He had tried everything he could think of to accommodate the left. He supported creation of the EPA, OSHA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission. But it meant nothing to his enemies, and his friends were turning on him as a result.
So what happened? He won a virtual draw in the 1970 elections, with highlight races like James Buckley (right) winning a minority victory in New York and Bill Brock knocking off Al Gore Sr. balanced against losses elsewhere. (It is easier to score gains when you start with a minority, as Nixon did.)
And he learned not to accommodate. He would never again appear so liberal to his own base, and would try henceforth to feed them more than rhetoric.
I have written here before of comparisons between Barack Obama and Nixon. Like Nixon, Obama is a crisis President. He came to office as the myths, values and assumptions of a generation had crashed the ambulance of state. Instead of being allowed to pursue his own course, he found himself for the most part on the defensive, pursuing conservative ends with liberal rhetoric, and angering his own base.
Everything Obama has done has emboldened his enemies, just as everything Nixon did 40 years ago emboldened his. And so we come to the Democrats' great depression, an assumption among both the base and observers that they're about to be run out of town, and that they deserve to be.
But Nixon's enemies, it turned out, faced deeper problems than anyone saw. They were dividing into tribes. There were the anti-war Democrats, the labor Democrats, the black Democrats, the feminist Democrats, the conservative Democrats, the southern Democrats. Each group was ready to go to war against the others. It would prove a simple matter of defeating them through the strategy of divide-and-conquer. Some groups (like the conservative and southern Democrats) were absorbed into the Republican coalition. Others were relentlessly scapegoated, to the point where even today, 40 years later, some still call liberals "hippies." (As though such creatures existed.)
What few observers understand is that, today, the Republican coalition is dividing into tribes just as Democrats did back then. In the face of their worldview collapsing around them, the product of events, different groups have taken the flag of one mini-cause or another and marched away with it.
Wall Street, Church Street, Easy Street, Oil Street, Racist and Military Street Republicans have always shared an uneasy alliance. Now they are increasingly going their separate ways. They are dropping one anothers' issues as priorities. They are becoming tribes.
The crowd that followed Glenn Beck to the Washington Mall is one such tribe. Social issues, religious issues are key for them. They hate the idea of gay marriage, many would love to ban contraception. They want their form of Christianity taught by the state, obedience imposed from above, confusing their will with God's will. No surprise they're being led by a Mormon whose religious ancestors did just that in Utah.
In taking his present path (and most people don't recognize this) Beck separated himself explicitly from the "Tea Party" Republicans, whose economic rejectionism was first paid-for by party insiders like Dick Armey, but whose extremism (repeal direct election of Senators) eventually turned off many faithful party members.
The President and those around him have sought to co-opt members of some groups, notably the Cheneyite militarists (we've doubled-down in Afghanistan and followed the Bush Iraq policy) and some Wall Street types (America's two richest men now regularly find common cause with the White House). These efforts are given short shrift by the nattering classes because most members of those groups have not moved. But some have, and some is more than none.
The greatest danger, as I have written here before, comes from the Oil Street Republicans, a small collection of billionaires dedicated to energy-as-resources who owned the Bush Administration and are willing to put their fortunes into taking back power. The Roberts Court has explicitly endorsed this effort, and this may be the real source of trepidation on the left today, the fear that Americans will follow the money and ignore their own interests.
That fear is overblown. Some 90% of the RSS feed ads on most liberal blogs are paid for by these oilagarchs, and there has been no mass rush for the exits at DailyKos and Firedoglake. Ads that don't speak to how you really feel are worse than useless. Any marketer will tell you that.
To my mind the biggest flaw in the Democratic message for 2010 is they haven't identified an enemy, and run against them explicitly, leaving the rest pretty much alone. And it's these oilagarchs who make the most tempting targets. That's one reason I have suggested making the War Against Oil the centerpiece of this year's campaign — an explicit promise to pass new incentives for saving energy and producing it through devices, paid for by eliminating incentives for resource production.
I have also suggested the Administration call out people like the Koch brothers (right) by name, and there are two reasons for that. One is that the oilagarchs are reflexively secretive, and won't like having the bright lights on them, on their lifestyles, on their mansions, on their political activities. Second, it's a way to discredit their biggest political contributions — follow the money, use the money, and a multi-million dollar buy on behalf of any Republican by these people becomes a polling negative.
Why? For the same reason Spiro Agnew (below) targeted the "nattering nabobs of negativism." You attack what appears a strength, and turn it into a weakness.
This is not something the President should be doing himself, of course. It's really a job for the Vice President. Joe Biden needs to find his inner Agnew. He needs to get mad, he needs to get some good speeches written on this theme, and he needs to go to friendly audiences with them, where they will play to loud applause.
A positive agenda in the War Against Oil combined with an explicit attack on the heart of the Republican money machine can win this election, and lead the way to real change, because Republicans are divided against themselves. You can already see it in where Tea Party favorites are being called "extreme" by other Republicans, and polls now show them in tight races where tight races should not exist.
Republicans are divided, Democrats are united. It was the same way 40 years ago, only in reverse. And in the end, back then, Republicans won. Just as Democrats can win today.
All they really need to do is do it. The Administration needs to lead. The crisis is cresting. History will not look kindly on those who dither in the face of the fire.
So this is my answer to those liberals who are depressed and assuming the worst for the coming midterms. We've got the GOP right where we want them. All we need is for our generals to sound the charge. Set the strategy and move.