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|dmr (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore||Mon Sep-08-08 07:58 PM
Since Palin was introduced to us I've been trying to remember why she reminded me of (pre-Watergate) Spiro Agnew. I came across the below article which I first read back when it was published in 1970.
After the perspective of 28 years of history, I am sitting here at my computer with the wind sucked out of my sails. I wonder if Schlesinger had any idea he was writing out our future. I know I dismissed Agnew. I believed most Americans were rational and would never, ever accept that America could be so one-sided and blind.
A lot more dissidents "would be prosecuted," he told the editors of The Detroit Free Press, "if the Supreme Court would reverse some of its trends and emphasis on the absolute requirements of individual constitutional protection and balance that against, to some extent, the needs of the whole of the citizenry. Constitutional rights have never been absolute."
Yet, I never saw it coming. When I did see it coming, I didn't realize what I was seeing. I finally recognized it during Coup 2000. Now a couple of generations and a near-police-state later, I wonder: what will become of us? Will America in the guise of Democracy and patriotism continue to elect flag-pinned, suit and tie men and women intent to do us more harm than good? Smiling men and women who look like you and me offering their false brand to strip Americans of their America? Is it too late?
This is a very long article, and I'm hoping you will take the time to read it. I'm interested to hear what you think of this piece.
July 26, 1970
The Amazing Success Story of 'Spiro Who?'
By ARTHUR SCHLESINGER JR.
WHAT, in fact, is it all about? After 16 months, no one can question the force of Spiro T. Agnew's personality, nor the impact of his speeches, nor his Midas talent as fund-raiser for his party, nor his astonishing success in transmuting himself from a buffoon and bumbler, complete with malapropisms and pratfalls, into a formidable political figure. The question remains: What does the Agnew phenomenon mean?
Some will say that it means nothing more than a belated upsurge of patriotism, candor and guts in the republic, and this may well be so. Still the upsurge expresses itself through a specific personality; and conceivably the personality is worth examination. This writer may not be the best person to undertake the task. I opposed the Nixon-Agnew ticket in 1968; my enthusiasm for the Vice President, as well as for his senior partner, continues under total control; and this should be kept in mind in reading what follows. Nonetheless, the job of the historian is to try to explain why things happen, and the unexpected rise of Spiro T. Agnew offers its challenges. It is hardly necessary to add that this writer is no intimate of the Vice President, and that the ensuing speculations are therefore based entirely on public evidence, specially on a close and prayerful reading of speeches, statements and interviews.
The first thing that emerges from the ordeal of total immersion in Agnewiana is the Mr. Agnew is not, in the usual sense, a political figure at all. Of course his trade is politics, and at the moment he is one of the most effective practitioners around; but his interest in the substance of public questions seems limited. When he speaks out on issues of domestic policy-the economy or the budget or the welfare program-his words are perfunctory and banal. Such issues evidently bore him. In foreign affairs, it is even worse. On his trip to Southeast Asia in January, 1970, he undertook to explain the Nixon doctrine to a succession of Asian potentates-an exercise in inadvertent obfuscation from which the doctrine never quite recovered (even before it sank out of sight in the jungles of Cambodia). Mr. Agnew recites the boilerplate of public policy as part of his Vice Presidential duty. But one rarely feels that his heart is in it.
His heart is, however, deeply in another range of questions. Historians, notably Richard Hofstadter, have drawn a distinction between "interest politics" and "status politics." Interest politics revolves around conflicts of policy: whether we should raise or lower the interest rate, encourage or obstruct collective bargaining, extend or abolish farm price supports. Status politics revolves around personal values and folkways, social aspirations and frustrations, religious traditions and ethnic identifications-those intangibles which, without finding explicit embodiment in political issues, nevertheless affect the climate of politics and sometimes, especially when economic prosperity reduces the pressure of interest politics, determine political results. It is cultural politics, and not public policy which is the Vice President's bag. He has emerged as hero, or villain, not in the battle of programs but in the battle of life styles.
- snip -
... Mr. Agnew was the archetype of the forgotten American who had made it. He took pride, he used to say, in his belief in dull things-"dull things like patriotism. Dull things like incentive. Dull things like a respect for law." "The disease of our times," he said in June, 1968, "is an artificial and masochistic sophistication-a vague uneasiness that our values are corny-that there is something wrong with being patriotic, honest, moral or hard-working.' Americans, he said, were reaping "the hideous product of a society so permissive it has pointed our nation toward the brink of anarchy."
- snip -
If the Vice President is carrying a message to the nation, what is the message? At the risk of overschematization, one might sum up the gospel in three points:
(1) "The deterioration of American values."
