2 SEPTEMBER 1972, Page 10

The American scene

The truth about Nixon

Henry Fairlie

Even in the United States, although one does not often meet them socially, there are people who support Richard Nixon and, gathered in their convention last week, they could be seen and heard by the entire nation to beseech: "Remain, thou art so fair, remain!"

There is no way in which I can hope to conceal the fact that I am not of this number. I am among those, whom one does meet socially, who believe that Richard Nixon is the chieftain of a lawless administration, and that its lawlessness will significantly increase during a second 'term in which the hope of re-election is no longer a restraint. The scandals which now follow on each other — day by day, as it seems — are not unconnected incidents. This lawless administration is bound to behave scandalously; it is of its nature, it it how it is made.

Having confessed to these convictions, I must hastily add that the fact that Richard Nixon and his administration are to me obnoxious does not prevent me from finding them interesting. The revival of the Republican Party at the national level is an event of some importance, and the central figure in that revival has been Richard Nixon; it owes more to him than, even now, can easily be measured.

Consider these facts. On the assumption that he is given a second term, he will serve as President until 1976: that will be twenty-four years after Dwight Eishenhower took office. During that time, almost a quarter of a century, the Republican Party will have occupied the White House for sixteen years, and the Democratic Party for only eight. Moreover, Richard Nixon will have served as Vice-President for half of the Republican years, and as President for the other half. All in all, it is a remarkable personal political achievement.

The day after he was re-nominated last week, he talked to an audience of high school students. He told them of the football coach at Whittier College during his time there, who "hated to lose, and he told all of us on the team, 'You have got to hate to lose.' " Richard Nixon pushed the point home: "What is wrong is not losing. . . . What is wrong is, when you lose, not getting up off the floor and coming back and fighting again. . . . But just remember, it isn't losing that is wrong. It is quitting. Don't quit. Don't ever quit." That truly is Richard Nixon.

His football coach had told him to forget "The traditional definition about being a good loser," and this attitude informs many of his policies. He thinks that everyone has just "to get up off the floor" in order to "make it" in contemporary America; the women and children on welfare are quitters. "Don't quit," one can hear him saying to the hollow-eyed and the rat-bitten in the ghettoes, if 'he ever found himself close to them. "Don't ever quit." He sees himself, as he tiresomely says, as a vivid illustration of the fact that the American Dream can still come true; his social imagination does not extend beyond the isolated successes of the fortunate and the ruthless.

He would have argued with James Baldwin, if I may so put it, exactly as Peregrine Worsthorne did on television in Britain: "But you have made it, you have succeeded, you have escaped from the ghetto." All of which, of course, proves nothing; but the parvenu thinks that it does, as also does the interpreter of the parvenu such as Peregrine Worsthorne, "Which is not the name, as you might think," as an American journalist felt it necessary to assure his readers a short time ago, "either of a bird or of a bush."

As one gazed at the delegates to the Republican Convention, those who have recently "made it" united with those whose ancestors "made it," one wanted someone to place it in time, against the background of the development of American society in the past quarter, or even half, of a century. This was done as few others could have done it, by Joseph Alsop, who comes from Avon in Connecticut, and was able to contrast the delegation from Connecticut in 1936 with the delegation from Connecticut this year, a member of his family being a member of the delegation 'in both years.

Back in 1936, the Republican Party in Connecticut was the party of the Holcombs and the Binghams and the Brandegees, of the Woodfords of Avon and the Vails of Winstead and the Talcotts of Talcottville. "Names of this generalkind were certainly key names in the Republican list of delegates at the convention in 1936 "; and the Italians in Avon were Democrats, "Just about to the last man."

But this year, although there were still Yankee names in the list of the Connecticut delegation, including that of Joseph Alsop's brother, "they were few indeed beside the Panuzios, the Radzewiczes, the Himmelsteins, the Previdis, the Wilenskys, and the Meskills," the governor of the state, Thomas J. Meskill, being "just a hell of a tough Irishman," according to Joseph Alsop, "as his Italian supporters will tell you." How one sympathised with James Baldwin when he exclaimed to Peregrine Worsthorne: ". . . the Irish, the Irish, the Irish, I'm so tired of hearing of the Irish. The Irish are white." This is the vital difference which the Republican Party today will not confront.

But, of course, it is very decent of the Yankees of Connecticut, as Joseph Alsop recounts, that they have now accepted these strange names. John Previdi as high sheriff of Fairfield County, or Nicholas Panuzio as mayor of Bridgeport: who would have believed it? "Back In 1936, America contained a vastly larger number of people who were not 'citizens .with a full share' . . . In this respect the change since 1936 has been dramatic. It has not gone nearly far enough, but it is a change to be happy about."

In all of this, Joseph Alsop offers a marvellously true illustration of what has been happening to the two major parties in recent years: the explanation of the hardly noticed fact that, although it is not considered to be the dominant party, the Republican Party has nevertheless done consistently well in every presidential election except 1964. George McGovern has been out among the Panuzios and the Previdis during the past two weeks, listening to them, as he says, and what many of them have told him has simply magnified the picture which Joseph Alsop gives of Connecticut.

