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Ed Driscoll

Off the Rails: Mad Men and American Liberalism in 1968

April 22nd, 2013 - 12:01 am

Nixon: Now More Than Ever

With all of this in the air in 1968, is it any wonder that the American people responded to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, his themes of law and order and the promise of a return to the era of President Eisenhower? Of course, to get elected, Nixon would have to first master the medium that had vanquished him to political Siberia eight years earlier: television. He relied upon an unlikely source, who would transform first his presidential campaign, and then both politics and television news: Roger Ailes, then toiling away as young producer for the syndicated Mike Douglas daytime talk show, broadcast out of Philadelphia. In his 1993 biography of Rush Limbaugh, journalist Paul D. Colford described the chance meeting between Nixon and Ailes:

The affable Douglas would have Edward Teller and dancing bears on the same show, the common denominator being that both the renowned physicist and the circus act happened to be in Philadelphia at the same time. As Ailes himself told the story in a 1992 interview, “One day, my associate ran in and said, ‘We have Richard Nixon, the former vice president, coming in the front door and we have Little Egypt the belly dancer with a snake in the greenroom. What do we do?’ And I said, ‘Put one of them in my office.’ And I forgot about it, and went to rehearsal, and when I came back upstairs, there was Richard Nixon sitting in my office.

“I always said, had they put Little Egypt in there, I’d have an entirely different career, and perhaps a lot more fun.”

“It is also very possible that if Hubert Humphrey had turned up in the Douglas greenroom instead of Nixon, Ailes would have ended up working on the Democratic campaign in 1968. Ailes was far less political in those days than he was professionally ambitious,” Zev Chafets wrote in his new biography of Ailes. As Chafets told me in March when I interviewed him on the new book:

Nixon, who famously lost the ’60 — 1960 race, partly because of his poor performance in the debates, said to Ailes, it’s a shame that you can’t win an election without a gimmick like TV.

And Ailes said, if you think TV is a gimmick, you’re never going to win an election again.  At that time, Roger was in his mid-twenties, and it made a big impression on Nixon, who hired him to be his television producer in the 1968 election.  And in that election, Ailes came up with a formula which has more or less been the formula for televising candidates ever since, which is to try to tightly constrict the audiences and to give the candidate as much control as possible over his public appearances, which is very much the playbook that Obama used in the last election.

One of Mad Men’s signature episodes occurred late in its first season, cross-cutting the back story of how Dick Whitman became Don Draper with election night in 1960. Will Sterling Cooper Draper Price produce ads for Nixon in 1968?  (And will Matt Weiner, the show’s creator, be savvy enough to mention Ailes? If only, perhaps, to get in the same sort of sucker punch he delivered to Mitt Romney last year.)

Zarathustra Versus the Right Stuff

1968 contrasted the two American space programs: real-life NASA had to compete for attention with the Cinerama visions of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the top-grossing film of 1968, which smuggled its Nietzschian philosophy into movie theaters via space stations and talking computers, and was a magnificently photographed and scored exercise in liberal fascism.

I don’t use the phrase lightly: arch-leftist Susan Sontag mentioned 2001 in her 1974 New York Review of Books article “Fascinating Fascism,” and the film perfectly fits the template Jonah Goldberg laid out in the section of his 2007 book Liberal Fascism titled “Hollywood Fascists.” It’s worth noting that 2001′s special effects, production design, and, in a way, its fascist subtext as well would also be the prototype for George Lucas’s Star Wars in 1977, which itself utterly transformed the movie industry.

In 1966, while Kubrick was shooting the live action scenes that would be bracketed by his film’s revolutionary special effects, Time magazine echoed  Friedrich Nietzsche’s firebrand 1882 exultation that “God is Dead,” softening the impact only slightly by phrasing the words in the form of a question: “Is God Dead?” To understand how radical a moment this was, it’s worth remembering that Time had been created in the 1920s by Henry Luce, who was the son of Christian missionaries to pre-Communist China, and was still living. (Luce would pass away the following year.)

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Top Rated Comments   
This is a wonderful examination of those years and you touch on so much that was the germination point for the fields of fetid cultural debris we have to make our way through on a daily basis now.

I was a teen-ager during the JFK presidency and vividly remember those years. The media created the same giddy expectations for the Kennedy administration that they did for Obama, and they focused only on the superficial as they did in '08. With John and Jackie the media whetted the national appetite for a kind of insidious façade of glamour and sophistication that everyone felt they needed in order to be fulfilled. This reverberated throughout the culture and was the beginning of the know-nothing intellectualism and the ravenous consumerism we live with today. The brain dead intellectuals are now everywhere, running everything and consumerism has created nothing but greed, envy and great unhappiness.

The Camelot myth was not a fairytale, it was a nightmare and - as young as I was - I was mildly shocked that everyone around me totally believed it. The beginning of the dumbing down of America, I guess - a task that was completed with the introduction of massive amounts of drugs into all levels of society in the mid-'60s.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The intellectuals poisoned the well in the 1950's. Norman Mailer's "White Negro," not Port Huron, is where I trace the rot.

Mailer celebrated rape, rioting and race hatred by minorities towards anyone of accomplishment in any race. The whole thing unfolded just as he wished. Generations of hip young leftists treated that essay like a roadmap and Soul on Ice as a validation of their deepest wishes. Rabbit Redux captures the essence of this better than any other book, but you have to start with Rabbit Run to undrstand how much we lost.

