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Hardshell Realism


By Robert Decherd

ONE REPORT FROM MIAMI Beach following the Democratic Convention last summer portrayed the November election as a test of tempered idealism versus hardshell realism. Richard Nixon won the election. Tempered idealism was lost in the shuffle.

Many people like to attribute this outcome to the President's political acumen and to George McGovern's lack of it. More accurately, the Republican victory was a rejection of a campaign and a platform which operated outside the usual guidelines of party politics. It was not an affirmation of Republican ideals, as the GOP's failure to follow through in state and Congressional elections demonstrated.

Nonetheless, the President and his party are taking the 1972 election as a call to shift drastically the alignment of power and conservative philosophy in the United States. So while the President takes care of the Constitution, the Republican leadership is working to strengthen party ranks from top to bottom.

Part of this effort focuses on developing a Republican youth corps to counterbalance the expansive youth movement which has supported Democratic candidates over the past five years.

The rudiments of Republican Youth gained prominence last summer as a slick, mindless formation called Young Voters for the President (YVPs). Watching them bubble over with enthusiasm on cue from television-conscious programmers presented a striking contrast to the almost over-serious kids who roamed Miami Beach during the Democratic Convention.

Reactions to the Young Voters for the President varied. Most of the left-liberal types in Cambridge brusquely discounted Nixon's claim that with the aid of the YVPs, he would capture 50 per cent of the under-21 vote. They should have known better: this community is not exactly the best measuring stick for mainstreams of American thought, and anyway, Richard Nixon doesn't run around anymore making statements that have not been tested first by his White House staff of political henchmen.

More important was the reaction of young conservatives. After all those years of standing idly by, avoiding the ridicule of their contemporaries who peopled sundry campus revolts, these conservatives watched YVPs parade across their television screens and muttered in astonishment: "Good God, I'm not alone!"

In the wake of this revelation by the masses, Republican youth leaders apparently decided to seize the opportunity to expand their base of operation.

Thus, while the young supporters of George McGovern search for a new vent for their energies in the face of a second term of Richard Nixon, the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) is hard at work.

Just this past weekend, the CRNC held one of its "Student Fieldman Schools" right here in the same backyard where SDS staged its National Convention on Racism last Spring.

What's a Student Fieldman School? The CRNC describes it as "an exhaustive curriculum designed to give a complete training to student GOP activists." Imagine, in just two days. The CRNC also guarantees "all the techniques needed for a well-run, successful campus election involvement." And they aren't talking about student council elections.

Moreover, the National Committee claims it has trained over 300 people in Student Fieldman Schools over the past six years. No doubt, after the landslide of November 1972, projections for the next six years far exceed that number.

What is disturbing about such a school--besides the fact that the Harvard campus is now considered so docile that the CRNC feels comfortable indoctrinating its corps of organizers here--is that it fits the Republican bureaucratic mold so precisely.

The Student Fieldman program appears to be a purely technical proposition. Its sessions concentrate on media and campaign organizing, on the logistics of canvassing, registrations, candidate's campus appearances and recruitment. There is not a single time slot scheduled for a discussion touching on ideology, that odd notion which fills the heart of any good political organization man with scorn.

These are manifestations of the Republican hierarchy. Even the registration form for the Fieldman School is littered with the hollow, jive rhetoric of the Young Voters for the President.

Two choices on the registration checklist are: "I'm impecunious. Can you call me and let's talk about deferring the registration [fee] until my finances are better?" and "I will need housing at good ole Harvard. I'll need some place to crash [pick a night]." Or, for humor, "I'll be arriving by plane, bus, train or sailboat and will need to be picked up."

The impecunious no doubt had the $25 registration fee waived by the CRNC. The press did not even get a chance to pay it.

Last Thursday, the managing editor of The Crimson called the CRNC in Washington and received a preliminary okay to attend the Fieldman session here (no waiver of the registration fee, though). He showed up at the Phillips Brooks House Parlour Room Friday night to sign in.

The local brass reversed the preliminary approval of the CRNC. No press, they said, and they then confirmed their decision with Joseph Abate, the chairman of the CRNC, who was in Cambridge to oversee the Fieldman School.

Like their elders, whom they emulate with such verve, the CRNC chief and the soon-to-be fieldmen recognize the maxim of Watergate politics. Internal political operations are to be kept secret--unless you happen to believe in open government or there is a way to spy on the other guy's operations without anybody knowing what you're up to.

This is what is known in the present Republican Party as hardshell realism. It works, too.

Indeed, any tempered idealists who envision 1976 as a broad-based rejection of Nixon-Republican realism had better consider the groundwork being done on all levels by Republicans before reassuring themselves that the mandate of 1972 cannot be foisted upon the American people again four years hence.

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