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Just a few notes. The wonderful Daniel Ellsberg interview that appeared in these pages last month sent me back to the early 1970s. It sent me back to Hannah Arendt's magisterial essay "Lying in Politics," Mary McCarthy's uproariously funny book The Mask of Watergate, and encouraged me to search out books by Nixonian characters: John Dean, H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and more general histories of that period, including the Tapes.

It struck me during the Alito hearings that the legacy of those Nixon years is finally coming full circle. It isn't just in the Bush White House's similarities to the Nixon White House, the imperial presidency, the secrecy and lies, the NSA wiretapping scandal, the leaks, and overall constitutional crisis. It is more the fact that the men who were fundamentally shaped by the Nixon ideology are tightening their reign on power. It is a mistake to think of men like John Roberts, Sam Alito, Bush and Cheney, and especially Karl Rove, as part of the so-called "Reagan Revolution." They are really the products of the Nixon Revolution, of which the Reagan years were a later manifestation.

Disclaimer: I was born in 1975, so much of the Nixon era is still new to me. It wasn't something that interested me very much until recently, but now I'm hooked. There is still something strangely disreputable about "Nixon studies," but this seems to be true about almost all of post-WWII American history. I think it has to do with American consumer culture: it is as if past presidential administrations become "used goods" once the president leaves office. Consumer culture demands that we move on to the next thing. While sentimental revisionist studies and rehabilitation are acceptable and even welcomed, rigorious study of the facts have no place in mainstream popular culture.

Movement conservatism was hatched by Nixon. Karl Rove's mind and program are a direct result of Nixon's desire to create a one-party state, a kind of coalition between big-business, small-business, and the fundamentalist right-wing. This was Nixon's goal, a new Republican party that would exclude blacks, marginalize Jews, and forever demonize "Democrats." Back in the early 1970s, as related in John Dean's book Worse Than Watergate, Rove was already identified as a diligent functionary working on the far right fringes, further right than even Nixon was then.

Everything about the Alito hearings suggested a man and a mind fundamentally shaped by Nixonian doctrines, from Alito's Italian immigrant story, to his distrust of his own Ivy League education, his disgust for the anti-war movement in the late 1960s, his membership in CAP, his disavowel of Warren Court decisions, and on and on. All of these things were part and parcel of Nixon's agenda. CAP spoke directly to Nixon's much professed belief in segregation, his attempt to role back integrationist policies, his belief that women should not be highly educated, all of which are made clear in the Nixon tapes that have been made public.

The right's pointed hatred of Ted Kennedy is still Nixon's hatred of JFK, Robert, and Ted Kennedy. And perhaps in some ways Ted Kennedy is still fighting Nixon and the Nixonian agenda in these hearings and in his Senate floor speeches.

And let's not forget: Hillary Clinton worked as legal counsel for the committee that was going to impeach Nixon, something he certainly never forgot, and which he remarked on continually to friends and confidants during the 1992 campaign. And the "vast right-wing conspiracy" she spoke of in the mid-1990s was pure Nixon.

The Reagan Revolution put a new face on Nixon's America, notably in the sphere of social and cultural policies. Reagan himself soared to popularity using television, advertising and marketing schemes, which Nixon pioneered in 1968, after learning his lesson in the infamous 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate.

The Meese Justice Department, about which we've heard so much in the last six months, was advancing a Nixonian agenda. And the nomination of Bork in 1987 was in many respects the capstone of that agenda. One of the things that recurrs in the transcript of the Bork hearings is Bork's eagerly taking on the assignment of firing Archibald Cox in 1973, a troubling fact that the Senators on the committee just couldn't let go of. This was one of the things that really sunk that nomination, though the privacy issue has largely obscured that fact.

The fundamental importance of Nixon in shaping post-68 America, including the America of today, is made more apparent in comparison with post-68 developments in Europe. More later...

Originally posted to Palladio on Fri Feb 03, 2006 at 08:10 AM PST.

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