Thursday, May 08, 2008

Times change (And where's your flag pin, boy?)

I guess I'm on kind of a 1960-nostalgia kick today. That same year, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote a little book supporting the Democratic candidate for President, called Kennedy or Nixon: Does it make any difference? The bolding in the following quote is mine, but otherwise it's offered with no further comment:

No one with a sense of tradition could have done what Nixon did in the years 1950-1954, thinking it good clean fun to identify his political opponents with treason to the Republic. Not that American politics has not traditionally been lively and uninhibited. Our politicians have always enjoyed a considerable latitude in polemic and invective. But one line of attack has always been considered unforgivable - that is, to question the patriotism of those with whom one disagreed about public policy. "One can criticize, slash hard, accuse opponents of stupidity, blindness, inefficiency - any number of things," as Commonweal once put it in an editorial. "But it is impossible to imply that one's opponents deliberately betrayed the interests of the United States, and then expect to be able to work with these men after the campaign is over as if nothing had happened." Today Nixon, looking back on the days when he used to characterize Truman, Stevenson, and Acheson as the supporters and defenders of the Communist conspiracy, is said to express (in private) a certain rueful regret; but he has never indicated any real understanding of the enormity of his offense. He seems now to dismiss it all as a youthful excess, not appropriate perhaps to the dignity of a Vice President, but still essentially (in one of his cherished phrases) just "a fighting, rocking, socking campaign" in the American way. He seems not to understand that false imputations of disloyalty have never been in the American way. He seems not to understand that he is the only major American politician in our history who came to prominence by techniques which, if generally adopted, would destroy the whole fabric of mutual confidence on which democracy rests. If he understood such things, he would understand better why traditional American politicians like Sam Rayburn, instead of accepting his protestations that he was just a good, free-swinging, hard-hitting American boy, continue to regard him with incredulity and contempt.
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