poodle Lounge in the Fontainebleau filled up with sullen journalists who would spend the next three hours moaning at each other about what a goddamn rotten nightmare it all was. On Tuesday night I was sitting at a table in the Poodle with a clutch of New York heavies—Dick Reeves from New York Magazine, Russ Barnard from Harpers, Phil Tracy from the Village Voice, etc.—and when they started bitching about the music from the bandstand where a 1952 vintage nite-k-lub saxophone group was fouling the air, I said, “You bastards had better get used to that music; you’ll be hearing a hell of a lot of it for the next four years.”
Nobody laughed. I finished my double-tequila and went upstairs to my room to get hopelessly stoned by myself and pass out. It was that kind of a convention.
THE PERVASIVE SENSE of gloom among the press/media crowd in Miami was only slightly less obvious than the gung-ho, breast-beating arrogance of the Nixon delegates themselves. That was the real story of the convention: the strident, loutish confidence of the whole GOP machinery, from top to bottom. Looking back on that week, one of my clearest memories is that maddening “FOUR MORE YEARS!” chant from the Nixon Youth gallery in the convention hall. NBC’s John Chancellor compared the Nixon Youth cheering section to the Chicago “sewer workers” who were herded into the Stockyards convention hall in Chicago four years ago to cheer for Mayor Daley. The Nixon Youth people were not happy with Chancellor for making that remark on camera. They complained very bitterly about it, saying it was just another example of the “knee-jerk liberal” thinking that dominates the media.
But the truth is that Chancellor was absolutely right. Due to a strange set of circumstances, I spent two very tense hours right in the middle of that Nixon Youth mob on Tuesday night, and it gave me an opportunity to speak at considerable length with quite a few of them. …
What happened, in a nut, was that I got lost in a maze of hallways in the back reaches of the convention hall on Tuesday night about an hour or so before the roll-call vote on Nixon’s chances of winning the GOP nomination again this year…. I had just come off the convention floor, after the Secret Service lads chased me away from the First Family box where I was trying to hear what Charleton Heston was saying to Nelson Rockefeller, and in the nervous wake of an experience like that I felt a great thirst rising … so I tried to take a shortcut to the Railroad Lounge, where free beer was available to the press; but I blew it somewhere along the way, ended up in a big room jammed with Nixon Youth workers, getting themselves ready for a “spontaneous demonstration” at the moment of climax out there on the floor…. I was just idling around in the hallway, trying to go north for a beer, when I got swept up in a fast-moving mob of about 2000 people heading south at good speed, so instead of fighting the tide I just let myself be carried along to wherever they were going. …
Which turned out to be the “Ready Room,” in a far corner of the hall, where a dozen or so people wearing red hats and looking like small-town high-school football coaches were yelling into bullhorns and trying to whip this herd of screaming sheep into shape for the spontaneous demonstration, scheduled for 10:33 PM.
It was a very disciplined scene. The red-hatted men with the bullhorns did all the talking. Huge green plastic “refuse” sacks full of helium balloons were distributed, along with handfuls of New Year’s Eve party noisemakers and hundreds of big cardboard signs that said things like: “NIXON NOW!”… “FOUR MORE YEARS!” … “NO COMPROMISE!”
Most of the signs were freshly printed. They looked exactly like the “WE LOVE MAYOR DALEY” signs that Daley distributed to his sewer workers in Chicago in 1968: red and blue ink on a white background … but a few, here and there, were hand-lettered, and mine happened to be one of these. It said, “GARBAGE MEN DEMAND EQUAL TIME.” I had several choices, but this one seemed right for the occasion.
Actually, there was a long and active time lag between the moment when I was swept into the Ready Room and my decision to carry a sign in the spontaneous demonstration. I have a lot of on-the-spot notes about this, somewhere in my suitcase, but I can’t find them now and it’s 3:15 AM in Miami and I have to catch a plane for Chicago at noon—then change planes to Denver, then change again in Denver for the last plane to Aspen—so I’ll try to put some flesh on this scene when I get to Woody Creek and my own typewriter; this one is far too slow for good dialogue or fast-moving behavior.
Just to put a fast and tentative ending on it, however, what happened in that time lag was that they discovered me early on, and tried to throw me out—but I refused to go, and that’s when the dialogue started. For the first ten minutes or so I was getting very ominous Hells Angels flashbacks—all alone in a big crowd of hostile, cranked-up geeks in a mood to stomp somebody—but it soon became evident that these Nixon Youth people weren’t ready for that kind of madness.
Our first clash erupted when I looked up from where I was sitting on the floor against a wall in the back of the room and saw Ron Rosenbaum from the Village Voice coming at me in a knot of shouting Nixon Youth wranglers. “No press allowed!” they were screaming. “Get out of here! You can’t stay!”
They had nailed Rosenbaum at the door—but, instead of turning back and giving up, he plunged into the crowded room and made a beeline for the back wall, where he’d already spotted me sitting in peaceful anonymity. By the time he reached me he was gasping for breath and about six fraternity/jock types were clawing at his arms. “They’re trying to throw me out!” he shouted.
I looked up and shuddered, knowing my cover was blown. Within seconds, they were screaming at me, too. “You crazy bastard,” I shouted at Rosenbaum. “You fingered me! Look what you’ve done!”
“No press!” they were shouting. “OUT! Both of you!”
I stood up quickly and put my back to the wall, still cursing Rosenbaum. “That’s right!” I yelled. “Get that bastard out of here! No press allowed!” Rosenbaum stared at me. There was shock and repugnance in his eyes—as if he had just recognized me as a lineal descendant of Judas Iscariot. As they muscled him away, I began explaining to my accusers that I was really more of a political observer than a journalist. “Have you run for office?” I snapped at one of them. “No! I thought not, god-damnit! You don’t have the look of a man who’s been to the wall. I can see it in your face!”
He was taken aback by this charge. His mouth flapped for a few seconds, then he blurted out: “What about you? What office did you run for?”
I smiled gently. “Sheriff, my friend. I ran for Sheriff, out in Colorado—and I lost by just a hair. And it was the liberals who put the screws to me! Right! Are you surprised?”
He was definitely off balance.
“That’s why I came here as an observer,” I continued. “I wanted to see what it was like on the inside of a winning campaign.”
It was just about then that somebody noticed my “press” tag was attached to my shirt by a blue and white McGovern button. I’d been wearing it for three days, provoking occasional rude comments from hotheads on the convention floor and various hotel lobbies—but this was the first time I’d felt called upon to explain myself. It was, after all, the only visible McGovern button in Miami Beach that week—in Flamingo Park or anywhere else—and now I was trying to join a spontaneous Nixon Youth demonstration that was about to spill out onto the floor of the very convention that had just nominated Richard Nixon for re-election, against McGovern.
They seemed to feel I was mocking their efforts in some way … and at that point the argument became so complex and disjointed that I can’t possibly run it all down, here. It is enough, for now, to say that we finally compromised: If I refused to leave without violence, then I was damn well going to have to carry a sign in the spontaneous demonstration—and also wear a plastic red, white and blue Nixon hat. They never came right out and said it, but I could see they were uncomfortable at the prospect of all three network TV cameras looking down on their spontaneous Nixon Youth demonstration and zeroing in—for their own perverse reasons—on a weird-looking, 35-year-old speed freak with half his hair burned out from overindulgence, wearing a big blue McGovern button on his chest, carrying a tall cup of “Old Milwaukee” and shaking his fist at John Chancellor up in the NBC booth—screaming: “You dirty bastard! You’ll pay for this, by God! We’ll rip your goddamn teeth out! KILL! KILL! Your number just came up, you communist son of a bitch!”
