And now Aquarius knew suddenly why good Republicans would never mind the bombs, for the blood of the North Vietnamese was the smallest price to pay that America might be saved from the barbarisms beating in the young—yes, it was Nixon’s genius to know that every bomb dropped somehow extinguished another dangerous hippie in the mind of the wad, evil was a plague of creeping things and the bombs were DDT to the cess-dumps of the world. It was America which had to be saved—the heart of God resided in the living life of an orderly America, and this passion was so deep, so reverential, and so in terror of the harsh light of the word, that his congregation listened to Elton Trueblood with respect but not comfortably, staying at the edge of that bolt of comprehensions he would loose, for if good Republicans might think of themselves privately as ministers of God protecting the homeland by their acts and their presence from every subtle elucidation of Satan, still they feared the loss of magic, like primitives they feared the loss of magic once the thought was declared aloud. Fierce as the fever of discipline which holds the heart in righteousness is the fear of the fire beneath—what a fire is that compressed American combustible of love and hate which heats the stock of the melting pot.
And Aquarius, carried along by the flux of some of his own thoughts, began perhaps to comprehend the certainty of these Republicans whose minds never seemed to reach beyond the circle of favors, obligation, work, courtesies and good deeds that made up the field of their life and the repose of their death. That was the goodness they knew, their field was America, and they seemed spiritually incapable of hating a war they could not see, yes, sentiment against the war had eased even as infantry had ceased coming back with tales of the horrors on the land—yes, Nixon was a genius to have put that war on the divine national elevator high in the sky where nobody could see the flowering intestines of the dead offering the aphrodisiac of their corruption to the flies.
So, was it then a compact with the Devil to believe one was a minister of God and live one’s life in work and deeds and never lift one’s eyes from the nearest field? Or was that all any human could dare to comprehend, his own part of the patch, and leave Nixodemus to be divided by Satan and Jehovah, no, impossible! the miserable truth was that men and women, willy-nilly, were becoming responsible for all the fields of earth since there was a mania now loose on the earth, a species of human rabies, and the word was just, for rabies was the disease of every virulence which was excessive to the need for self-protection.
One hundred seventy-six thousand tons of bombs had been dropped on Cambodia in the last two years, and that was more than all the bombs dropped on Japan in World War II. Cambodia! our ally! but on Laos it was not 176,000 tons but more than a million. We had in fact dropped more bombs altogether in the three and a half years of Nixon’s reign than we dropped on Europe and Asia in World War II, indeed almost twice as many tons of bombs and there was no industry, military population, railroad yards, navy yards, or other category of respectable target to compare with Germany, Italy and Japan, no, finally not much more than the wet earth, the dirt roads, the villages, the packingcrate cities and the people—so the bombing had become an activity as rational as the act of a man who walks across his own home town to defecate each night on the lawn of a stranger—it is the same stranger each night—such a man would not last long even if he had the most powerful body in town. “Stop,” he would scream as they dragged him away, “I need to shit on that lawn. It’s the only way to keep my body in shape, you fools. A bat has bitten me!”
At the foot of the plane he embraces his wife and kisses his daughters but with appropriate reserve—they are being watched after all. The embrace is suggestive of five million similar such greetings each evening as commuters get off at a suburban stop and go through the revelation, and the guard they throw up against revelation, of their carnal nitty-gritty. A good game for a face-watcher, and Nixon’s is not different from many another man who pecks a kiss in public. But as he walks toward the Young Voters for the President and salutes and smiles and grins, preparing to stop before them and raise both his arms (for they are now no longer just cheering him as the principal, but are off on all the autoerotics of thrusting their own arms in the air four fingers up while screaming “Four more years, four more years”), so Nixon promenading toward them exhibits again that characteristic gait which is his alone and might have provided thought for analysis in even so profound a student of body movements as Wilhelm Reich, for Nixon has character-armor, hordes of it! Several schemes of armor are stacked all on top of one another, but none complete. It is as if he is wearing two breastplates and yet you can still get peeks of his midriff.
