Back at the convention, the delegates are watching this arrival on the three huge screens above the podium—it is being televised live both to the convention and to America. Only the galleries are empty this afternoon, but that is because the YVPers are not present to fill their seats—they are here!
Nixon takes them into his confidence. He knows they are interested in politics, or they would not be in Miami, he says. And maybe one of them someday will be President, “Maybe one of your faces that I now am looking at will be President. It is possible. One thing I want you to know. That is that we want to work with the trust and faith and idealism of young people. You want to participate in government and you’re going to.” Cheers. He smiles genially. “However, let me give you a bit of advice. To succeed in politics, the first thing you want to do, is to marry above yourself.”
They do not begin to comprehend the seismographic profundity of this advice. They only yell, “We want Pat. We want Pat.”
“Well, you can’t have her,” Nixon says. “I want to keep her.”
Yes, he had wanted her and he had wanted to keep her. Back in Whittier, before they were married, he would drive her to Los Angeles when she had a date with another man. Then he would pick her up and drive her back to Whittier when the date was done. That is not an ordinary masochism. It is the near to bottomless bowl in which the fortitude of a future political genius is being compounded. It had made him the loser who did not lose.
But how many years and decades it must have taken before he recognized that in a face-off with another man, he would be the second most attractive. Once he had made the mistake of fighting Kennedy man to man, and wife to wife. Jack had beaten Dick, and Jackie had certainly taken Pat—Nixon cried out with no ordinary bitterness over what America could not stand. But now he had learned that the movies were wrong and the second most attractive man was the one to pick up the marbles, since losers (by the laws of existential economy) had to be more numerous than winners.
“Some public men,” he had said in an interview, “are destined to be loved, and other public men are destined to be disliked, but the most important thing about a public man is not whether he’s loved or disliked, but whether he’s respected. So I hope to restore respect to the presidency at all levels of my conduct.
“My strong point, if I have a strong point, is performance. I always do more than I say. I always produce more than I promise.”
It was as true for Vietnam as for China. And now here was this nice man talking to children. Aquarius stood in that stricken zone of oscillating dots which comes upon the mind when one tries to comprehend the dichotomies of the century. Here is this nice man who has the reputation of being considerate about small things to the people who work for him, this family man married so many years to the same wife, possessor of two daughters who are almost beautiful and very obedient. He is a genius. Who would know?
Yes, the loser stands talking to all of his gang of adolescent losers who are so proud to have chosen stupidity as a way of life, and they are going to win. The smog of the wad lies over the heart. Freud is obsolete. To explain Nixon, nothing less than a new theory of personality can now suffice.
From Nixon’s Maxims: Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke of the four freedoms. There is only one freedom looked for by the American voter who votes for Nixon—it is freedom from dread.
* * *
Compared to the demonstrations of Berkeley and Oakland, the March on the Pentagon, or May Day, the week in Flamingo Park has been a failure. The number of protesters has never increased to more than a few thousand, and they are divided by every idea but one: that Richard Nixon is a war criminal. It is not enough. Other divisions are too numerous. They quarrel about sexism and revolution, about the merits of violent demonstration as opposed to peaceful sit-ins; before they are done, every old argument about revolutionary tactics from the paving stones of the Paris Commune to the grass of Flamingo Park has been recapitulated, and brother is hung up with brother, and sister hoots them out both because they are too doctrinaire or too ego trip, too heavy, too sexist, too liberated, too irresponsible or too fucking chicken to get their shit together. They even argue whether there should be a single loudspeaker system or many. Their common enemy, the pigs, are no longer common, for the pigs are not acting like pigs. So still another ideological dispute is laid on the babel—they divide whether to trash or cooperate.
Since the police are not vicious, the threat of brutal arrests no longer draws them together nor gives the dignity of combating large fear. Since the danger is less than they have anticipated, they cannot even know after a time if they are serious or have become videoswingers who do the dance of the seven veils for Media men—it is possible they have become no more than actors—just so much as the politicians they despise. Television pollutes identity, and television cameras are about them all the time. So the most serious cannot even finally know if they protest the war or contribute to the entertainment of Nixon’s Epic—across the screens of the nation they flurry, cawing like gulls in adenoidal complaints, a medieval people’s band of lepers and jesters who put a whiff of demonology on the screen, or lay an entertaining shiver along the incantation of their witches. Did that hint of a gay demented air now serve only to dignify the battlements of the white knights of Christendom up on Nixon Heights?
