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LIBERALS have never much liked demonstrations. Most were willing to go down to Washington once a year during the Vietnam War, sing a few bars of "All We Are Saying is Give Peace a Chance" and then go back to their home communities. After the demonstration, or the "moratorium" as they prefered to call it, most liberals went back to their day to day routine. A few got active in congressional and senatorial campaigns or joined the McCarthy and McGovern crusades. However, very few went back to organize demonstrations on a local basis. Direct action tactics have usually been frowned upon. Tonight, it is essential that these tactics be used against Gerald Ford when he comes to the Harvard Club.
In 1970 the case against direct action went something like this: There are hundreds of pro-war congressmen who must be defeated. Many of them hold vulnerable seats and can be defeated with strong campaigns. All that demonstrating will do is create a backlash reaction in the electorate. The issue will change from the U.S.'s role in Southeast Asia to whether student demonstrators are threatening the fabric of American society. Faced with the prospect of defending sometimes violent demonstrators, many liberals will either defend them and go down to defeat, or swing to the right. The only way to bring the war to an end is to try to elect an anti-war majority in Congress.
At the time, and even now, I think this logic made sense. As election analysts Scammon and Wattenberg have noted, the "social issue" was particularly powerful in 1970. Many working class whites--who had real doubts about our activities in Indochina--ended up supporting hawkish candidates because of their displeasure with student disruptions. If the blue collar workers in New York City knew what James Buckley stood for in the 1970 Senate election, he never would have gotten 65 per cent of the Catholic vote. A number of liberals, like Adlai Stevenson III in Illinois, had to swing sharply to the right in order not to risk alienating blue collar whites. Instead of educating the electorate about the tragedy of our intervention in Southeast Asia, Stevenson spent much of his time explaining why he named Thomas Foran, the prosecutor of the Chicago Seven, his campaign chairman.
The reason the liberals' strategy didn't work in 1970 is simple. First, they were not able to put enough troops into the fields canvassing and campaigning. It was no problem getting 100,000 people down to Washington but it was hard to presuade them to go to some obscure congressional district in Iowa to work on "important" campaigns, at the Senate level or higher. Those liberals who were willing to work did not always have the desire to work in low visibility campaigns. Very simply, many liberal activists like to be around the media and in the center of attention. One need only look at the 1972 McGovern campaign to see an example of this. It seemed every day that "sources" in the McGovern campaign were leaking information to the press about who was fed up or about to be fired. The American people knew the internal workings of the McGovern campaign as well as the candidate, thanks to the big mouths on the staff.
Certainly the social issue hurt the Democrats in a number of districts during the 1970 campaign. It was very easy for Spiro Agnew to run around the country charging that the Democrats tacitly supported riots, demonstrations, crime in the streets and pornography. After the Grand Rapids, Mich., congressional loss this year, a Republican leader in Congress was quoted in The New York Times as saying that his party should turn back to the old reliable social issues. Finally, another reason the liberals' strategy didn't work is that it is very difficult to beat incumbents--at any time, in almost any circumstance. Over 95 per cent of all incumbents who run for political office win re-election. Most Americans are not interested in politics and even an issue as powerful as the war in Vietnam was not strong enough to motivate them to undertake a congressional housecleaning. Many congressmen--both liberals and conservatives--maintain close contact with their constituents between elections and thus win support for completely unideological reasons. Any congressman who is particularly attentive to the interests of his district is very difficult to defeat.
Gerald Ford is coming to Boston today and it is important for all liberals to turn out to welcome him. There are no elections immediately at hand in which the election of pro-impeachment congressmen are at stake. Liberals must take to the streets in an effort to both sway public opinion and congressional attitudes. Congress will only vote to impeach Nixon if it is convinced that the American people are totally against him. Thus it is important that there is as large a crowd as possible tonight demanding Ford to explain the Nixon administration's role in bugging, corruption and special interest deals. Both the American people and Congress are impressed by numbers. The more demonstrators that turn out, the better. The media will certainly turn out in full force and it is critical to make the main point of their stories the demonstration and not the group of punk ass Republicans at Harvard trying to suck up to the vice president.
Any value that the demonstration might have will be totally negated by any show of violence or disruption. There is nothing wrong with creative posters and anti-Nixon chants, but violent disruptions could again cause a backlash. Gerald Ford should not be allowed to brand anti-Nixon demonstrators as crazy leftists or "extreme partisans" as he described them in a speech at Atlantic City, N.J. If congressmen and the American people get the sense that the impeachment drive is being spearheaded by some bizarre left wing sect, the cause will be severly weakened.
Frankly, I'm more than a little worried that a group like the Attica Brigade may do something violent. The Attica Brigade, you might remember, led the trashing of the Center for International Affairs during the spring of 1972. The Brigade manipulated a group of anti-war demonstrators returning from a Boston rally into an attack on the CFIA--a move which made no political sense. Who knows what they will be up to tonight? Also, the Ford demo could bring a lot of radical activists out of retirement and back into the fray. A former SDS leader who has been out of political organizing in Cambridge for the last three years, has realigned and is now making a comeback as the New America Movement (NAM) coordinator of the event.
The anti-Gerald Ford demo could do much to help the impeachment cause. It is important that liberals turn out and make sure there is no violence. It is also important that any time any member of the Nixon administration comes to Cambridge, he should be picketed.
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