My latest reading of David Greenberg's Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image was about the New Left's portrayal of Richard Nixon. Essentially, the New Left regarded Nixon as a conspirator.
reading Greenberg, I could see some of the New Left's points, even
though I thought that New Leftists went too far at times. They were a
bit too paranoid for my tastes, as when they expected Nixon to suspend
the 1972 Presidential election, or when the Secret Service locked the
doors to the White House press room so Nixon could take a private walk,
and the New Left concluded that Nixon was launching a coup. But they
had valid points about the futility of democracy in a country where
corporate interests can influence the system to do its bidding, or about
the insignificance of Watergate in comparison with the number of
Indochinese civilians killed in the Vietnam War.
I'd like to highlight something from page 113. There, Greenberg summarizes the views of Carl Oglesby
on the elites who (according to Oglesby) run this country. Oglesby
served as President of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and
he had an influence on Oliver Stone when Stone was making JFK and Nixon.
larger protagonists were two cabals of business elites, once allied in
promoting the Cold War consensus, who had gone to war with each other
over whether to pursue a 'd[e]tentist' or 'militarist' foreign policy.
One group, which Oglesby called the 'Yankees,' consisted of old-money
Northeastern businessmen----the corporate liberals of New Left thought.
Internationalists on foreign policy, the Yankees had come by the late
1960s to oppose American involvement in Vietnam and soften their
hostility towards Castro's Cuba. Oglesby's other group, the 'Cowboys,'
comprised the new-money real estate and oil moguls of the Southwest who
wished to keep expanding America's frontiers in Asia. Extreme
anti-Communists, they despised Castro and supported the Vietnam War,
from which they profited. Secretly running the country, both groups
employed clandestine means and violence to work their will. The Cowboys
killed Kennedy because of his timidity over Cuba and Vietnam, installed
their front man Nixon in power, and funded his dirty tricks against the
Yankee-friendly Democrats. Eventually, however, the Yankees, including
top CIA operatives, came to consider Nixon too dangerous, so they
deliberately botched the Watergate break-in to bring him down."
picture of the dynamics of power in the world may be too simplistic,
but maybe there is something to it. A problem that I have with John
Bircher conspiracy theories is that they tend to portray the wealthy
industrialists who are part of the alleged conspiracy as left-wing. A
problem that I have with Oliver Stone and people like him is that they
tend to portray the wealthy industrialists who are part of the alleged
conspiracy as right-wing. Both can cite facts in support of their
position. Personally, I have my doubts that the wealthy industrialists
who are criticized are rigidly ideological, one way or the other, for
their goal is simply to further their own interests, regardless of which
ideological camp that may place them in a given situation. But Oglesby
takes a different track: according to him, some of the elites are
left-wing, and some are right-wing, and the two are at war with each
I'd like to read more of Oglesby's ideas sometime, but I
may have to see if I can find his book about the Yankees and the Cowboys
at any nearby libraries, since the book is too expensive for my budget
on Amazon (see here).
I have some questions. First of all, what would Oglesby say is wrong
with the Yankees? They're liberal, right? Wouldn't they be the good
guys? Well, Greenberg in my latest reading did distinguish the New Left
from the mainstream left, which was more optimistic about positive
change occurring through the democratic processes. But was that the New
Left's only problem with the mainstream left: that the New Left deemed
the mainstream left to be too naive? Or did the New Left believe that
there was something sinister about the liberal Yankees----that they were
not helping the country or the rest of the world, but were actually
pursuing harmful policies? Second, why would the Yankees want to remove
Nixon, when Nixon was pursuing detente, the very policy that they
supported? As you can tell in this scene from Oliver Stone's Nixon, it would probably be the right-wing Cowboys who would have problems with some of Nixon's policies!