I politely dismissed all suggestions that I remove my McGovern button, but I agreed to carry a sign and wear a plastic hat like everybody else. “Don’t worry,” I assured them. “You’ll be proud of me. There’s a lot of bad blood between me and John Chancellor. He put acid in my drink last month at the Democratic convention, then he tried to humiliate me in public.”
“Acid? Golly, that’s terrible! What kind of acid?”
“It felt like Sunshine,” I said.
“Yeah. He denied it, of course—But hell, he always denies it.”
“Why?” a girl asked.
“Would you admit a thing like that?” I said.
She shook her head emphatically. “But I wouldn’t do it, either,” she said. “You could kill somebody by making them drink acid—why would he want to kill you?”
I shrugged. “Who knows? He eats a lot of it himself.” I paused, sensing confusion…. “Actually I doubt if he really wanted to kill me. It was a hell of a dose, but not that strong.” I smiled. “All I remember is the first rush: it came up my spine like nine tarantulas … drilled me right to the bar stool for two hours; I couldn’t speak, couldn’t even blink my eyes.”
“Boy, what kind of acid does that?” somebody asked.
“Sunshine,” I said. “Every time.”
By now several others had picked up on the conversation. A bright-looking kid in a blue gabardine suit interrupted: “Sunshine acid? Are you talking about LSD?”
“Right,” I said.
Now the others understood. A few laughed, but others muttered darkly, “You mean John Chancellor goes around putting LSD in people’s drinks? He takes it himself? … He’s a dope addict? …”
“Golly,” said the girl. “That explains a lot, doesn’t it?”
By this time I was having a hard time keeping a straight face. These poor, ignorant young waterheads. Would they pass this weird revelation on to their parents when they got back home to Middletown, Shaker Heights and Orange County? Probably so, I thought. And then their parents would write letters to NBC, saying they’d learned from reliable sources that Chancellor was addicted to LSD-25—supplied to him in great quantities, no doubt, by Communist agents—and demanding that he be jerked off the air immediately and locked up.
I was tempted to start babbling crazily about Walter Cronkite: that he was heavy into the white slavery trade—sending agents to South Vietnam to adopt orphan girls, then shipping them back to his farm in Quebec to be lobotomized and sold into brothels up and down the Eastern seaboard …
But before I could get into this one, the men in the red hats began shouting that the magic moment was on us. The Ready Room crackled with tension; we were into the countdown. They divided us into four groups of about 500 each and gave the final instructions. We were to rush onto the floor and begin chanting, cheering, waving our signs at the TV cameras and generally whooping it up. Every other person was given a big garbage bag full of 25 or 30 helium balloons, which they were instructed to release just as soon as they reached the floor. Our entrance was timed precisely to coincide with the release of the thousands of non-helium balloons from the huge cages attached to the ceiling of the hall … so that our balloons would be rising while the others were falling, creating a sense of mass euphoria and perhaps even weightlessness for the prime time TV audience.
Indeed. I was ready for some good clean fun, at that point, and by the time we got the signal to start moving I was seized by a giddy conviction that we were all about to participate in a spectacle that would go down in history.
They herded us out of the Ready Room and called a ragged kind of cadence while we double-timed it across the wet grass under the guava trees in back of the hall, and finally burst through a well-guarded access door held open for us by Secret Service men just as the balloons were released from the ceiling … it was wonderful; I waved happily to the SS man as I raced past him with the herd and then onto the floor. The hall was so full of balloons that I couldn’t see anything at first, but then I spotted Chancellor up there in the booth and I let the bastard have it. First I held up my “GARBAGE MEN DEMAND EQUAL TIME” sign at him. Then, when I was sure he’d noticed the sign, I tucked it under my arm and ripped off my hat, clutching it in the same fist I was shaking angrily at the NBC booth and screaming at the top of my lungs: “You evil scumsucker! You’re through! You limp-wristed Nazi moron!”
I went deep into the foulest backwaters of my vocabulary for that trip, working myself into a flat-out screeching hate-frenzy for five or six minutes and drawing smiles of approval from some of my fellow demonstrators. They were dutifully chanting the slogans that had been assigned to them in the Ready Room—but I was really into it, and I could see that my zeal impressed them.
BUT A LITTLE bit of that bullshit goes a long way, and I quickly tired of it. When I realized that my erstwhile buddies were settling into the FOUR MORE YEARS chant, I figured it was time to move on.
Which was not easy. By this time, the whole crowd was facing the TV booths and screaming in unison. People were trampling each other to get up front and make themselves heard—or at least to get on camera for the homefolks—and the mood of that crowd was not receptive to the sight of a McGovern button in their midst, so I moved against the tide as gently as possible, keeping my elbows close down on my ribs and shouting “Chancellor to the Wall!” every 30 seconds or so, to keep myself inconspicuous.
By the time I got to the “periodical press” exit I was almost overcome with a sense of deja vu. I had seen all this before. I had been right in the middle of it before—but when?
Then it came to me. Yes. In 1964, at the Goldwater convention in San Francisco, when poor Barry unloaded that fateful line about “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, etc … ” I was on the floor of the Cow Palace when he laid that one on the crowd, and I remember feeling genuinely frightened at the violent reaction it provoked. The Goldwater delegates went completely amok for 15 or 20 minutes. He hadn’t even finished the sentence before they were on their feet, cheering wildly. Then, as the human thunder kept building, they mounted their metal chairs and began howling, shaking their fists at Huntley and Brinkley up in the NBC booth—and finally they began picking up those chairs with both hands and bashing them against chairs other delegates were still standing on.
It was a memorable performance, etched every bit as clearly in the grey folds of my brain as the police beatings I saw at the corner of Michigan and Balboa four years later … but the Nixon convention in Miami was not even in the same league with Chicago in ’68. The blinding stench of tear gas brought back memories, but only on the surface. Around midnight on Wednesday I found myself reeling around completely blind on Washington Avenue in front of the convention hall, bumping against cops wearing black rubber gas masks and running demonstrators clutching wet towels over their faces. Many of the cops were wearing khaki flak jackets and waving three-foot hickory pick-handles … but nobody hit me, and despite the gas and the chaos, I never felt in danger. Finally, when the gas got so bad that I no longer knew what direction I was moving in, I staggered across somebody’s lawn and began feeling my way along the outside of the house until I came to a water faucet. I sat down on the grass and soaked my handkerchief under the tap, then pressed it on my face, without rubbing, until I was able to see again. When I finally got up, I realized that at least a dozen cops had been standing within 20 feet of me the whole time, watching passively and not offering any help—but not beating me into a bloody, screaming coma, either.
That was the difference between Chicago and Miami. Or at least one of the most significant differences. If the cops in Chicago had found me crawling around in somebody’s front yard, wearing a “press” tag and blind from too much gas, they’d have broken half my ribs and then hauled me away in handcuffs for “resisting arrest.” I saw it happen so often that I still feel the bile rising when I think about it.
