Friday, July 12, 2013

Nixon's Shadow 5

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.

In 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.

"The 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."

Oglesby's 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 other.

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!

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