Friday, May 10, 2013

Very Strange Bedfellows 3

For today's write-up on Very Strange Bedfellows: The Short and Unhappy Marriage of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, I'll use as my starting-point something that Jules Witcover says on page 118.  The context of the passage is the 1970 race for U.S. Senate in the state of New York.  At least three people were running.  The first was Republican Charlie Goodell, who had a fairly conservative record in the U.S. House but disappointed Richard Nixon by advocating an early withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, whereas Nixon supported "slower disengagement through a buildup of South Vietnamese forces" (page 117).  The second was Democrat Richard Ottinger, who opposed the Vietnam War.  And the third was Conservative Party challenger James Buckley, the brother of conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr.  Vice-President Spiro Agnew was a vociferous critic of Goodell, preferring Buckley instead.  And, to my surprise, Buckley won the race!  The wikipedia article about him states: "To date he has been the only candidate of his party, and the last third party registrant, to be successfully nominated and elected to the U.S. Congress."  (Wikipedia in a footnote explains the cases of Bernie Sanders, Joe Lieberman, and others.)

But onto what Witcover says on page 118:

"Agnew had attacked the recently released report of the Scranton Commission on campus unrest, calling it in his trademark fashion 'pablum for permissiveness.'  Goodell responded: 'Mr. Agnew has long been saying that it is the duty of men in public office to speak out against violence in our universities.  That is precisely what this report does----only the report, unlike the vice president, speaks in balanced and moderate language.'  At the same time, Goodell was careful not to separate himself from the leader of his party.  'In no conceivable sense is it [the report] scapegoating the president for a problem which, as we all know, has long antedated his accession to office,' he said, and Nixon was 'far ahead of Vice President Agnew in exercising constructive leadership on the issue.'"

I've never read the Scranton Commission's report on campus unrest.  From what the wikipedia article about it says, it did appear to blame the campus unrest on escalation of the Vietnam War, including Nixon's invasion of Cambodia.  Consequently, I can see why Agnew had a problem with the report.  At the same time, I seriously doubt that it was supporting campus unrest, and, as a study, it probably was rather measured.  But the quotation of Goodell stood out to me because I've long wondered about the fairness of demonizations.  The right demonizes the left, and the left demonizes the right; both caricature each other.  But perhaps people from both sides, in their own way, are concerned about many of the same problems and how to address them.  And yet, whatever their motives may be, some policies work better than other policies.

I also thought about an article that I read: Mike Adams' "Letters to a Young Progressive".  Adams essentially narrates that he was a secular progressive in college, but he became more religious and adopted conservative positions on certain issues when he was in the real world.  This is somewhat like how Agnew characterized campus radicals: not knowing much about nuance and how the real world works.  But, in my opinion, exposure to the real world can make a person into a liberal, not just a conservative.  In the same way that there may be liberal solutions that collapse in the face of real life, there are plenty of examples in which conservative policies have had real world destructive consequences: people losing their homes or even their lives due to American military adventurism, people being forced to struggle even more due to the government cutting the programs that they need, etc.

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