Mankiewicz Amok: Midnight Violence at the Wayfarer…The Origins of Eagleton; Death Rattle for the New Politics…Can a Bull Elk in the Rut Pass through the Eye of a Camel?… McGovern Bites the Bomb
Manchester, N.H., August 9, 1972—We arrived at the Wayfarer sometime around four-thirty or five on Thursday morning, badly twisted—and for a while neither one of us said anything. We just sat there in the driveway and stared straight ahead, with no focus. Somewhere in front of the windshield I thought I could see a long row of sand dunes in the fog, and there seemed to be small moving shapes.
“Jesus,” I said finally. “Look at all those goddamn sea otters. I thought they were extinct.”
“Sea otters?” Crouse muttered, hunching down on the wheel and staring intently into the darkness.
“Straight ahead,” I said. “They’re hunkered down in the dune grass. Hundreds of the bastards … Yeah …we’re almost to San Luis Obispo.”
“What?” he said, still squinting into the darkness.
I noticed he was running through the gears fairly rapidly: First-Second-Third Fourth … Fourth-Third-Second-First. Down and up, up and down; not paying much attention to what he was doing.
“You better slow down,” I said. “We’ll roll this bastard if we go into the turn with no warning … with these goddamn U-joints blown out.” I looked over at him. “What the fuck are you doing with the gears?”
He continued to shift aimlessly, not meeting my gaze. The radio was getting louder: some kind of big-beat hillbilly song about truck drivers popping little white pills and driving for six days with no sleep. I could just barely hear him when he started talking.
“I think we came to the motel,” he said. “There’s a man standing in there behind the desk, trying to watch us.”
“Fuck him,” I said. “We’re okay.”
He shook his head. “Not you.”
“The next thing is to register,” he said. “We’re here. McGovern headquarters. Manchester. New Hampshire … and that man in there might call the police if we sit out here any longer without doing something.”
I could see the man staring out at us through the glass doors. “Do we have reservations?” I said finally.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s take in the luggage.”
He twisted around in his seat and began counting out loud, very slowly: “One … Two … Three … Four … Five … Six . .. and two silver ice-buckets.” Then he shook his head slowly. “No … we can’t take it all at once.”
“The hell we can’t,” I snapped. “What the fuck do you want to do—leave it in the car?”
“Not mine,” I said. “Not with these U-joints like they are.”
“Bullshit,” he muttered. “U-joints, sea otters, sand dunes … I think we’re about to get busted; let’s walk in there and tell him we want to register.” He tossed off his seat belt and opened the door. “Let’s each take a suitcase and tell him who we are.”
“Right,” I said, opening my own door and stepping out. “We got here from Boston with no trouble. Why should we have any now?”
He was opening up the back, to get the luggage. It was one of those new Volvo station wagons with a hinge on the whole rear end, like a small garage door. I didn’t want to alarm the man inside the motel by moving slowly or erratically, so I planted my left foot firmly on the gravel driveway and moved fast toward the rear of the car.
WHACK!!! A dull sound in my ear, and pain all over my head. I heard myself screech … then reeling across the gravel and falling into shrubbery, grasping wildly for a handhold, then hitting a wooden wall with a heavy thump … then silence, while I leaned there, holding onto the wall with one hand and my head with the other. I could see Crouse watching me, saying something I couldn’t hear. The right half of my skull felt like it had just been blown off by a bazooka. But I felt no blood or bone splinters, and after 40 seconds or so I managed to straighten up.
“Jesus god!” I said. “What was that?”
He shook his head. “You just suddenly fell away and started yelling,” he said. “Christ, you took a real crack on the head—but you were coming so fast I couldn’t say anything until …”
“Was it Mankiewicz?” I asked.
He hesitated, seeming to think for a moment, then nodded. “I think so,” he said quietly. “But he came out of the darkness so fast, I couldn’t be sure. Jesus, he never even broke stride. He got a full-stroke running shot on you with that big leather sap he carries … then he kept right on going; across the driveway and into those bushes at the end of the building, where the path leads down to the river … over there by the gazebo.”
I could see the white-domed wooden gazebo out there in the moonlight, squatting peacefully about 10 yards off-shore in the slow-moving current of the Piscataquog River … but now it seemed very ominous-looking, and big enough inside to conceal a dozen men with saps.
Was Mankiewicz out there? How long had he been waiting? And how had he known I was coming? It had been a last-minute decision, precipitated by a snarling argument with the night manager of the Ritz-Carleton in Boston. He’d refused to cash a check for me at 2:00 AM … but he finally agreed to spring for $10 if I gave the bellboy 10% of it for bringing the cash up to the room.
By that time, the bellboy was so rattled that he forgot to take the check. I had to coax him back down the hall and push it into his hands … and there was no argument when we checked out moments later, after stripping the room of everything we could haul through the lobby in big laundry bags.
Now, 90 miles away on the outskirts of Manchester, I had to shut one eye in order to focus on Crouse. “Are you sure that was Mankiewicz who hit me?” I asked, trying to look him in the eye.
“How did he know I’d be here tonight?” I snapped. “You fingered me, didn’t you?”
“Hell no!” he replied. “I didn’t even know, myself, until we had that scene at the Ritz.”
I thought for a moment, trying to reconstruct the events that had brought us to this place. “Back there in Boston, you were gone for ten minutes!” I said, “when you went out to get your car … yes … you carried those ice buckets out, then you disappeared.” I slammed my fist on the raised rear door of the Volvo. “You had time to call, didn’t you?”
He was pulling our bags out, trying to ignore me.
“Who else could have tipped him off?” I shouted.
He glanced nervously at the man behind the desk inside the office. “Okay,” he said finally. “I might as well admit it … Yeah, I knew Frank was laying for you, so I called him and set it all up.” My head was beginning to swell. “Why?” I groaned. “What was in it for you?”
He shrugged, then reached for another suitcase. “Money,” he said. “Power. He promised me a job in the White House.”
I nodded. “So you set me up, you bastard.”
“Why not,” he replied. “I’ve worked with Frank before. We understand each other.” He smiled. “How do you think I got this new Volvo wagon?”
“From Rolling Stone,” I said. “Hell, they paid for mine.”
“Sure, we all got them.”
He stared at me, looking very groggy. “Bullshit,” he muttered. “Let’s get inside before Mankiewicz decides to come back and finish you off.” He nodded toward the gazebo. “I can hear him pacing around out there … and if I know Frank, he’ll want to finish the job.”
I focused my good eye on the gazebo, a moonlit wooden pillbox out in the river … Then I picked up my bag. “You’re right,” I said. “He’ll make another try. Let’s get inside. I have a can of Mace in that satchel. You think he can handle it?”
“Mace. Soak the fucker down with it. Put him right to his knees, stone blind, unable to breathe for 45 minutes.”
Crouse nodded. “Right, it’ll be a good lesson for him. That arrogant bastard. This’ll teach him to go around cracking responsible journalists in the head.”
CHECKING INTO THE Wayfarer was difficult, but not in the way we expected. The man at the desk ignored our twisted condition and sent us off to a wing so far from the main nexus of the hotel that it took us about 45 minutes to find our rooms … and by then it was almost dawn, so we cranked up the tape machine and got into the Singapore Grey for a while … admiring the appointments and congratulating ourselves on having the wisdom to flee the Ritz-Carleton and move to a decent place like the Wayfarer.
