In Chris Christie’s cold affirmation of disinterest in Saturday’s 35,000 person State House rally, I heard the same thing 12mileseastofTrenton did: Nixon.
In the Fall of 1969, American protest against the Vietnam War ramped up. Earlier that year, the officious Richard Nixon inherited the costly and failing war from Lyndon Johnson. Nixon installed Henry Kissenger as Secretary of State, and though he announced Vietnamization, military personnel peaked and by autumn word had leaked out about the crimes of Lt. William Calley, and the inequity stirred more people.
On October 15th came the first Moratorium to end the war; tens of thousands of people walked silently past the White House, breaking only to shout the name of a dead soldier. Nixon was unmoved, saying afterward he expected protest, “however under no circumstances will I be affected whatever by it.”
Days later, America tuned in to watch Nixon’s considered response: an Oval Office speech, which he ended by calling on the “great silent majority” to support him as he continued the war he had promised to end.
Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” is the resentful and strapped New Jersey that Chris Christie counts on now. He is running a strategy, as Nixon did then, of dismissing vast and vocal protest to his spending priorities by marginalizing the participants. Nixon dispensed Spiro Agnew (in speeches by Pat Buchanan & William Safire) to hurl alliterative insults at protesters – “nattering nabobs of negativism” – while he himself rigidly denied the protesters mattered at all. Christie sends Drewniak, or drops that hammer himself.
Christie should heed history. In an autumn of his own rigidity, Nixon didn’t count on how his refusal to deal fairly would impact the peace movement. It grew exponentially, and took on new constituencies of people who hadn’t railed at the War before. Days later, came the Second Moratorium, on November 15, 1969. And Nixon’s arrogance made that the largest political rally in American history, even as Saturday’s was the largest political rally in Trenton history. And again, Nixon, like Christie now, made his disregard clear, telling reporters he watched a football game that night, and never looked out the White House windows.
12mileseastofTrenton – in a Comment titled His Arrogance is in good company – heard the same bells ring that I did (listen to this audio clip 12miles found). Christie’s arrogance reveals a brittle political force, too deeply invested in his own direction and his own words.
In a generation since President Nixon, the GOP has become a laboratory for smarter, stronger communication than in Nixon’s day. Christie learned from sharp mentors. And so his pugilistic swagger looks different than Richard Nixon’s sweaty-lipped and uncomfortable superiority.
But make no mistake, nothing that brittle stands without breaking. In the discussion we’ve been having post-rally, my suggestion is gather constituencies unmoved by this struggle before – NJ’s teenagers have already given you an opening – and build on that. That’s my 2 cents.