Escaping Nixonland

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

And yet it only stood to reason that if you believed your opponent was neither sensible nor sober and would do anything to win, and his victory would destroy civilization, a certain insobriety was permissable to beat him.

Thus a more inclusive definition of Nixonland: it is the America where two separate and irreconcilable sets of apocalyptic fears coexist in the minds of two separate and irreconcilable groups of Americans.  The first groups, enemies of Richard Nixon, are the spiritual heirs of Stevenson and Galbraith.  They take it as an axiom that if Richard Nixon and the values associated with him triumph, America itself might end.  The second group are the people who wrote those telegrams begging Dwight D. Eisenhower to keep their hero on the 1952 Republican ticket.  They believe, as did Nixon, that if the enemies of Richard Nixon triumph = the Alger Hisses and Helen Gahagan Douglasses, the Herblocks and the hippies, the George McGoverns and all the rest – America might end.

~Rick Perlstein, Nixonland

“While you are 100 percent certain that your preferred candidate’s stance on issues such as foreign policy and the economy would appeal to any human being with half a brain, there is, in this very same country, an equally large voting bloc which believes that you and your candidate of choice are absolutely insane,” the report’s co-author Dr. Mark Grier said during a press conference. “Every single thing you love about your candidate’s personality, vice presidential pick, and family, 60 million other registered voters absolutely deplore.”

“What you consider to be this country’s ruin,” Grier added, “these other people actually consider to be this country’s savior.”

~The Onion, 60 Million People You’d Never Talk To Voting For Other Guy

With the second Presidential debate behind us, the outcome of the election is essentially clear: Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States.

This is, relatively speaking, a good thing, in my opinion.  I prefer Obama to McCain.  But I want to talk for a moment about something that I consider important to recognize: it would suck if things had turned out the other way, and John McCain was elected President of the United States.  But it would not have been the end of the world, much less the end of our country.

Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland is the political book of our season, of course, and many people have already expounded on it with greater insight than I can muster.  But at the heart of the book is the simple conclusion quoted above; the change of the political atmosphere to one where the battle for executive control of one relatively small aspect of our lives, the federal government, has become for both sides a battle between the forces of good and of evil, as starkly so as the combat between Lucifer and the angels of Heaven.  Between these forces, there can be no quarter.  Obama (or McCain) must win; anything else puts everything in jeopardy.

Ultimately, I consider little to be of greater importance than for us to escape Nixonland.  I consider it ridiculous.  Our nation survived a civil war and a depression so deep that few of us can really even imagine the scale of it.  We survived Nixon himself, not to mention eight years of George W. Bush.  The notion that we cannot survive a McCain Presidency, or for that matter, an Obama one, is ridiculous.  The Dow may be well below 10,000, but people are still packing the multiplex to see animated talking dogs spew nonsense.  There is no shortage of people emailing sports shows for fantasy football advice.  These are bad times, and lots of people are being hurt by the events going on in the world.  But bad times are still, for most people, relatively ordinary times.  It is little more than our own narcissism which leads us to believe that we are living in the pivotal moments of history.  Those who prophesy the end of America under John McCain are little different than Sarah Palin’s pastor, proclaiming that these are the “end times” and we will soon be living in the days of revelation.

With the pending victory of Barack Obama on the near horizon, I’d like to think that we can focus a bit less on how awful it is that people we will never meet or talk to in Utah or Alabama think differently from us about everything.  I’d like to think that we can start brainstorming about what I consider the real issue: how can we finally exorcise the demon of Richard Nixon from our politics, and from our policies?  Is there an escape from the hell that this one twisted man helped midwife?  Do we have the will, and the good sense, to seek freedom from his dominion?


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  1. …I’m sure sonme of you think I’m wrong, and that the nation might well end if McCain won (which he won’t).  Please feel free not to talk to me about it.

  2. on your questions about Nixonland is how many people thought it was the death knell for Obama when, during the first debate, he acknowledged when he agreed with McCain.

    Aside from any differences I have with Obama on the policies involved, I very much appreciated his ability to do that.  

  3. When it comes to issues where people believe that we’re all in this together, I think healthcare and energy are two concerns that fit the bill.

    I think both concerns — healthcare and energy — cut through the barriers that formed the partitions that make up Nixonland.

    I believe that we’re now close to a point where doing something positive to help all Americans is possible. Yes, there are going to be some sticking points. But, I think Obama’s approach of finding common ground, opposed to finding absolute differences of Nixon, will work well the next two years.

    And my hope is, if they work well for the country in 2009 and 2010, they will continue to work wonders for at least the next six. The “common ground” approach will either work, or things will get worse. I think partisanship hasn’t made America better or stronger.

    The danger of the “common ground” approach working is that it works too well that it creates the environment for a return to Nixonland.

  4. The hardest thing, it seems to me, for anyone in today’s America to accept is that they don’t get to have something they want

    Perhaps we are a nation of “wanters” and the problem is that casual and accessible consumerism has blunted any conception of what we need and we have turned everything into a “want”. I don’t know. But your essay was interesting as usual and I enjoyed reading it.

    Having said all that I do believe there are many Americans today who are genuinely suffering economic pain. I lived through a cycle of recession and high unemployment in Canada in the early 1990’s. It wasn’t nice. I survived the way people end up surviving, working two jobs,ect I did not starve but I was definitely cut off socially and I felt shitty about myself. I felt like a total failure and I suspect many Americas do feel that way and might be mumbling just to themselves and not shouting too loud trying not to draw attention to themselves.

  5. I will post what I think. the end of America at this point sounds good to me. If McCain wins I’m sure the America weve had since Ronnie and Nixon will continue but it has evolved into a nightmare form of fascism. A Boy and His Dog a movie from a Harlan Ellison story I really like comes to mind. Sure life will go on if McCain wins but what is your point here we should all suck it up and become fellow ‘prisoners’ as McCain called us today? No Thanks.

    The reality we face is not casual differences it is stark and it’s global. Obama may not be a savior but he is a step towards sanity and reason. McCain makes my hair stand on end he is one sick cookie and makes Nixon seem liberal and rational. Perhaps you see this as narcissism but I see a pattern that has little to do with America and everything to do with classic Fascism and ignorance.

    It has always been here this battle it cannot be laid at Nixon’s feet alone it’s at the heart of our dark side psyche, our ever lasting Karma as a nation. So to dismiss my or anyones concerns for the direction we have come, the nasty culmination that brought us to this point and say that it would suck but not be the end of our country is just plain old denial. Ask the Germans when they needed to start worrying about what the path they were on would bring?          

    • kj on October 9, 2008 at 15:27

    essay and responses.  Great read, thanks!  🙂

  6. I think not. On some level that root division in our country is still being played out. Not so much in the same terms as it was in 1861, but a division in worldviews, a polarity of perspectives that are moving further apart.

    One perspective appears to be an inward-focused, self-referential system that does not easily admit new ideas or information that does not conform to the established worldview. The other perspective seeks novelty as an outward-focused orientation that will sometimes turn a blind eye to the lessons and orientations of the past that serve in positive, stabilizing ways, simply because they are not shiny and new.

    Both orientations have their positive aspects and their blind spots. What is lacking is an orientation to a middle ground of wisdom that can serve to correct the imbalances in either camp. Perhaps in the US the Constitution comes as close as anything to the arbiter of fairness, and the blueprint for building the common good.

    I’m just typing “out loud” as I think about this, I hope you find something of value in these words.

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