In the course of this apparently endless campaign I have set up the National Affairs Desk in some of the worst hotels, motels and other foul commercial lodging establishments in the western world. Politicians, journalists and traveling salesmen seem to gravitate to these places—for reasons I’d rather not think about, right now—but the Wayfarer is a rare and constant exception. The one that proves the rule, perhaps … but, for whatever reason, it is one of my favorite places: a rambling, woodsy bar racks with big rooms, good food, full ice machines, and … yes … a brief history of pleasant memories.
The Wayfarer was Gene McCarthy’s headquarters for the New Hampshire primary in 1968; and it was also McGovern’s—unofficially, at least—in the winter of ’72. The recent history of the place suggests that it may be something like the Valley Forge of presidential politics. Or maybe the Wayfarer’s peculiar mystique has to do with the nature of the New Hampshire primary. There is nothing else quite like it: An intensely personal kind of politics that quickly goes out of style when the field starts narrowing down and the survivors move on to other, larger and far more complex states.
This is precisely why both McCarthy and McGovern did so well here. The New Hampshire primary is one of the few situations in presidential politics where the candidates are forced to campaign like human beings, on the same level with the voters. There is no Secret Service presence in New Hampshire, no vast and everpresent staff of hired minions and police escorts … the candidates drive around the state in rented Fords, accompanied by a handful of local workers and press people, and they actually walk into people’s living rooms and try to explain themselves—taking any and all questions face to face, with no screening, and no place to hide when things get nasty.
It was up in New Hampshire, several weeks before the vote, that I blundered into that now infamous “Men’s Room Interview” with McGovern. People have been asking me about it ever since—as if it were some kind of weird journalistic coup, a rare and unnatural accomplishment pulled off by what had to have been a super-inventive or at least super-aggressive pervert.
But in truth it was nothing more than a casual conversation between two people standing at adjoining urinals. I went in there to piss—not to talk to George McGovern—but when I noticed him standing next to me I figured it was only natural to ask him what was happening. If it had been the men’s room at the Los Angeles Coliseum during half time at a Rams49ers game I would probably have cursed John Brodie for throwing “that last interception” … but since we were standing in Exeter, New Hampshire, about midway through a presidential primary, I cursed Sen. Harold Hughes for siding with Muskie instead of the man I was talking to … and if we had just driven through a terrible hailstorm I would probably have cursed the hailstones instead of Hughes.
Which hardly matters. The point is that anybody could have walked up to that urinal next to McGovern at that moment, and asked him anything they wanted—and he would have answered, the same way he answered me.
That is the odd magic of the New Hampshire primary, and I didn’t really appreciate it until about two months later when I realized that every time McGovern wanted to piss, at least nine Secret Service agents would swoop into the nearest men’s room and clear it completely, then cordon off the whole area while the poor bastard went in alone to empty his bladder.
This was only one of the big changes in the style of the McGovern campaign that Crouse and I tried to discuss rationally in the dawn hours of that Friday morning in Manchester. George was scheduled to arrive at the local airport at 10:15, then lead a huge caravan of press, staff and SS men to the J.F. McElwain Shoe factory on Silver Street—a symbolic Return to The Roots; his first full-dress campaign appearance since the disastrous “Eagleton affair.”
It was the first time since the day after the California primary that we’d had a chance to talk seriously about McGovern. We had covered most of the primaries together, and we had both been in Miami for the convention, but I don’t recall uttering a single coherent sentence the whole time I was down there—except perhaps on Thursday afternoon in the basement coffee shop of the Doral Beach Hotel, when I spent an hour or so denouncing McGovern for selecting a “bum” and a “hack” like Eagleton to share the ticket with him. Mankiewicz had not brought the official word down from the penthouse yet, but the name had already leaked and nobody seemed very happy about it.
The lobby of the Doral was jammed with media people, waiting for the announcement, but after milling around up there for a while I went down to the coffee shop with Dave Sugarman, a 22-year-old Dartmouth student from Manchester who had signed on as a volunteer “press aide” in New Hampshire and gone on to handle McGovern’s press operations in several other key primary states. He was obviously less than pleased with the Eagleton choice. But he was, after all, on The Staff—so he did his duty and tried to calm me down.
He failed. I had been without sleep for two or three days at the time, and my temper was close to the surface. Beyond that, I had spent the past five or six days brooding angrily over the list of vice-presidential possibilities that McGovern had floated in the New York Times before the convention even started. I recall telling Mankiewicz in the coffee shop on Friday night that I had never seen so many bums and hacks listed in a single paragraph in any publication for any reason.
Two names that come to mind are Gov. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas and Gov. Jimmy Carter of Georgia. The others—including Eagleton and Shriver—were almost as bad, I thought. But Frank assured me that my wrath was premature. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
The clear implication, which made fine sense at the time, was that McGovern was merely tossing a few bones to the demoralized “party bosses” who knew they were about to get steam-rollered. Eagleton was a Muskie man, Shriver was a Kennedy by marriage and a good friend of both Daley and Humphrey, Carter and Bumpers were Good Ole Boys … but I had spent enough time around Mankiewicz in the past six months to understand that he was saying all these names were just decoys: That when the deal went down, McGovern would choose his vice-president with the same merciless eye to the New Politics that had characterized his sweep through the primaries.
SO THERE WAS nothing personal in my loud objections to Eagleton a week later. It struck me as a cheap and unnecessary concession to the pieced-off wardheeler syndrome that McGovern had been fighting all along. Tom Eagleton was exactly the kind of VP candidate that Muskie or Humphrey would have chosen: a harmless, Catholic, neo-liberal Rotarian nebbish from one of the border states, who presumably wouldn’t make waves. A “progressive young centrist” with more ambition than brains: Eagleton would have run with anybody. Four years earlier he had seen Hubert lift Muskie out of obscurity and turn him into a national figure, even in defeat. Big Ed had blown it, of course, but his role in the ’68 campaign had given him priceless Exposure the same” kind of Exposure that Eagleton knew he would need as a springboard to the White House in ’76 or ’80, depending on whether McGovern won or lost in ’72. But winning or losing didn’t really matter to Eagleton. The important thing was getting on the ticket. Exposure. Recognition. No more of this “Tom Who?” bullshit. He was a career politician, and he had driven himself harder than all but a few people knew, to get where he was on that Thursday afternoon in Miami when he heard McGovern’s voice on the telephone.
Did he have any “skeletons in his closet”?
Fuck no, he didn’t. At least none that either Mankiewicz or Hart were going to locate, that afternoon, without a king-hell set of bolt-cutters. Eagleton understood—like all the rest of us in Miami that day—that McGovern had to name his choice by 4:00 PM or take his chances with whoever the convention might eventually nominate in what would surely have been a brain-rattling holocaust on Thursday night. It was bad enough with Eagleton already chosen; God only knows who might have emerged if the delegates had actually been forced to name the vice-presidential nominee in an all-night floor fight. Given the nature and mood of the delegates on that floor, McGovern might have found himself running with Evil Knievel.
SO ALL THIS gibberish about how many questions Mankiewicz asked Eagleton and how much truth Eagleton avoided telling is beside the point. The deed was done when McGovern made the call. Only a lunatic would have expected Eagleton to start babbling about his “shock treatments” at that point. Shit, all he had to do was stall for 15 minutes; just keep talking … it was almost four o’clock, and McGovern was out of options.