35 years later, illiterate minority children raised by illiterate mothers are taught by white leftist teachers to celebrate the fact that Bill Ayers tried to bash in cops' heads, and they aren't taught anything else.

It is just as Mailer wished it would be.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (33)
All Comments   (33)
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Actually I feel you have to go back to the late 20's as the Communist infultration of the Federal Government got going. You need no other author to describe the future other than William Z. Foster and his unknown tome "Toward a Soviet America." He says what they will do under a National Dept. of Education, they have done it and nobody really knows. For the unknowing, Foster was alternatlly #1 & #2 in the CPUSA and is buried in the Kremlin, great American, Not!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's bad form to remind people still alive, and "fundamentally" instrumental in the management, of the past if less than laudatory.

That's tantamount to placing blame. HOPING? for at the least a mea culpa from the miscreants. Instead with the fashion in non-judgement, personal feelings of "guilt "in the miscreants sufficient unto the day.

That same non-judgement of course does not apply to inhumane passive smoke killers, , patriots, members of "that vast right wing conspiracy" or critics and opponents to means, methods and aims of the present "holders" of the civic torch.

1968 So Yesterday. That's history. Only wrinklies could possibly care about anything that long ago. Unless of course "crimes against humanity" by people as offender and recipient who have been dead for over a century.Those we insist their progeny must pay for their crimes, as unto the fourth generation?

After all the catchword is "history begins with us". And we have the scions of the Mad Men and their managers in Media, Entertainment, Education and government ofthose days of yore in 1968 and following to whom we are grateful every day. Grateful, otherwise exiled from "good society" for their having showed us the right path.

No NOT the Right Path. "The Left Path". That ancient traditional path to righteousness and guilt free life.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Great post - the links very informative. I was a toddler in 1962 so the background was great to put things into perspective.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1968
Ya, I'm agonna have nightmares for awhile. It was an interesting post, and from the comments it reads like the blind men describing an elephant; it depends on what part of the creature you touched.

Aw hell, what difference does it make?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
For future reference, Mr. Driscoll, it's either Daniel Patrick Moynihan or, if you want to be familiar, Pat Moynihan. No one ever referred to him as Patrick Moynihan.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Let me, as concisely as possible, say this about that.

First, I think you push the timeline somewhat, the real turning point certainly did not preceed the end of the Nixon administration and the moral and political depression after the war in Vietnam ended as it did.

Second, you omit an important point that liberalism, socialism, and even communism held some degrees of academic credibility until the USSR imploded and the Berlin wall fell. This colored the debates in the 1960s in ways hard to recall today.

... suppressing urge to add another two or twenty points ...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It has been said that if you claim that you remember 1968 clearly, then you probably were not part of the action. But who knew that 2001 was Fascist? What the hell does that mean, that it had some tribute to deep forces beyond our own individual ability to control? If it were about "pure" evolution, rather than monolith controlled stuff, would it be less or more Fascist? How does the use of that word here, advance anything?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is a wonderful examination of those years and you touch on so much that was the germination point for the fields of fetid cultural debris we have to make our way through on a daily basis now.

I was a teen-ager during the JFK presidency and vividly remember those years. The media created the same giddy expectations for the Kennedy administration that they did for Obama, and they focused only on the superficial as they did in '08. With John and Jackie the media whetted the national appetite for a kind of insidious façade of glamour and sophistication that everyone felt they needed in order to be fulfilled. This reverberated throughout the culture and was the beginning of the know-nothing intellectualism and the ravenous consumerism we live with today. The brain dead intellectuals are now everywhere, running everything and consumerism has created nothing but greed, envy and great unhappiness.

The Camelot myth was not a fairytale, it was a nightmare and - as young as I was - I was mildly shocked that everyone around me totally believed it. The beginning of the dumbing down of America, I guess - a task that was completed with the introduction of massive amounts of drugs into all levels of society in the mid-'60s.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Funny about Sammy Davis and his Nehru jacket. Today, visit a bookstore in Silicon Valley on a Saturday night and you'll see plenty of young, single Indian males, presumably on H1B visas, and not a one of them is wearing a Nehru jacket.

I guess that's progress!

As to the 1972 GOP convention in Miami, one under-reported dirty trick kept it from being a repeat of the 1968 Democrat convention - Quaaludes.

As a young hippie dude in Florida at the time, I can say that the state was awash in illegal Quaaludes - what would be called a date rape drug today except then, hippie chicks lined up for an evening with them - no force or deception required.

If there is one thing a young radical loved more that smashing faces in the street and "getting his fair share of abuse" in return, it was hippie chicks drugged out on aphrodisiac downers.

I've always admired Nixon's team for that approach to potential civil disorder. Pure genius!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Gee, I've never heard that before. How did they hand out the 'ludes? Did they wander the crowds bearing them on silver trays? Maybe they just carried little baskets of them to distribute to the hippies, who always did appreciate "natural" stuff like baskets. Oh, I know! They tossed them from a helicopter!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Similar to the method here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdfPrkw_V3M (about 0:35).

(They added the goat leggings for the '76 convention. )
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
...and let's not forget the Tet Offensive and the siege of Khe Sahn. Before that Vietnam was "winnable," after that the antiwar movement really became mainstream. 1968 was a terrible year.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And you know what's doubly-crazy about that? Both Tet and Khe San became the biggest American victories of that war. Militarily, each of those debacles dealt the Communists serious defeats. But because they were hard fought and highly visible, the media focused on the negatives.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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