SHORTLY AFTER ARRIVING in New York to cover President Nixon's Veterans Day motorcade through Westchester County, I went to the Hotel Roosevelt Headquarters of the New York Committee to Re-Elect the President to pick up my credentials from the Secret Service. Being a student newsman, and thus twice damned as far as the Nixon people were concerned, I had some trouble getting a press card; I passed the time wandering around the NYCREEP headquarters.
Most of the objects that fill a campaign headquarters are forgotten in an instant: promotional broadsides; banks of telephones; litterature tables; ugly furniture and carpeting. A campaign headquarters has a momentary and purely functional existence, and this is reflected in its furnishings. Like a newsroom, a campaign headquarters is supposed to look as raunchy as the people who inhabit it.
So I was surprised to see a brightly-colored, semi-profound epigram affixed to the wall next to the desk of Nixon press aide Maxine Paul. The epigram, lettered in the style of Sister Corrita, read: Do Not Cry Because The Sun Has Gone, For Your Tears Will Blind You To The Stars.
Since my visit to New York, I have tried to reflect on the meaning and conduct of the Nixon Presidential campaign. I have tried to consider the physical reality of Nixon's re-election machine: it is lavish with money and frugal with words; it is confident and professional; it is capable of appearing magnanimous, welcoming Democratic defectors. But most of all the Nixon campaign is elusive, as if it were guarding the darkest secrets, which in fact, it probably is.
In many ways, the Nixon campaign is not really a campaign at all. Nixon rarely leaves Washington, and when he does he is the President and not a candidate for President. Nixon does not debate the issues; he does not even seem to recognize that he is running opposed. This unperturbable Presidential posture seems to be a deliberate gesture of contempt for the old-fashioned idea that a person in public office should have to stand before the voters and explain himself.
But whatever the Nixon campaign is, it seems to be working, for Candidate Nixon has successfully avoided any discussion of the nature of his 1972 appeal to the people or of his proposed policies. Indeed, everything Nixon does seems to be calculated to convince people of the inevitability of his second term; and a voter who is not willing to concede Nixon's election as a foregone conclusion--who stubbornly insists on knowing what wool it is that Nixon is pulling over our eyes--must search for clues.
The best clue I have yet found to explain the nature of the Nixon campaign was scotch-taped to Maxine Paul's Hotel Roosevelt wall. Miss Paul is an intelligent woman, and we should think about her campaign-time advice: Do Not Cry Because The Sun Has Gone, For Your Tears Will Blind You To The Stars.
Voters: Don't cry for the dead Vietnamese and Americans; instead rejoice in the clever diplomacy of Henry Kissinger, brightest of the stars in the Nixon firmament. Rich Liberals: Don't kid yourselves into voting as if you really cared about blacks, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans and the rest of the poor and boring of the world get smart and support a candidate who believes in ruthless sell interest and makes no bones about it. And to you timid souls who many be troubled by the disappearance of the Bill of Rights and other key sections of the Constitution Grow up Even fascism has its good points and anyway-it's a waster of time trying to fight the big boys.
The Nixon people understand better than any of us that the sun has gone. They are glad of it-it was always too bright-and because they are glad of the darkness. Nixon and his gang of moles have known best how to lead and comfort the millions of Americans who have been stumbling about trying to adjust their eyes.
VETERANS DAY WEEKEND the sun had in fact gone from New York. The city was under an overcast sky which dampened the colorful eccentricities that usually delight visitors. Manhattan seemed to be at the ends of the earth, and a look at the faces hurrying down the sidewalks suggested that in New York, personality and companionship had ceased to exist in public places--except as they had been re-invented by the younger and more adventurous city-dwellers. One re-invention of public personality that has recently swept New York is the spray-painting and magic marking of every available surface, especially subway cars, by teenage graffitists. Their calling cards are everywhere in the city, proclaiming that these teenagers may be crazy, but they are surviving: Junior 151; Mouse 162; Super Kool.
Harry J. O'Donnell is Communications Director for the New York Committee to Re-elect the President, and as far as he is concerned, Junior 151, Super Kool and most of the rest of New York are too poor and screwed-up to qualify as potential Nixon voters. But confident that the President will carry Long Island and upstate New York by a huge margin, O'Donnell is willing to let McGovern have New York City. "All we want to do is hold McGovern to a 400,000 vote plurality in New York City," O'Donnell told me. "But," he said puckishly, "if we do carry the city, I won't demand a recount."
Although he is doubtless an honest fellow, it is not hard to imagine O'Donnell stuffing ballot boxes in Queens or Staten Island. He is an overweight white-faced Irishman, and he is so rosy about the prospects of his candidate that in conversations he assumes a fatherly manner, releasing bits of information between pitches of the World Series game on television. In any other year, you would take O'Donnell for a Democrat.
But not in 1972. Despite the fact that Nixon lost the state by 370,000 votes in 1968, New York Republicans are so confident this year that they have allowed themselves the ultimate gesture of political arrogance: a battle against overconfidence within the organization. R. Burdell Bixby, New York State Campaign Director, has ordered that the following blood-curdling message be prominantly displayed in the Hotel Roosevelt headquarters: I hope the Nixon people do to George McGovern what the Democrats did...underestimate him. If they do that...WELL KILL THEM. --Gary Hart
Bixby was once a staffer for Thomas Dewey, the classic victim of political overconfidence, and Bixby says that he "vividly remembers" the last-minute rehersals of the 1948 election. So he is trying to whip his Republican team into a frenzy before the big game.
BUT WHO CAN GO into a frenzy for Richard Nixon? The party militants at the Hotel Roosevelt look sleepy, and spend their time watching television. Even the youth volunteers--hustling political careers for themselves--look embarassed as they search for odd jobs to do, especially one young man who paced the lobby with an unused guitar hanging from his neck. He looked like a lost survivor of the 1960s, trying desperately to adjust to the new order.