Just exactly why things came to this desperate pass is still not clear. It is almost impossible now to find anybody even remotely associated with McGovern who will admit to having been for Eagleton. He “sort of happened,” they say, “because none of the others were quite right.” Leonard Woodcock, president of the United Auto Workers, was a Catholic, but a fallen one. (“He hasn’t been to church in 20 years,” said one McGovern aide.) Wisconsin Gov. Pat Lucey was Catholic, but his wife was given to tantrums in the Martha Mitchell style … and Mayor Kevin White of Boston was not acceptable to Ted Kennedy. At least that’s how I heard it from one of McGovern’s speech-writers. The official public version, however, says White was vetoed by the two kingpins of McGovern’s Massachusetts delegation: Harvard Economist John Kenneth Galbraith and Congressman Robert F. Drinian.
One member of the Massachusetts delegation told me Galbraith and Drinian had nothing to do with White’s rejection —but when I asked Galbraith about it in Miami, on the first night of the GOP convention, he first refused to say anything at all—but when I persisted he finally said, “Well, I’ll tell you this much—it wasn’t Teddy.” Selah.
The other vice-presidential finalists were rejected for a variety of reasons that don’t really matter much, now, because the point of the whole grim story is that McGovern and his braintrust were determined from the start to use the VP as a peace offering to the Old Politics gang they’d just beaten. It was crucial, they felt, to select somebody acceptable to the Old Guard: The Meany / Daley / Muskie / Humphrey / Truman / LBJ axis—because McGovern needed those bastards, to beat Nixon.
Which may be true—or at least as true as the hoary wisdom that said a maverick like McGovern couldn’t possibly win the Democratic nomination because Ed Muskie began the campaign with a lock on the Party Machinery and all the pols who mattered.
You can’t beat City Hall, right?
One of McGovern’s closest advisors, now, is a widely-respected political wizard named Fred Dutton, a 49-year-old Washington lawyer and longtime Kennedy advisor who recently wrote a book called Changing Sources of Power: American Politics in the 1970’s. Dutton’s main theory revolves around the idea that the politics of the Seventies will be drastically different from the politics of the last 30 or even 40 years; that the 1970s will produce a “cornerstone generation” that will bring about a major historical watershed in American politics.
“The politics of the Seventies offer one of those rare chances to rally a new following,” he says, “or at least to provoke a different configuration, out of this immense sector of younger voters who are still at an impressionable and responsive stage. If an exciting individual or cause really stirs this generation, it could be activated in numbers that make irrelevant any past indicator of political participation among the young, and it would then become one of the few human waves of historic consequence. If this still unmarshalled mass is allowed to scatter, or a substantial part of it is politically turned off, it will pass by as one of the great lost opportunities in American politics and history.”
The book makes more sense—to me, at least—than anything I’ve read about politics in ten years. It is a cool, scholarly affirmation of the instinct that plunged me and almost (but not quite) half the population of this Rocky Mountain valley where I live into what came to be known as “The Aspen Freak Power Uprising” of 1969 and ’70.
Ah yes … but that is a different story. No time for it now.
We were talking about Fred Dutton’s book, which reads like a perfect blueprint for everything the McGovern campaign seemed to stand for—until sometime around the middle of the California primary, when Dutton finally agreed to take an active, out-front role in George’s campaign. This was also the fateful point in time when it suddenly became clear to almost every political pro in the country except Hubert Humphrey and his campaign manager that McGovern was going to be the Democratic Party’s candidate against Nixon in 1972 … and Dutton was not alone when the time came for those who saw the handwriting on the wall, as it were, to come out of their holes and sign on. Senators Frank Church of Idaho, Abe Ribicoff of Connecticut, John Tunney of California: these three and many more scratched all their previous commitments and got strong behind McGovern. By June 1—six days before the vote in California—George had more rich and powerful friends than he knew what to do with.
Not everyone agrees that June 1 was also the day—give or take a few—when the McGovern campaign seemed to peak and start losing its energy. There was still enough momentum to edge Hubert in California and to win New York by a landslide against no opposition … and enough tactical expertise to croak the ABM (Anybody But McGovern) Movement in Miami. …
But once that was done—the moment his troops understood that George had actually won the nomination—his act started falling apart.
“ANOTHER PROBLEM IN Wisconsin, as elsewhere, is patching things up with old-line Democrats and labor leaders who were strong backers of Senator Humphrey or Senator Muskie. The organization is working on it. Everywhere that an office is opened, the Democratic party and local candidates are invited to share it. Bumper stickers and signs are being made available to permit candidates to have their names on them with Mr. McGovern. And other efforts are being made. …
“… a move was made a few days ago to try to win favor from Rep. Clement J. Zablocki, a Democrat who has been a strong supporter of the Vietnam war policies of both Democratic and Republican administrations. Mr. Zablocki, whose Fourth (congressional) District includes Milwaukee’s working class South Side, is faced with primary opposition Sept. 12, from Grant Waldo, an anti-war candidate.
“When the McGovern state organizers found that their Fourth District chairman was running Mr. Waldo’s campaign, they squeezed him out abruptly. ‘We can’t possibly win the Fourth without the Zablocki voters,’ Mr. Dixon explained.”
—excerpt from a New York Times article headlined “Wisconsin McGovern Team Revives Preprimary Faith”
—by Douglas Kneeland, 8/25/72
There will not be universal agreement, for instance, on the assumption that Nixon is seriously worried about losing to McGovern in November. The September 1 Gallup poll showed Nixon leading by 61 percent to 30 percent and still climbing … while McGovern, on the same day, was appearing on the CBS evening news to deny that his recently hired campaign chairman, former Democratic party chief Larry O’Brien, was threatening to quit because the campaign is “disorganized” and “uncoordinated.” Moments later, O’Brien appeared on the screen to say things weren’t really that bad, and that there was no truth to any rumors concerning his inability to stay in the same room for more than 40 seconds with Gary Hart, McGovern’s campaign manager…. Then Hart came on to deny any and all rumors to the effect that he would just as soon feed O’Brien, head-first, into the nearest meat grinder.
This kind of thing is extremely heavy-duty for a presidential candidate. Private power struggles inside a campaign are common enough, but when one of your top three men flips out and starts blowing his bile all over the national press and the TV networks, it means you’re in a lot more trouble than you realized … and when the howler is a veteran professional pol like O’Brien, you have to start flirting with words like Madness, Treachery and Doom.
It would have seemed far more logical if Gary Hart had been the one to flip out. After all, he’s only 34 years old, managing his first presidential campaign, not used to this kind of pressure, etc…. but when I called Gary today, almost immediately after catching his strange act on the Cronkite show, he sounded more cheerful and relaxed than I’d ever heard him. It was like calling McGovern headquarters and talking with Alfred E. Neuman … “What! Me worry?”
But Hart has been talking like that since last Christmas: Relentless optimism. There was never any doubt in his mind—at least not in any conversation with me—that McGovern was going to win the Democratic nomination, and then the Presidency. One of his central beliefs for the past two years has been that winning the Democratic nomination would be much harder than beating Nixon.