Even their true show of revolutionary strength for the Media—Vietnamese Veterans Against the War—is a strength now sliced, for the Viet Veterans have six of their members on trial in Gainesville for conspiracy to cause disorder and rioting in Miami Beach during the Republican Convention—what jurisprudential coincidence!—and so must keep their deportment proper while in Miami: trashing by the Vets would hurt the men on trial. Yet they have to wonder if real fear of the war might be inspired more by the Vets of Vietnam getting violent in the streets—that might dig deeper into the nature of national distress than the wilder fringes of suburbia screaming up the tube.
Of course, it is possible that nothing would have worked. It was even likely. For the greater their numbers, and the more complete their disruption, greater was the likelihood that they would merely contribute to Nixon’s consensus. So the troops of the Miami Convention Coalition and the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice, the Miami Women’s Coalition, and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the People’s Pot Party, the Coalition of Gay Organizations and the SDS, the Yippies and the Zippies, have all possibly headed into the worst trap of them all which is to attack the Godfather in a Media war. Benefactor of the American corporation, spiritual leader of the military industrial complex, and only don capo ever to have survived the tortures of the Media, he is learned in the wisdom of wise leaders, and knows how to put a foot in front of your ankle as you go forward and a knee in your seat as you back up, a ring in your nostrils to lead you and a hook in your ear for sit down!
The art of Media war is to benefit whether your adversary does well or fails. In a strategy session at the Doral, it has already been decided that if the demonstrators ever succeed on Wednesday night in getting things out of control, then the Republicans will issue a call to McGovern and ask him to call off the kids.
So the protesters cannot win. They are doomed to be the most ineffectual of all the major demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. Yet, they are probably the most interesting, for their ideas are pioneer, and they have led a private demonstration beneath the public exhibition to show that they can live in the field like an army, house every private war, police themselves, feed themselves, drug themselves, and even with a variety of vigilante justice (which stops well short of anybody hanging—merely confiscates weapons and ejects Nazis) they govern themselves. They keep the park in some relation to order, and the tourists and sightseers who come through are sometimes welcome and never molested. They entertain themselves and share their goods and sleep on the ground. They are an area of liberty free to some great extent of civic law—they function as a community of consent—separate from the city about them. There will be others to follow.
For the atmosphere is different in the park, different from the air of other communities, just as there are regions of the skin where the flesh is not like other flesh. In Flamingo Park the mood does not speak precisely of a bruise which has begun to heal nor of the pleasure beneath a piece of one’s sexual skin; it is more, he supposes, like something of the air of a rain forest. He has never been in such a forest but has been told that deep in the jungle, the shade is cool and has the tenderness of any atmosphere which is never free of danger. Senses come alive. One steps out of the pressure of habit, lays down one’s habits like a back pack—there is a limit to how long some live without their load. The tourists enjoy Flamingo Park but leave before too long. So does he. It is too separate from everything in the Republican Convention, too sweet, contentious, hassled, frayed, tawdry, boring, comic, comfortable, menacing, and the faces are always in opposition, so direct and so spaced out, so handsome, so full of acne, so innocent, so open, so depraved, so freaky, so violent, so gentle that first one’s senses are alive as one is alive before the sight of a painting and then are fatigued, as in a museum where there is too much great painting and too much stale air.
The air is also stale in Flamingo Park, stale with the butt end of dead souls all over the grass, washed out, leached out, processed-out, souls dead with the consumptions of their own drug-fired awareness, and the vision is always at hand of the American Left disappearing in the vortex of the great cosmic hole of the drug while Nixon speaks from the Heights of the White Knights and says, “I will destroy 200,000,000 Asians before I let American youth go over to drugs.” Audiences will cheer because nothing is worse than American Youth on drugs (and they are right!) (even if the South Vietnamese with the sanction of the CIA are sending their smack on that Bob Hope road which leads from Saigon to Miami). What a world and what knots! The devil has tied them with fingers of steel.
So Aquarius never remains in Flamingo Park too long at a time, or he might be tempted to stay and do a book about communities of consent. He is not ready for that. He is in Miami of his own desire to study Republicans—such opportunities do not come much more often than every four years. He does his duty, therefore, and breathes that other air of listening to Republican concepts which have never been illumined by any drug, or indeed any breeze which does not pass through the vaults of a bank. He does not care to state which is worse. Left meets Right at the end of ideology, and the smell of dead drugs is like the smell of old green bills. Fungus in the cellar is growth in the damp.