The Politics Before Us

Edmund Muskie
Edmund Muskie; drawing by David Levine

The following is based on the transcript of an extemporaneous speech given by Tom Wicker to a meeting sponsored by the New Democratic Coalition in New York on January 12.

I was asked to talk today about the results of the 1970 elections and where they may have left us. I’m going to pass over the numbers game that we’ve played in Washington since those elections. I’m going to pass over the question of whether or not there is an ideological majority of one kind or another in the Senate. I’m going to get right down to the literal fact and say that it seems to me that the only thing you can say about the 1970 elections is that the Democrats picked up nine seats in the House and the Republicans one and a half senators. If you wonder how there can be a half-senator, you haven’t met some of those fellows.

Getting beyond the numbers game to some results of the 1970 elections that may mean something, I would say first that there was no further swing to the Republicans in the South. After at least a decade and a half of a steady Republican trend in the South, the Republicans did not make any further gains.

In fact, they lost two governorships they had held, and two more they had hoped very much to win. They won only one seat in Congress and that was from the valley of Virginia. So I would suggest that Nixon may be in a good deal more trouble in 1972 in achieving even as many electoral votes in the South as he did in ’68, particularly since Governor Wallace now appears to be ready to run entirely as a Southern candidate, trying to consolidate the Southern vote as best he can. And after his four years in office, it will not be as easy for Southern voters to delude themselves that somehow the election of Richard Nixon will turn back the tide of the civil rights movement.

There are some other consequences. There is no real evidence, it seems to me, of the kind of conservative trend that had been predicted. I’m not talking necessarily about conservatism as against the old New Deal or conservatism in economics or anything of that sort. I have in mind a sort of law-and-order conservatism, a crackdown on the dissidents. I saw no evidence of any such trend in the 1970 elections, despite the assiduous efforts of the Administration and most of the press to convince us that there was such a trend.

Another thing I didn’t see in the 1970 elections was a vast, overwhelming demand for the Democratic party. People like to cite all the governorships the party won. They should look at the governorship in Nebraska, for instance, in which the man who was elected there was about as far to the right,…

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