Last spring, Vice-President Nixon was looking for a platform. He was practically assured of the Republican nomination; he had gained a good deal of support from unexpected quarters, and he had managed to lose much of his reputation for trickiness. All he lacked was something to say.
Now he has found what he wanted, and it is exactly the sort of thing one might have expected. Although how he went about finding it is shrouded in fogs thicker than Chicago's own, it is clear at least that the platform is his, not Goldwater's, or Eisenhower's, or even Rockefeller's. The reason for this also is obvious enough: Nixon is neither a Goldwater nor a Rockefeller, and he has had to step adroitly to keep out of trouble with both wings of his party.
The platform, contrary to what one might be led to believe by the Vice-President's recent frenetic rushing to and from the Governor's Manhattan apartment and the White House, was probably not spun out of a few creative minds on the eve of its approval by the convention. It is unlikely, for instance, that Nixon asked for a stronger civil rights plank simply because Senator Kennedy selected Senator Johnson as his running mate. Shrewd as Kennedy's choice seems to be, it is hardly enough to panic Nixon so much that he will lose all hope of winning a single Southern state in November. Nixon may have been at a loss for words last spring--but he was inarticulate in an attempt to resist all the pressures being applied by his allies, and not because he was confused or indecisive in the face of the relatively minor onslaughts of his opponents.
He has had an easy time of it with his fiscal policy plank. As Chairman of the President's Committee on Price Stability and Economic Growth he achieved an endearing marriage of progressivism and conservatism with the words: "We [must] continue to pursue the general policies of the last few years but improve the effectiveness with which we administer these policies." He discovered that formula months ago, but it has taken him several more to adjust his entire platform to the curious slogan, "positive, progressive conservatism." With as little mention of how local committees are to provide the initiative for financing slum clearance and unemployment relief as the Democrats made of how their program of five per cent growth without taxes is to work, the platform restates a by now very familiar Republican rejection of Federal subsidies and "artificial" stimulus of national growth.
President Eisenhower lost his temper over defense last February, and Nixon no doubt feels that it would be unwise to deviate too far from his chief on this touchy subject. At the same time, he knows that people have little faith in Eisenhower's pleas that they trust his planning when they are about to elect a new President. Even such a master as Nixon, however, would have a hard time trumpeting "enough missiles" and "more missiles" in the same speeches. As a result, he has decided to say nothing except that we have more missiles now than we did under Harry Truman, and if he is elected, we can reasonably expect to get even more.
Nixon's foreign policy plank is even more passive. What the Vice-President wishes to do--although it is somewhat uncertain what he means by the phrase--is to stand firm, and in doing so to liberate Eastern Europe and Communist South-east Asia. How he plans to do this--by being rude to the Russians, by being nice to them, or simply by aiming rockets at them whenever they behave badly--he gives no indication. The entire plank, in fact, when it is not hoping for a glorious future and deploring the recognition of Red China, is celebrating the end of the Korean War and other accomplishments of the Eisenhower Administration. The Democratic plank also is riddled with irritating platitudes, but is a doctoral dissertion by comparison.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this plank is what it has left out. It has virtually ignored all of Governor Rockefeller's relevant "points," including his remarkable proposal that the U.S. support the "confederation" of nations into solid political chunks. Both Nixon and Charles H. Percy's committee chose to exclude this intriguing scheme from their platform, probably because it seemed a little oddball--perhaps radical--in contrast to the vapidity of the rest of the plank.
Although their reasons for rejection of the Rockefeller plan were likely, I fear, to have been the wrong ones, it is just as well that they did so. Based on a vague misconstruction of Professor A.A. Berle, the plan was a half-baked, totally uninformed attempt to translate a hope that the European Common Market (and conceivably the Outer Seven Free Trade Area and the new Latin American Common Market also) achieve political unity through economic cooperation.
The convention, however, has staidly satisfied itself with the ponderous pronouncement that the party would approve of political unity in regional groupings, were it to be attained. By eschewing anything but this tepid conciliatory gesture, Nixon has proved that he would prefer to rest on Eisenhower's laurels (such as they are) rather than on Rockefeller's liberalism.
The Vice-President's search for a platform has ended--but because it had to--and his troubles are by no means over yet. Every plank is a vacuous patching together of the divergent shreds within the Republican Party, and Nixon has not chosen to reinforce it with something like Al Smith's famous "wet telegram."
I am sure that Nixon would like to be one of the "vigorous leaders" that the challenges of the future apparently demand. It will not be easy, however, to lead such a patchwork kind of unity in any direction. Senator Goldwater has called the Democratic platform a "blueprint for socialism," but it is hard to conceive of even his wing of the party considering its platform a blueprint for anything but standing still.
Nixon, despite the fact that the convention has undeniably given him command over the Republicans, still has to remember that it was under the President's respectable wing that he flourished for nearly eight years. If he hopes to conserve the votes of those who know him as Ike's protege, he can hardly afford to take too many potshots at the bird. With visions of conservative affection for Taft-like politics dancing in his mind, he must ensure that the Old Guard will not find him indistinguishable from his powerful opponents and stay away from the polls.
At the same time, he realizes perfectly well that the increasingly liberal North respects the Rockefeller creed that he carefully omitted from the platform--that the world is changing, and that a new President will have to do something very concrete about it. The platform approved last night suggests that he will simply play it safe, characterizing the Democrats as too flashy to be responsible, and himself as too sedate to be anything else.