1.05.2007

If '68 is like '08, then who's Nixon?

In an earlier post on war resister First Lt. Ehren Watada, I mentioned that LBJ had a similar problem of growing discontent with a war: the Vietnam War. I wrote that LBJ ended up hightailing it back to his central Texas ranch as an unpopular former president--and that GWB is on a similar path.

Thinking about LBJ and GWB parallels made me wonder if the aftermaths of their presidencies may also offer similarities. I think so. 2008 could look a lot like 1968.

Consider these similarities in the run up to the 2008 U.S.Presidential elections:

1.) In 1968 voters were weary and deeply polarized after years of the Vietnam War. Today there’s growing discontent over the Iraq War and the public is also deeply divided over it.

2.) Growing Anti-War and African American militancy, as well as economic and political changes at home and abroad unsettled Middle America making them feel vulnerable and insecure. Today, global changes in the distribution of wealth, migration of peoples, civil wars and terrorism deepen a sense of vulnerability for American.

3.) Understand that while the parties were essentially even up to 1968, the Democrats were the ascendant party. It was the Vietnam War in the mid-60’s that was causing them political trouble.

4.) With the post-WWWII boom and America’s growing wealth, a lot of attention was being drawn to government economic, labor, housing and criminal justice policies. Today, growing inequality is causing many civic and political leaders to question government’s policy priorities, including in the area’s of trade, taxation of wealth, and others.

5.) The major party candidates for president in 1968 were believers in government. Today, it’s true as well.

6.) Along with the wave of economic and political changes washing over America in the mid-60’s, came the 3rd party candidacy of George Wallace. He drew strong support from reactionaries, racists and xenophobes. The same can be seen today with Tom Tancredo’s ugly campaign against immigrants and change. And it’s likely that with a GOP moderate such as Giuliani or McCain nominee, that social conservatives may go 3rd party. (See Betrayed by leading social conservative.)

7.) In 1968, Bobby Kennedy was a young, charismatic and articulate U.S. Senator from a big industrial state skyrocketing in popularity in the run-up to his party’s convention. Today, we have Barack Obama.

8.) Bobby ran a sort of insurgent campaign against the Democratic Party establishment’s choice candidate Hubert Humphrey. Obama is essentially taking on this round’s establishment candidate Hillary Clinton.

9.) Humphrey and Clinton were well-known and respected national players. Both were strong liberals whom tacked to the center. Both were cautious in their rhetoric. And both were budened by their nuanced positions the unpopular wars.

9.) The GOP race in 1968 also included a Mormon Governor of an industrial Northern State claiming state executive success. His name was George Romney, father of 2008 hopeful and Massachusetts’ governor Mitt Romney.

10.) The GOP also had Nelson Rockefeller as the liberal governor of New York. 2008 has George Pataki, the liberal governor a New York.

So with all of these parallels the question becomes who is the Nixon of 2008? At first glance, it doesn’t appear that anyone of the current crop fits the bill. But we must also keep in mind that prior to his victory in ’68 Nixon was viewed quite differently than he was after Watergate in ’72.

Nixon was the young California politician who found himself just a heart beat away from the presidency of the United States at the tender age of 39. He served for 8 years as Eisenhower’s deputy. And he famously lost the country's closest presidential election to what many observers believe was voter fraud. Nixon spent the next 8 years plotting his come back and working on "other" ventures.

Nixon’s winning strategy in 1968 was to position himself as a calming and experienced state chief executive with moderate views and a steady hand. He was not at all the man that most people have come to know as Tricky Dick or the Impeached President.

The closest person in terms of actual government experience, moderate disposition and electoral experience is actually Al Gore. But the closest person in terms of temperament and determination may be Clinton.

Although Gore has kept his ambitions under wraps, there are a number of scenarios in which Al Gore could enter the Democratic primary contest late and still win. There was a span of 8 years between Nixon’s questionable defeat in 1960 and his victory in 1968. And there are 8 years between Al Gore’s questionable defeat and the next election. Clinton's course has already been meticulously planned, and she also can lay claim to having spent 8 years as a future president-in-training.

To summarize:

Are there parallels between 1968 and 2008? I say, yes.

Can we accurately predict the outcome of 2008 this far out? Absolutely not.

But are global and domestic changes and threats causing a great deal of anxity among Middle America? Definitely.

Will the candidate/s of Hope and Promise fade and/or be stopped? Likely.

Will the candidate/s of the war party likely lose regardless of personal attributes? Probably.

In uneasy times, doesn’t the wiliest, most experienced and hungriest politician
prevail? Usually.
And who is the Nixonian politician of 2008? You tell me? (And by the way, the question is gender neutral.)