Neither the foreign policy nor the economic policy of Richard Nixon may appeal to them, but what he represents is their personal social achievement. They have not been able to be "good losers," or to "quit." They respond immediately when he says, as he again did to the children at the high school: "The teachers that can inspire you, and make you put your nose to the grindstone and get it done, those are the ones to be thankful for." That is the kind of personal effort that Richard Nixon personifies for them. It was summed up again at the end of the first night of the convention, at a celebration of the 'American Heritage' of the 'White ethnic minorities, when John Volpe, formerly the Governor of Massachusetts and now the Secretary of Transport, was introduced as "the Horatio Alger of the Italo-American community," a remark which would once have provoked the Italians to spit. This emphasis on individual self-help was not the important part of the ideology of the immigrants as they won their position in American society. The emphasis then was on the group, and that sense of community was the real source of the strength of their trade unions and their party machines, on which the Democratic Party in the cities was so firmly built.

In celebrating the 'American Heritage' — an actual organisation newly created within the Republican Party to rally the white ethnic minorities — a programme was produced which listed fifty-two countries of the world from which the 'American Mosaic' has been drawn. Not one of them was an African country. One suspects that this omission was subconscious: that, when the organisers of the 'American Heritage' sat down to make a picture of the 'American Mosaic,' they simply forgot twenty-three million of their countrymen, and that they forgot them because they sincerely do not regard, the black people as Americans, as citizens entitled to a "full share." It is very difficult to persuade some of them to recall the fact that the Negroes originally came here in ships as they all did, and that the blacks today are also an ethnic minority.

The actual phrase used by the leaders of the Republican Party this year to describe the members of the white ethnic minorities whom they hope to capture is: "Peripheral urban ethnic." If one is a "peripheral urban ethnic" in one of the large industrial states, one will receive a great deal of attention during the next ten weeks, including a final letter in the form of a telegram, reminding one to vote for Richard Nixon. "The person getting it thinks it's a telegram, but really it's a letter," explains one of the officials; and one must comment that this is, on the whole, still the level of Intelligence which the leaders of the Republican Party attribute to the ethnic minorities.

"We devised all this," says one of the leaders, "when it looked like the President's opponent would be Senator Muskie, who is Catholic and Polish, and at one time was beating us in the polls. We went after the ethnic American because we thought the election would be close and he would make the difference. Now, if we do it right, he's the basis of the new majority."

This is, of course, the long-term hope, and Richard Nixon himself, in his acceptance speech, talked of a New American Majority, with much the same enthusiasm as he once talked of the New American Revolution, which has now been forgotten. But the truth is that, even if the Republican Party is successful this year in capturing the " peripheral urban ethnics," there is little evidence that any redistribution of party loyalties is taking place on such a scale as to create a permanent majority.

Part of the explanation lies in the facts which I have been describing. If the Republican Party is able to make inroads into the group loyalties of the ethnic minorities, it is precisely because their group sense has been weakened, and there are not in fact group loyalties to be win or lost. Indeed, this is admitted by the strategists of the Republican Party, who are making little effort to win the support this year of low-income white ethnic voters. One of the polls on which they are relying has clearly shown that white ethnic voters with incomes substantially below $10,000 a year are much less inclinded to vote for the Republican Party this year than their kith and kin who are better paid; and they will not receive a letter which looks like a telegram. In other words — and it is crucial — the white ethnic vote is splitting up, it is not being transferred as a group vote to•the Republican Party.

What is more, although _everyone now expects Richard Nixon to win easily, everyone also feels a stubborn resistance to him even among those who are expected to give him his victory. He has to make only one error of judgment — a mistake in manner, of which he is capable — and votes will slip away from him.

In fact, he and the Republican Party came near to making such a mistake in the conduct of their convention. As all the ratings have shown, three evenings of Disneyland, as Sargent Shriver justifiably called them, turned off the viewers. They had stuck with the Democratic Convention, at least until they went to bed, and the polls later showed that they were even impressed by it. No one could d,eny, after all, that it was real; that it was not being faked, but not even a "peripheral urban ethnic" could accept the Republican Convention, which had, not merely an agenda, but a script: an actual television script, copies of which have reached the press, and which was painstakingly followed in words and in timing, from start to finish.

One 'should not, at this stage, underestimate George McGovern's capacity to discomfit the American voter once again. The press and the television may well be engaged in the same error as misled them earlier in the year: reporting the artificial political news, as Washington perceives it, such as the press's execution of Thomas Eagleton, and ignoring the way in which, in this supposedly electronic age, one man speaking directly to small audiences can have an unexpected impact. There is something insistent in the voice of George McGovern which has been easily forgotten in the past few weeks, but which still makes itself felt.

There are also the scandals, to which I will return when the facts are even clearer than they are already. The simple truth is that the Republican Party as it exists today under the leadership of Richard Nixon believes that there is no form of political power which it is not entitled to purchase, and it believes that all political power can be purchased: in fact, that everyone has his price. In this belief, it is utterly cynical. Only a few years ago, when Sherman Adams accepted a vicuna coat, he was forced to resign from the administration of Dwight Eisenhower; but that degree of sensitivity to day seems laughable. From the ITT case to the concession made to the dairies in exchange for a financial contribution to the ever more complicated revelations surrounding the bugging of the Democratic Party's headquarters, the present administration is carrying the exercise of corruption to a level of lawlessness which is intolerable.

It is bad enough that it should have, and that it should intend to spend $45,000,000 on the re-election of the President alone; but the manner of the spending, as it is revealed from day to day is sickening. One can only believe that the American people may begin to wonder what such an administration, having bought its way lawlessly to power, might then consider itself entitled to do during a second term in which its power was virtually unchecked.