He explained it to me one night in Nebraska, sitting in the bar of the Omaha Hilton on the day before the primary: Nixon was a very vulnerable incumbent, he’d failed to end the war, he’d botched the economy, he was a terrible campaigner, he would crack under pressure, nobody trusted him, etc. …
So any Democratic candidate could beat Nixon, and all the candidates knew it. That’s why they’d been fighting like wolverines for the nomination: Especially Humphrey, who was a far more effective campaigner than Nixon, and who had just inherited enough of the “regular” old-line party machinery, money and connections from the Muskie campaign to make McGovern go into California and take on what amounted to the entire Old Guard of the Democratic party…. California was the key to both the nomination and the White House; a victory on the coast would make all the rest seem easy.
Hart and I agreed on all this, at the time. Nixon was obviously vulnerable, and he was such a rotten campaigner that Humphrey—even without the Youth Vote or the activist Left—had gained something like 15 points on Nixon in seven weeks, and only lost by an eyelash. So this time around, with even a third of the 25 million potential new voters added to Hubert’s ’68 power base, anybody who could win the Democratic nomination was almost a cinch to win the presidency.
Now, looking back on that conversation, I can see a few flaws in our thinking. We should have known, for instance, that Nixon had been hoarding his best shots for the ’72 stretch drive: The China/Russia trips, pulling the troops out of Vietnam, ram-rodding the economy … but none of these things, no matter how successful, would change enough votes to offset the Youth Vote. The day after he won the nomination, McGovern would bank at least five million 18 to 21-year-old votes … and another five million by mid-October, after massive campus registration drives.
So the minor flaws didn’t matter a hell of a lot. It was the Big One—the Humphrey Sidewinder—that blew half the spine out of McGovern’s campaign strategy. The one thing that apparently never occurred to either Hart or Frank Mankiewicz—or to me either, for that matter, despite my rancid contempt for the Humphrey-Meany axis and everything it stood for—was the ominous possibility that those evil bastards would refuse to close ranks behind McGovern once he had the nomination. It was almost inconceivable that they would be so bitter in defeat that they would tacitly deliver their own supporters to a conservative Republican incumbent, instead of at least trying to rally them behind the candidate of their own party … but this is what they have done, and in doing it they have managed to crack the very foundations of what McGovern had naturally assumed would be the traditional hard core of his Democratic Party power base.
“THE TRADEMARK OF the McGovern campaign since it started has been ineptitude which somehow turns into victory.”
—unnamed “McGovern topsider,” quote in Newsweek, 8/14/72
God only knows who actually said that. It sounds like vintage Mankiewicz—from that speedy, free-falling era that ended in California…. not on the night of June 6, when the votes were counted, but somewhere prior to June 1, when Frank and all the others were still wallowing crazily in the news from all those polls that said McGovern was going to stomp Humphrey in California by anywhere from 15 to 20 percentage points.
California was “the superbowl.” Hubert himself had said it; whoever won “on the coast” would get the nod in Miami … it was a foregone conclusion, and I doubt if I’ll ever forget the sight of Mankiewicz, Gary Hart and all the other “vets” swaggering through the lobby of the Wilshire Hyatt House Hotel in Los Angeles. It was almost impossible to talk to them. They were “high as a pigeon,” in Lord Buckley’s words, and the adrenalin level in McGovern headquarters just a few blocks down Wilshire Boulevard was so tall that you could feel it out on the sidewalk. During the day you could almost hear the energy humming, and at night the place seemed to glow. One of the lowest underdog trips in American politics was about to explode in a monumental victory celebration at the Hollywood Palladium on Tuesday night, and the people who’d put it together were feeling like champions. …
Until somewhere around midnight on election day, when the votes came rolling in and cut McGovern’s victory margin down to a nervous five percentage points, instead of 15 or 20. On Monday afternoon, Gary Hart—McGovern’s 34-year-old national campaign manager—had tried to ease the pain of the shock he suddenly realized was coming by announcing that the final margin would be “between eight and 10 percent.” And just before the polls closed on Tuesday, Mankiewicz cut it again, telling a network TV reporter that he thought McGovern would win California by five points … which turned out to be right on the mark, although neither Hart nor Mankiewicz nor any of the embarrassed pollsters could offer any coherent explanation for what looked like a massive swing to Humphrey in the final days of the campaign.
Sometime around two on Wednesday morning I was standing with Hart in the hall outside the hotel pressroom when a glum-looking student canvasser grabbed his arm and asked “What happened?”
“What do you mean, ‘What happened?’ ” Gary snapped. “We won, god-damnit! What did you expect?”
The young volunteer stared at him, but before he could say anything Hart cut him off: “What are you standing around here for? Let’s go to New York. We have work to do.”
The boy hesitated, then flashed a thin smile and darted into the press room, where the beer was flowing free and nobody was hung up on embarrassing questions like “What happened?”
BUT THE QUESTION remains, and the answer is too pregnant to be shrugged off with a simple drill-sergeant’s comment like “We won.” Which was true, and a lot of people called it a Great Victory—which was also true, in a sense—but in the tight little circle of braintrusters who run the McGovern campaign, the reaction was not euphoric. There was nothing wrong with the victory margin itself. It was “very convincing,” they said. “Absolutely decisive.” And besides, it cinched the nomination. California’s 271 delegates would send McGovern down to Miami with enough votes to win on the first ballot.
Which he did—although not without some unexpected problems and a few hellish aftereffects—but when the sun loomed out of the ocean to light Miami Beach on the morning of Thursday, July 14, George McGovern was the man in the catbird seat. Despite the savage opposition of Big Labor and “The Bosses,” McGovern would carry the party colors against Nixon in November. For better or for worse … and to ease the sting of those who figured it was definitely worse, McGovern made room in his chariot for a sharp and ambitious young pol from Missouri named Thomas Eagleton; a first-term Senator and a Catholic by birth, known as a friend of Big Labor and also known—even to McGovern—as a man who didn’t mind taking 13 or 14 tall drinks now and then, and whose only other distinguishing factor at the time was a naked and overweening lust for the Main Chance. Sen. Eagleton was one of the two “possibles” on McGovern’s list of VP candidates who didn’t mind telling anyone who asked that he was ready and willing to spring for it. The other was Ted Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Sargeant Shriver, a good friend of Mayor Daley’s.
McGovern never even considered Shriver, in Miami, and his personal affinity for Eagleton was close to nil. Which hardly mattered—until about six hours before the deadline on Thursday—because up until then George was still convinced that Ted Kennedy would “come around.” He had never given much serious thought to alternative candidates, because McGovern and most of his ranking staff people had been interpreting Kennedy’s hazy/negative reaction to the VP offer as a sort of shrewd flirtation that would eventually come up “yes.” A McGovern-Kennedy ticket would, after all, put Nixon in deep trouble from the start—and it would also give Teddy a guaranteed launching pad for 1980, when he would still be two years younger than McGovern is today.
Indeed. It made fine sense, on paper, and I recall making that same argument, myself, a few months back—but I’d no sooner sent it off on the Mojo wire than I realized it made no sense at all. There was something finally and chemically wrong with the idea of Ted Kennedy running for vice president; it would be like the Jets trading Joe Namath to the Dallas Cowboys as a sub for Roger Staubach.