The Vice President evidently sees his primary mission as the defense of "the traditional American values." As he looks out on the nation, he finds on every side a decline in faith in the verities. First of all, there is, he thinks, a decline in patriotism itself. "I would guess that many in sophisticated America consider love of country gauche or irrelevant...Apology appears to be becoming our national posture. We have seen attempts to pervert the liberal virtue of self-criticism to the national vice of self-contempt."
The decay of patriotism is matched, in the Vice President's view, by a decay in authority: "The last decade saw the most precipitous decline in respect for law of any decade in our history." He means not just crime in the streets; indeed, he makes less of this than Senator Goldwater did in 1964. The gravamen of the lawlessness charge is leveled rather against mass demonstration on public issues: "America today is drifting toward Plato's classic definition of a degenerating democracy...a democracy that permits the voice of the mob to dominate the affairs of government."
- snip -
(2) The conspiracy against traditional American values.
... The real villains, the Vice President tells us, are "those who perform a more subtle-but infinitely more dangerous-kind of violence: a philosophical intangible violence." In the universities, for example, the "true responsibility for these aberrations...rests not with the young people on campuses, but with those ho so miserably fail to guide them" (like President Kingman Brewster of Yale).
In this sinister group he would place, first of all, "those who characterize themselves as liberal intellectuals," that "glib, activist element who would tell us that our values are lies." These "arrogant ones...are asking us to repudiate principles that have made this country great. Their course is one of applause for our enemies and condemnation for our leaders....They have a masochistic compulsion to destroy their country's strength." (Almost parenthetically, he adds, in one of his very occasional partisan references, "These are the ideas of the men who are taking control of the Democratic party nationally.")
- snip -
TELEVISION and the press stand second only to education in the Vice-Presidential concern: "The media comprise another American institution which must share in this drive for renewed responsibility." Hence his attack on television news commentators, who "by the expression on their faces, the tone of their questions and the sarcasm of their responses..
- snip -
(3) Time for "positive polarization."
... "Consider the idea of protest purely," he said, "removing it from any issue, and still it raises a multitude of questions. Protest is generally negative in content. It is against some person or thing. It does not offer constructive alternatives and it is not conducive to creating the thoughtful atmosphere where positive answers may be formulated. Over the last few years we have seen protest become a way of life. In fact, protest has become a policy and program unto itself. This is negativism at its quintessence....I need only rest my case upon the short and turbulent life of the Weimar Republic to prove this point."
So, if the country is divided between those who believe in "traditional American values: and the protesting coalition of intellectuals, Establishmentarians and criminals, let us accept the division. "It is time for the preponderant majority, the responsible citizens of this country, to assert their rights....If, in challenging, we polarize the American people, I say it is time for a positive polarization....It is time to rip away the rhetoric and to divide on authentic lines." Does this contradict President Nixon's post-election pledge to "bring us together"? Absolutely not, the Vice President replies: "When the President said 'bring us together' he meant, the functioning, contributing portions of the American citizenry. He certainly didn't mean that there's any chance of bringing the violent criminal left-or right, either-into this accommodation we are seeking."
"I FEEL like I'm involved in a crusade, almost," the Vice President told U.S. News and World Report. "And I'm going to see it through." The crusade, he explains, is in the cause of "the proud voice of reason, of tradition, of respect for legitimate authority and human freedom." And its reason, as filtered through the Vice President, replies: "bizarre extremists...kooks or demagogues...oddballs...learned idiocy...the cynics, the relativists... the radical criminal left...the totalitarian ptomaine dispensed by those who disparage our system." The criminal left, the Vice President said, belongs not in a dormitory but in a penitentiary. The criminal left is not a problem to be solved by the Department of Philosophy or the Department of English-it is a problem for the Department of Justice....The era of appeasement must come to an end." It must end because "we have reached the crossroads. Because, at this moment totalitarianism's threat does not necessarily have a foreign accent. Because we have a home-grown menace, made and manufactured in the United States of America.... Let us automatically, briskly, ,and effectively against the threat of violent revolution and recognize it for the clear and present danger it constitutes."
Mr. Agnew has latterly become fond of the phrase "clear and present danger." "Civil disobedience leads inevitably to riots,' he tells us, "and riots condoned lead inevitably to revolution. This is a clear and present danger today." Now, as a lawyer and Vice President, Mr. Agnew surely knows that "clear and present danger: has a specific meaning in American jurisprudence. It was the phrase Justice Holmes used in the Schenck case to define the limits on the right to free speech under the First Amendment.
ARTHUR SCHLESINGER Jr., who was an assistant to President Kennedy, is Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities at the City University of New York.
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