Friday, December 4, 2009

Quote of the Day (Nixon, Agnew, and Govs Trip Out)

“WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 -- President Nixon, Vice President Agnew and 40 of the nation's Governors sampled movies of simulated psychedelic "trips" and anti-Establishment rock tunes today in a morning-long educational presentation on drugs and American youth.”—Peter Grose, “Governors See Simulated ‘Trip’ at Nixon Presentation on Drugs,” The New York Times, December 4, 1969

Okay, so maybe I stretched a little bit with that headline. If it makes you feel better, let’s say the lot of them virtually tripped out, okay? Nevertheless, I remain convinced that this fact-finding “trip” was the most oddball attempt that the upper levels of the American government made in the late Sixties and early Seventies to discover the root causes of the “Generation Gap.” Now, a number of my readers might argue with this point, given that there’s so much competition for this dubious award. Below are other events in this DC Believe It or Not—and you, faithful reader, are invited to submit your own to the CEO of this blog:

* The Supreme Court, in its attempt to define obscenity, watches several sexually explicit movies, with salty Justice Thurgood Marshall providing blow-by-blow accounts to the visually impaired associate justice John Marshall Harlan II.

* Richard Nixon visits the Lincoln Memorial in the wee hours of the morning in 1970 to talk to Vietnam protestors.

* Nixon (him again?) appoints Elvis Presley his personal top-secret drug enforcement agent.

But I can only conclude, despite the evidently real care that Nixon took with this issue, that the problem wasn’t with America’s youth (or, as Joe Pesci put it in “My Cousin Vinny,” “these yutes”), but with the Silent Majority. It was they, not the young of America, who helped elect Nixon—not once, but twice.

These two acts are so embarrassing that anyone who came to adulthood in that era would, I think, prefer to have young people today believe that their choice stemmed from drug use rather than a sane use of their faculties.

Nixon, to be sure, had problems relating to the youth culture. You could see that in his speech at the dinner that night with the governors, when he admitted that he thought the entertainment was going to be provided by The Temptations (who would have been able to tell the politicos a thing or two about drug use) when it turned out to be The Fifth Dimension. (This admission functioned as almost a double example of his cluelessness: not only about youth culture, but about blacks.)

At the same dinner, Nixon disputed the notion that youth turned to drugs because life was too hard. “I think the problem with American youth is that life is so easy,” he went on. “Perhaps what American youth need is a challenge.”

You see here, in pedestrian language, to be sure, something Nixon was bound to do on occasion: steal themes from the heroes of that same youth culture, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. At least a couple of his speeches tried to appropriate, for his own use, the famous rhetorical tropes used by these men (“Ask not…” and “I have a dream…”).

Here, he’s looking to JFK’s core idea behind the Peace Corps. This was the New Nixon that everyone was talking about before the election—the same one, earlier in the day, who had talked with the governors about the importance of educating youth about drugs rather than criminalizing their use.

Then the Old Nixon popped out, Hyde-like—briefly, to be sure, but, in retrospect, something that should have given his listeners pause. Today’s youth, he noted, didn’t have to struggle for “the necessities that some of us may have had to work to achieve in order to meet the challenges of life.”

This was the man forever blighted by his poverty-stricken childhood in Yorba Linda, Calif.—someone who had watched his brother Harold die of TB because his father had insisted that the family drink raw milk. He had managed to surmount the worst that the world could throw at him—why couldn’t everyone else, like those voters who inexplicably loved the Kennedys and the eastern elites that supported them?

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