Which might make excellent sense, from some angles, but Namath would never consent to it—for the same reasons Kennedy wouldn’t put his own presidential ambitions in limbo. for eight years, behind McGovern or anyone else. Superstar politicians and superstar quarterbacks have the same kind of delicate egos, and people who live on that level grow accustomed to very thin, rarified air. They have trouble breathing in the lower altitudes; and if they can’t breathe right, they can’t function.
The ego is the crucial factor here, but ego is a hard thing to put on paper—especially on that 3×5 size McGovern recommends. File cards are handy for precinct canvassing, and for people who want to get heavy into the Dewey Decimal System, but they are not much good for cataloguing things like Lust, Ambition or Madness.
This may explain why McGovern blew his gig with Kennedy. It was a perfectly rational notion—and that was the flaw, because a man on the scent of the White House is rarely rational. He is more like a beast in heat: A bull elk in the rut, crashing blindly through the timber in a fever for something to fuck. Anything! A cow, a calf, a mare—any flesh and blood beast with a hole in it. The bull elk is a very crafty animal for about 50 weeks of the year; his senses are so sharp that only an artful stalker can get within 1000 yards of him … but when the rut comes on, in the autumn, any geek with the sense to blow an elk-whistle can lure a bull elk right up to his car in 10 minutes if he can drive within hearing range.
The dumb bastards lose all control of themselves when the rut comes on. Their eyes glaze over, their ears pack up with hot wax, and their loins get heavy with blood. Anything that sounds like a cow elk in heat will fuse the central nervous systems of every bull on the mountain. They will race through the timber like huge cannonballs, trampling small trees and scraping off bloody chunks of their own hair on the unyielding bark of the big ones. They behave like sharks in a feeding frenzy, attacking each other with all the demented violence of human drug dealers gone mad on their own wares.
A career politician finally smelling the White House is not much different from a bull elk in the rut. He will stop at nothing, trashing anything that gets in his way; and anything he can’t handle personally he will hire out—or, failing that, make a deal. It is a difficult syndrome for most people to understand, because few of us ever come close to the kind of Ultimate Power and Achievement that the White House represents to a career politician.
The Presidency is as far as he can go. There is no more. The currency of politics is power, and once you’ve been the Most Powerful Man in the World for four years, everything else is downhill— except four more years on the same trip.
A Vicious Attack on the Demonstrators …
The Silent Seige of the Fontainebleau …
“These People Should Go Back Where They Belong.”
On Tuesday afternoon my car disappeared. I left it on the street in front of the hotel while I went in to pick up my swimming trunks, and when I came back out, it was gone. To hell with it, I thought, it was time to get out of Miami.
I went up to my room and thought for a while, sitting with my back to the typewriter and staring out the window at the big ocean-going yachts and luxury houseboats tied up across the street, at the piers along Indian Creek. Last week they’d been crawling with people, and many cocktail parties. Every time the Fontainebleau lobby started buzzing with rumors about another crowd of demonstrators bearing down on the hotel from the direction of Flamingo Park, the boats across Collins Avenue would fill up with laughing Republican delegates wearing striped blazers and cocktail dresses. There was no better place, they said, for watching the street action. As the demonstrators approached the front entrance to the hotel, they found themselves walking a gauntlet of riot-equipped police on one side, and martini-sipping GOP delegates on the other.
One yacht—the Wild Rose, out of Houston—rumbled back and forth, just offshore, at every demonstration. From the middle of Collins Avenue, you could see the guests lounging in deck chairs, observing the action through high-powered field glasses, and reaching around from time to time to accept a fresh drink from crewmen wearing white serving jackets with gold epaulets.
The scene on the foredeck of the Wild Rose was so gross, so flagrantly decadent, that it was hard to avoid comparing it with the kind of bloodthirsty arrogance normally associated with the last days of the Roman Empire: Here was a crowd of rich Texans, floating around on a $100,000 yacht in front of a palatial Miami Beach hotel, giggling with excitement at the prospect of watching their hired gladiators brutalize a mob of howling, half-naked Christians. I half expected them to start whooping for blood and giving the Thumbs Down signal.
Nobody who was out there on the street with the demonstrators would be naive enough to compare them to “helpless Christians.” With the lone exception of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the demonstrators in Miami were a useless mob of ignorant, chicken-shit ego-junkies whose only accomplishment was to embarrass the whole tradition of public protest. They were hopelessly disorganized, they had no real purpose in being there, and about half of them were so wasted on grass, wine and downers that they couldn’t say for sure whether they were raising hell in Miami, or San Diego.
Five weeks earlier, these same people had been sitting in the lobby of the Doral, calling George McGovern a “lying pig” and a “warmonger.” Their target-hotel this time was the Fontainebleau, headquarters for the national press and many TV cameras. If the Rolling Stones came to Miami for a free concert, these assholes would build their own fence around the bandstand—just so they could have something to tear down and then “crash the gates.”
During both conventions, Flamingo Park was known as “Quaalude Alley,” in deference to the brand of downers favored by most demonstrators. Quaalude is a mild sleeping pill, but—consumed in large quantities, along with wine, grass and adrenalin—it produces the same kind of stupid, mean-drunk effect as Seconal (“Reds”). The Quaalude effect was so obvious in Flamingo Park that the “Last Patrol” caravan of Vietnam Vets—who came here in motorcades from all parts of the country—refused to even set up camp with the other demonstrators. They had serious business in Miami, they explained, and the last thing they needed was a public alliance with a mob of stoned street crazies and screaming teenyboppers.
The Vets made their camp in a far corner of the Park, then sealed it off with a network of perimeter guards and checkpoints that made it virtually impossible to even enter that area unless you knew somebody inside. There was an ominous sense of dignity about everything the VVAW did in Miami. They rarely even hinted at violence, but their very presence was menacing—on a level that the Yippies, Zippies and SDS street crazies never even approached, despite all their yelling and trashing.
The most impressive single performance in Miami during the three days of the GOP convention was the VVAW march on the Fontainebleau on Tuesday afternoon. Most of the press and TV people were either down at the Convention Hall, covering the “liberals vs. conservatives” floor-fight over rules for seating delegates in 1976—or standing around in the boiling mid-afternoon sun at Miami International Airport, waiting for Nixon to come swooping out of the sky in Air Force One.
My own plan for that afternoon was to drive far out to the end of Key Biscayne and find an empty part of the beach where I could swim by myself in the ocean, and not have to talk to anybody for a while. I didn’t give a fuck about watching the rules fight, a doomed charade that the Nixon braintrust had already settled in favor of the conservatives … and I saw no point in going out to the airport to watch 3000 well-rehearsed “Nixon Youth” robots “welcome the President.”
Given these two depressing options, I figured Tuesday was as good a day as any to get away from politics and act like a human being for a change—or better still, like an animal. Just get off by myself and drift around naked in the sea for a few hours. …
But as I drove toward Key Biscayne with the top down, squinting into the sun, I saw the Vets. … They were moving up Collins Avenue in dead silence; 1200 of them dressed in battle fatigues, helmets, combat boots … a few carried full-size plastic M-16s, many peace symbols, girlfriends walking beside vets being pushed along the street in slow-moving wheelchairs, others walking jerkily on crutches…. But nobody spoke; all the “stop, start” … “fast, slow” … “left, right” commands came from “platoon leaders” walking slightly off to the side of the main column and using hand signals.
