Colonel Agnew

Spiro Agnew
Spiro Agnew; drawing by David Levine

Chicago, Illinois
Lincoln’s Birthday

“When the dictates of humanity are in question, I know no difference between the Turks and Greeks.”

—Byron at Missolonghi

Who could have thought that Chicago, of all cities, would become the capital of all those more shocked by unsightly deportment than by cruelty?

William Kunstler approaches the bench to ask a question of Judge Julius Hoffman. The Judge wriggles, sits his ground. “Stand back, sir,” he says. What electricity remains in the great case is left to this old man and the thrill he feels at facing danger from the persons he holds in his power. We have attained every luxury up to the ultimate affluence: the desperate display of courage in face of the powerless.

All of us, I suppose, can make jokes of anything if we have watched it long enough. But, here, with no association beyond these fugitive moments, the trial means nothing but the terrible sadness of what so long a confinement has done to persons with whom you did not share it: Abbie Hoffman tossing his children about during the recess, trying to be as carelessly gay as he always has been, but with his silences getting longer and longer; the dullness of Jerry Rubin’s eyes. And these leaders of a party whose name and whose slogan was “YIPPIE.”

There have not been many of us, certainly not these children of the Fifties, who really believe that America can punish. And now here they are, their judge the embodiment of the national nervous breakdown, their punishment his tranquilizer.

It all happened so long ago. Yet to enter the lobby of the Conrad Hilton is to be at once aware of how little a strange face is still to be trusted; seventeen months after the Convention, the alarms of those pickets are livelier than the memory of floods could be in Florence; these are scars of the spirit. The Vice President has been there since noon; he will not address the Republicans until the evening. He is invisible on the twenty-sixth floor; his press conference has been canceled. The explanation for everything, especially his indifference, is security. The first edition of the Tribune, from excess of devotion, abstains from reminding the malicious that the Vice President will be in Chicago today.

Yet his symbols are visible everywhere in the Secret Service men with their radio-telephones. A visitor comes upon a cluster of them searching the room appointed for the Republican reception; they start at a question. The Vice President has brought no press secretary or any other of those assistants we are used to having with the Vice Presidents of our custom, surrogates for their anxiety to please everyone, their avidity to make use of anyone. There is only this haunted troop of his guards. Their talk is only about having been on the alert since five in…

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