He walks like a puppet more curious than most human beings, for all the strings are pulled by a hand within his own head, an inquiring hand which never pulls the same string in quite the same way as the previous time—it is always trying something out—and so the movements of his arms and legs while superficially conventional, even highly restrained, are all impregnated with attempts, still timid—after all these years!—to express attitudes and emotions with his body. But he handles his body like an adolescent suffering excruciations of self-consciousness with every move. After all these years! It is as if his incredible facility of brain which manages to capture every contradiction in every question put to him, and never fails to reply with the maximum of advantage for himself in a language which is resolutely without experiment, is, facile and incredible brain, off on a journey of inquiry into the stubborn refusal of the body to obey it.
He must be obsessed with the powers he could employ if his body could also function intimately as an instrument of his will, as intimate perhaps as his intelligence (which has become so free of the distortions of serious moral motivation), but his body refuses. Like a recalcitrant hound, it refuses. So he is still trying out a half dozen separate gestures with each step, a turn of his neck to say one thing, a folding of his wrist to show another, a sprightly step up with one leg, a hint of a drag with the other, and all the movements are immediately restrained, pulled back to zero revelation as quickly as possible by a brain which is more afraid of what the body will reveal than of what it can discover by just once making an authentic move which gets authentic audience response. Yet he remains divided on the utility of this project. Stubborn as an animal, the body does not give up and keeps making its disjunctive moves while the will almost as quickly snaps them back.
Yet when he begins to talk to the crowd, this muted rebellion of his activities comes to a halt. Like an undertaker’s assistant who fixes you with his stare and thereby gives promise that no matter the provocation, he will not giggle, Nixon has made a compact with his body. When the brain stops experimenting with its limbs, and takes over a cerebral function (like manipulating an audience), then the body becomes obedient to the speaker’s posture installed on it.
Now, hands clasped behind him, Nixon begins. “I was under some illusion that the convention was downtown,” he says.
It takes a while for the kids to get it. YVPers are not the sort of hogs who grab the high IQ’s. But when they realize he is not only complimenting them for the size of their numbers but on their importance, they come back with all the fervor of that arm in the air and the four fingers up in a double V. Nixon has appropriated the old V for Victory sign; better! he has cuckolded all the old sentimental meanings—V for Victory means liberalism united and the people in compact against tyranny. Et cetera. It is his now, and doubled. Up go the double horns of the kids. “Four more years.”
One thing can be said for the presidency—it gives every sign of curing incurable malaise. Nixon is genial! Now, he jokes with the crowd. “I think I’m going to be nominated tonight. I think so,” he says charmingly. It is the first time he has ever spoken with italics in public. “And so is Vice-President Agnew,” he adds. “He’s going to be nominated too.” They cheer. Ever since they arrived on Saturday, the YVPers have been cheering, on the street, at receptions in the gallery, in the lobby of each hotel they visit, and here at the airport they exhibit all the inner confidence of a Fail-Safe. When in doubt, cheer.
Once again Aquarius is depressed at the sight of their faces. It is not only that all those kids seem to exist at the same level of intelligence—which is probably not quite high enough to become Army officers—but they also seem to thrive on the same level of expression. They have the feverish look of children who are up playing beyond the hour of going to sleep; their eyes are determined, disoriented, happy and bewildered. So they shriek. With hysteria. The gleam in their eye speaks of no desire to go beyond the spirit they have already been given. Rather, they want more of what they’ve got. It is unhappy but true. They are young pigs for the President. He thinks of all the half-nude sclerotic pirates of Flamingo Park, over whom America (which is to say Republicans) are so worried. Perhaps America has been worrying about the wrong kids.
“I’ve been watching the convention on television,” Nixon says through the microphone. “I want to thank you for the tribute you paid my wife.” Now for the first time he puffs his chest up, which—given the mating dance he performs whenever addressing a crowd—has to signify that a remark of portent is on its way. “Based on what I’ve seen on television, and based on what I have seen here today,”—Four more years!—”those who predict the other side is going to win the young voters are simply wrong.” Deep breath. Solemn stare. Now comes the low voice which backs the personality with the presidential bond of integrity: “We’re going to win the young voters.” Shrieks. Squeals. Cheers. Four more years! They are the respectable youth and they are going to triumph over fucked-up youth.