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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Harper as Nixon?

I've seen the comparison floating around out there on the intertoobz for some time now.

For those not familiar with the era in question, Rick Perlstein's seminal book Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America sets out how Republican Richard Milhous Nixon and his brain trust used divisiveness, demonization and dog whistles to capture the White House in 1968. The resulting tribalisms, resentments and cleavages in the American body politic are still resonating today.

The U.S. election of 1972 pitted Nixon against Democratic senator George McGovern. McGovern was not the choice of the party establishment. He ran on an anti-war platform that also featured amnesty for draft evaders, support for the Equal Rights Amendment, and a reduction in defence spending.

In November of that year, Nixon beat the living shit out of McGovern. It was one of the most one-sided shellackings in American electoral history.

And yet he was gone two years later, chased from office by the Watergate scandal. (If anyone's curious, that's where the habit of affixing the -gate suffix to scandals comes from.) So it can happen. The worm can turn.

Is it a perfect historical parallel? Of course not. Those were the days of Woodward and Bernstein (and with the passage of time, their role has taken on mythic overtones that may not correspond to reality), not the kind of corporate media now functioning as little more than stenographer. When it's not transmitting useful packaged narratives.

And the underlying sets of facts? Not sure how well they coincide, although a skilled spin doctor or historiographer could probably make them sound like identical twins – or wildly disparate tales, depending on his or her perspective. Watergate began as a story about some penny-ante burglary, but thanks to some investigative reporting backed by senior managers at the Washington Post, it grew legs and eventually mushroomed into a scandal about cover-ups and high-level illegality reaching all the way into the Oval Office. Harper? Pick your scandal. Not like there's a shortage or anything.

If there's an overarching question here, it's why things like Bruce Carson's appointment or the assassination of Remy Beauregard don't seem to have analogous effects nowadays. Does it really boil down to simplistic sound-bite explanations like "message control" or "scandal fatigue?" Where does the teflon coating come from? That's a longer discussion.

But hey, I'm a Leaf fan. Faint hope and platitudes about next year are what we're all about.

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