In a recent interview with Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland, the National Review ( founded by the late ueber-conservative, William F. Buckley) noted that: the notion that is still prevalent among the left is that somehow Reagan and the religious right sprung from the skull of Athena fully formed in 1980 and there wasn’t a lot of movement conservatism preceding that.
Nixonland tells a different story. Barry Goldwater may have been the first to tap into it, and Governor Reagan of California may have refined it, but it was Richard M. Nixon who exploited the fear of the "great silent majority" of Americans who watched in rising panic as cities exploded in flames, crime rates rose, and the values that they had lived by, hard work, faith in God, trust in their Government were eroded.
Perlstein tells the story of an "American proletariat" who had become "middle class" and would, in the words of Stewart Alsop, "defend their property 'as ferociously as the classic capitalists of Karl Marx's day.' "
Hisotrical change had favored them, lifting them from the inner-city (or rural) poverty of their youth and into the paradise of suburbia. Average voters not only had no desire to go back, but they were terrified that the haunted inner city they had left behind would follow them into their new suburban safe havens- traveling on forced busing, in forcefully integrated neighborhoods, bringing crime and fear.
A rightward shift began, of which we are still feeling the effects today, some 40 years after Nixon's presidential victory in 1968.
As we stand looking back at the results of 40 years of Republican Rule, we note that our nation has gone from being a creditor to a debtor nation, that we have managed to loose the respect of the world, and that, perhaps most importantly, that middle class of Americans who OWNED in the 1960s is again shrinking back into the working poor.
To many of us, it seems self-evident that Democrats MUST win this election- for the health of the nation and for the health of the middle class. All things being equal, they probably would.
But the Right still has it's most powerful weapon ready to hand: FEAR.
And, in today's New York Times, and in the July/August edition of the Atlantic Monthly are to articles which describe a rising trend in America- a trend which will breed fear, and more fear...
The titles tell the story almost by themselves. "As Program Moves Poor to Suburbs, Tensions Follow" says the Times. The Atlantic Monthly is a bit more lurid: American Murder Mystery
The "Mystery" referred to in Atlantic's title is this: Why is it that, as crime rates fall or hold steady in America's inner cities, crime rates in America's smaller cities and in suburbia are going UP?
There is a growing suspicion that this is because the Federal Government, through its Section 8 housing program that allows inner-city poor to rent in the suburbs, is exporting the drug, crime and gang problems of the inner city into the more quiet neighborhoods of suburbia.
While the causes may be debatable, the problem is not. Crime rates are rising, and they are beginning to affect, once again, that "Great Silent Majority of Americans" - perhaps even more directly than they did in the 1960s when Newark burned.
Democrats are going to need to get out ahead of this problem, and FAST- before the Right Wing forces of Fear begin to own it and make it their own.
If the early suspicions are correct, that social programs have simply shifted crime from one locale (where it was contained) to another, where it is freer to infect an even larger percentage of the population at large, then Democrats are going to have to face some interesting challenges as they try to solve the problem.
We may have to face the fact that Government alone cannot provide the answers to all questions. We may have to find ways to form alliances with faith based groups, for example, who can help instill the social values and traditions that knit a community together and provide a structure. To head off fear, we may have to redefine our relationships to ideas, we may have to draw new maps to reach old destinations.
Worst of all, we may have to learn to be patient as we attempt to solve these problems...I do not say this lightly, one of the great things about the Democratic Party is that we are people who try to live our political lives as those who "who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."
We believe in change now...the blistering fact that the dirty work of 400 years may not be undone in 40 is one that will hurt, but one which we might have to face as we fight for solutions.
One thing, however, seems certain. If Barak Obama and the Democratic Party do not find ways to address this rising problem, then John McCain (disciple of Goldwater, prophet of the Republican Age) will find a way to do it for us, and we will find ourselves living in Nixonland for sometime to come.