One look at that eerie procession killed my plan to go swimming that afternoon. I left my car at a parking meter in front of the Cadillac Hotel and joined the march…. No, “joined” is the wrong word; that was not the kind of procession you just walked up and “joined.” Not without paying some very heavy dues: An arm gone here, a leg there, paralysis, a face full of lumpy scar tissue … all staring straight ahead as the long silent column moved between rows of hotel porches full of tight-lipped Senior Citizens, through the heart of Miami Beach.
The silence of the march was contagious, almost threatening. There were hundreds of spectators, but nobody said a word. I walked beside the column for 10 blocks, and the only sounds I remember hearing were the soft thump of boot leather on hot asphalt and the occasional rattling of an open canteen top.
THE FONTAINEBLEAU WAS already walled off from the street by 500 heavily-armed cops when the front ranks of the Last Patrol arrived, still marching in total silence. Several hours earlier, a noisy mob of Yippie/Zippie/SDS “non-delegates” had shown up in front of the Fontainebleau and been met with jeers and curses from GOP delegates and other partisan spectators, massed behind the police lines…. But now there was no jeering. Even the cops seemed deflated. They watched nervously from behind their face-shields as the VVAW platoon leaders, still using hand signals, funneled the column into a tight semicircle that blocked all three northbound lanes of Collins Avenue. During earlier demonstrations—at least six in the past three days—the police had poked people with riot sticks to make sure at least one lane of the street stayed open for local traffic, and on the one occasion when mere prodding didn’t work, they had charged the demonstrators and cleared the street completely.
But not now. For the first and only time during the whole convention, the cops were clearly off balance. The Vets could have closed all six lanes of Collins Avenue if they’d wanted to, and nobody would have argued. I have been covering anti-war demonstrations with depressing regularity since the winter of 1964, in cities all over the country, and I have never seen cops so intimidated by demonstrators as they were in front of the Fontainebleau hotel on that hot Tuesday afternoon in Miami Beach.
There was an awful tension in that silence. Not even that pack of rich sybarites out there on the foredeck of the Wild Rose of Houston could stay in their seats for this show. They were standing up at the rail, looking worried, getting very bad vibrations from whatever was happening over there in the street. Was something wrong with their gladiators? Were they spooked? And why was there no noise?
After five more minutes of harsh silence, one of the VVAW platoon leaders suddenly picked up a bullhorn and said: “We want to come inside.”
Nobody answered, but an almost visible shudder ran through the crowd. “O my God!” a man standing next to me muttered. I felt a strange tightness coming over me, and I reacted instinctively—for the first time in a long, long while—by slipping my notebook into my belt and reaching down to take off my watch. The first thing to go in a street fight is always your watch, and once you’ve lost a few, you develop a certain instinct that lets you know when it’s time to get the thing off your wrist and into a safe pocket.
I can’t say for sure what I would have done if the Last Patrol had tried to crack the police line and seize control of the Fontainebleau—but I have a fair idea, based on instinct and rude experience, so the unexpected appearance of Congressman Pete McCloskey on that scene calmed my nerves considerably. He shoved his way through the police line and talked with a handful of the VVAW spokesmen long enough to convince them, apparently, that a frontal assault on the hotel would be suicidal.
One of the platoon leaders smiled faintly and assured McCloskey that they’d never had any intention of attacking the Fontainebleau. They didn’t even want to go in. The only reason they asked was to see if the Republicans would turn them away in front of network TV cameras—which they did, but very few cameras were on hand that afternoon to record it. All the network floor crews were down at the convention hall, and the ones who would normally have been on standby alert at the Fontainebleau were out at the airport filming Nixon’s arrival.
No doubt there were backup crews around somewhere—but I suspect they were up on the roof, using very long lenses; because in those first few moments when the Vets began massing in front of the police line there was no mistaking the potential for real violence … and it was easy enough to see, by scanning the faces behind those clear plastic riot masks, that the cream of the Florida State Highway Patrol had no appetite at all for a public crunch with 1200 angry Vietnam Veterans.
Whatever the outcome, it was a guaranteed nightmare situation for the police. Defeat would be bad enough, but victory would be intolerable. Every TV screen in the nation would show a small army of heavily-armed Florida cops clubbing unarmed veterans—some on crutches and others in wheelchairs—whose only crime was trying to enter Republican convention headquarters in Miami Beach. How could Nixon explain a thing like that? Could he slither out from under it?
Never in hell, I thought—and all it would take to make a thing like that happen, right now, would be for one or two Vets to lose control of themselves and try to crash through the police line; just enough violence to make one cop use his riot stick. The rest would take care of itself.
Ah, nightmares, nightmares. … Not even Sammy Davis Jr. could stomach that kind of outrage. He would flee the Nixon compound within moments after the first news bulletin, rejecting his newfound soul brother like a suckfish cutting loose from a mortally wounded shark … and the next day’s Washington Post would report that Sammy Davis Jr. had spent most of the previous night trying to ooze through the keyhole of George McGovern’s front door in suburban Maryland.
Right … but none of this happened. McCloskey’s appearance seemed to soothe both the crowd and the cops. The only violent act of the afternoon occurred moments later when a foul-mouthed 20-year-old blonde girl named Debby Marshal tried to ram her way through the crowd on a 125 Honda. “Get out of my way!” she kept shouting. “This is ridiculous! These people should go back where they belong!”
The Vets ignored her, but about halfway through the crowd she ran into a nest of press photographers, and that was as far as she went. An hour later she was still sitting there, biting her lips and whining about how “ridiculous” it all was. I was tempted to lean over and set her hair on fire with my Zippo, but by that time the confrontation had settled down to a series of bullhorn speeches by various Vets. Not much of what was said could be heard more than 15 feet from the bullhorn, however, because of two Army helicopters that suddenly appeared overhead and filled the whole street with their noise. The only Vet speaker who managed to make himself plainly understood above the chopper noise was an ex-Marine Sergeant from San Diego named Ron Kovic, who spoke from a wheelchair because his legs are permanently paralyzed.
I would like to have a transcript or at least a tape of what Kovic said that day, because his words lashed the crowd like a wire whip. If Kovic had been allowed to speak from the convention hall podium, in front of network TV cameras, Nixon wouldn’t have had the balls to show up and accept the nomination.
No … I suspect that’s wishful thinking. Nothing in the realm of human possibility could have prevented Richard Nixon from accepting that nomination. If God himself had showed up in Miami and denounced Nixon from the podium, hired gunsels from the Committee for the Re-Election of the President would have quickly had him arrested for disturbing the peace.
Vietnam veterans like Ron Kovic are not welcome in Nixon’s White House. They tried to get in last year, but they could only get close enough to throw their war medals over the fence. That was perhaps the most eloquent anti-war statement ever made in this country, and that Silent March on the Fontainebleau on August 22 had the same ugly sting to it.
There is no anti-war or even anti-establishment group in America today with the psychic leverage of the VVAW. Not even those decadent swine on the foredeck of the Wild Rose can ignore the dues Ron Kovic and his buddies have paid. They are golems, come back to haunt us all—even Richard Nixon, who campaigned for the presidency in 1968 with a promise that he had “a secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam.
Which was true, as it turns out. The plan was to end the war just in time to get himself re-elected in 1972.
Four more years.