New Year’s morning: 2016. The chains drag up my stairs, the door creaks open and the ghost of Richard Nixon moans, shakes his chains, as rotted skin falls like gray snowflakes.
”Aren’t you late to be a Christmas Eve ghost, Mr. President? It’s New Year’s Day.”
”Spiro’s slow doing his only job in Hell again. He just finished scraping the stank off my soul, damn him.”
”A little redundant and useless, since he’s already damned and the stank will just grow back. Hmm… ‘Spiro Agnew in Hell.’ Make note to self. Name for new short story, or oldie rock group for old fart musicians.”
”You’ve been falling down on your job, Mr. Carman. You should be supporting all that’s bad for America but makes our rich overlords even richer, promoting any lie told that might punk leaders on the left. Kind of like ‘College Republicans’ on campuses in the 60s. You remember meeting me at that big planning session after the New Years in Westchester in 68 for Conservatives, right? What happened to you? I hear you’ve strayed far from the dark side!”
”I do remember the College Republicans, and how their dirty tricks led to the nasty tactics of Rove, Atwater. That’s one reason why I left. And I hardly call that a ‘meeting.’ You were supposed to sit with all of us and discuss plans for the upcoming election. Instead you were marched through the crowd, gave a very short canned speech, and then marched right back out. Hey, those cookies you’re trying to eat are for the big guy in the red suit!”
Tricky had attempted to sneak a cookie from Santa’s plate as he also tried to sit down… his posterior going right through the chair. He sat there with a look of surprise, wondering why: being non-corporeal, he didn’t just fall through the floor.
Yes, that really happened. No, not the ghost part, just the meeting in Westchester with Nixon being there… briefly, marginally. Oh, and yes, I was a very young activist in the Conservative Party in the 60s. People change, especially when they grow very disenchanted with the direction their party is headed.
No party is pure. Questionable actions and tactics abound, historically, left, right and between. But then there have been downright evil, beyond immoral, freedom destroying acts. Influencing the public with over the top, even very false, framing is one thing. But when the goal is to bring the opposition down any way possible that’s evil… sometimes downright traitorous.
The Nixon administration is a clear starting point for this, and I sincerely believe the unstable Nixon by 68 was so paranoid he was kept away from us, he was seeing enemies around every corner. Real “enemies,” or not, almost doesn’t matter. Almost.
Sometimes I wonder if we have increasingly become a nation of Nixons, when it comes to fear, paranoia and “by any means.” The constant framing of all of those who are not our candidate as mere two dimensional villains is destroying our nation because, too often, we get candidates who can distract us by making us hate and fear the other guy, or gal, more..
Remembering the dark days in the last years of the Nixon administration has left me asking a question lately. What if Nixon had won in 60? Richard Nixon in 1960 was not as much the brooding, paranoid, character he became after he felt the election had been stolen from him. I wonder if he would have served, then faded into lesser president obscurity. But, I’ll be honest, this is an intellectual exercise with no resolve, for like the movie Butterfly Effect, there are most likely unpredictable results when history shifts. Who would have guessed how Lyndon Baines Johnson would become so haunted by his own tenure due to the war he wouldn’t run again? Or all that would follow after Lyndon left? Previous to that a president resigning was pretty much unthinkable.
Nixon going to China? Left, or right, I don’t think any of us would have predicted that.
Nixon’s deepening psychosis haunts us all. We can draw a clear line from Watergate, to Iran/Contra, to Whitewater, to pretty much every scandal: real, pumped up, or outright nonsense. With each year politicians and pundits get better at avoiding humiliation they may well deserve. And a once, somewhat, objective news media has gotten better at turning damn near nothing into some “scandal…” frequently dragged out until the next election.
Where does it stop? Politics has become like some an endless rack of tawdry check out magazines with questionable tales to tell. We need to break this tit for tat cycle, where what’s more important than anything else is some smear, candidates idea of debate is a name calling snark off, and a candidate less than big biz friendly can hardly get coverage at all, no matter how good his numbers. How do we stop the hatefest? How do we escape the trap that makes election not about issues, but who does the best negative framing? We can draw a straight line from Atwater, to Rove, to declaring John McCain supposedly having an illegitimate black child, to calling Bernie a “commie,” to claiming Hillary took great joy getting an accused rapist off: a case she was assigned, and had asked to be relieved.
And why is it those who declare their candidate pure are most likely to love wallowing in the deepest mud?
I feel we’re like John Cusack in (room) 1408. We are locked in the room from hell, and just when we think we’re free the illusion is torn down and we’re back in that hellish room. We desperately need Ghostbusters to show up, if only all this could be trapped, safe, inside some containment vessel powered by sheer collective mirth at the idea that most of this nonsense is even slightly worthy dominating our public debate.
Now excuse me. I have a ghost to kick out of my house.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 40 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks, and into the unseen cracks and crevasses, that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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