Ed Driscoll

'I Can Remember When the Worst Thing On Your Front Lawn was Crabgrass'

As we noted over the weekend, journalists and other Democrats such as President Obama and Nancy Pelosi are having a sense of nostalgia for the mud as they support the filth and inarticulate fury of the Occupy Wall Street gang. Gail Collins of the New York Times made that explicit in her encomium:

Waves of nostalgia swept over me. This was exactly how I spent my college years, which were theoretically dedicated to creating a more humane society and stopping the war in Vietnam, but, in reality, mainly involved meetings. Endless meetings in which it was alleged that the winner was the person who managed to remain sitting while everyone else toppled over with boredom.

Actually, the real winner was Richard Nixon, and in the London Telegraph today, Tim Stanley writes that this current protest will play out as well for the left as it did in 1968. “The 1960s radicalism of Occupy Wall Street will help elect a Republican in 2012:”

The Occupy Wall Street movement is an exercise in nostalgia. It’s an attempt to recreate the excitement of 1968, when the world’s youth took to the barricades. That cosmic revelation hit me while sitting crossed-legged on a bean bag reading about the earnest search for “the Bob Dylan of our age”. Among the people being touted for that position is Kanye West (worth $70 million). On Monday, he toured the cardboard boxes and rainbow flags of Zuccotti Park, New York. Out of solidarity for the bling-ridden poor, Mr West wore a gold chain. He was accompanied by record producer Russell Simmons (worth $340 million). When I first read that piece of news through the blurred light of a burning joss stick, I thought it said Richard Simmons. The two men are very different people. Russell Simmons ran a pioneering hip hop record label and transformed the US music scene. Richard Simmons is a camp white guy who makes fitness videos. I wish I was right and it was Richard Simmons who had accompanied Kanye to Zuccotti Park. He could have elevated the whole thing with an impromptu rendition of The Age of Aquarius on roller skates.

The latest news out of Occupy Wall Street, as the New York Daily News reports, is that they’re dropping in (or perhaps have already have, given that it’s past 4:30 PM on the east coast) on selected members of New York’s business community:

Occupy Wall Street protesters are heading uptown Tuesday to get in the face of some of New York’s richest tycoons.

A “Millionaires March” will visit the homes – or, more realistically, the gleaming marble lobbies – of five of the city’s wealthiest residents, including News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and conservative billionaire David Koch.

Marchers want to present the moguls with oversize checks to dramatize how much less they will pay when New York State’s 2% tax on millionaires expires in December.

This is nothing new — it’s inspired by tactics Saul Alinsky wrote about in 1971, shortly before he died. (I wonder if he then got to meet the person to whom his book was dedicated). And as Stanley writes:

If the existential hope of the Occupy Wall Street movement is to recreate the 1960s, then the protestors need to watch out. Culturally, the Left dominates our memories of the decade. But, in fact, it was the Right who politically triumphed. In 1960s America, antiwar protests generated counter demonstrations that were often bigger. While some students occupied campuses, others held “bleed ins” to provide blood for the troops. Ronald Reagan made his name as Governor of California by facing down students at Berkeley and popular reaction against radicalism helped elect Republican Richard Nixon in 1968.

In the first volume of his epic The Age of Reagan, Power Line’s Steve Hayward wrote that the Gipper was confronted with such a door-to-door protest himself in 1970, and his grown-up response in the face of such campy proto-Michael Moore theatrics helped to skyrocket his popularity in the besieged state of California:

REAGAN’S PUBLIC APPROVAL ratings with California voters soared to 78 percent at one point in 1969, up sharply from the year before. This was the New Left’s gift to Reagan. “Every time he shakes his finger at one of those mobs,” a supporter remarked to Newsweek, “it gets him 10,000 votes.” A Reagan campaign aide told the New York Times: “Campus unrest is an issue between Reagan and the people with nobody in between. They understand what he’s saying. Reagan is a polarizing politician, much more than Nixon. With Nixon, there are all shades of gray, but that’s not the way Reagan operates—he lays it out there.” A Field Poll found that Reagan’s strongest point with the public was that he “speaks his mind, [and is] honest, sincere, straightforward, decisive.”

* * * *

The job of opposing the popular Reagan fell to Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh, the pot-bellied, mustachioed pol who is credited with originating the phrase, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

The trouble for Unruh was that few of the Democratic Party’s milk cows produced for him in 1970, while Reagan headed into the campaign with a vast war chest. Short of money and issues alike (he could hardly claim he would be tougher on campus unrest or welfare cheaters than Reagan), Unruh was compelled to employ a guerrilla campaign to attract free media. Many of his stunts fizzled. He attempted to bring attention to Reagan’s wealthy backers by holding a press conference on the front lawn of Reagan “kitchen cabinet” member Henry Salvatori, charging that Reagan’s tax reform ideas would entail a windfall of more than $5,000 to wealthy people like Salvatori. Salvatori, who Unruh’s advance team thought was out of town, complicated Unruh’s spectacle by charging angrily out his front door to confront Unruh: “Oh you ass, stop being so silly!” Unruh succeeded in getting lots of press coverage, but the stunt backfired. Reagan reacted with his typical cool: “I can remember when the worst thing you had on your front lawn was crabgrass.” But it was nice, he also quipped, that he had an opponent who made house calls. Unruh’s campaign never recovered its bearings after this stunt, and Reagan’s re-election was never in doubt, even though polls detected a late Democratic surge in California that was probably more part of the national trend than due to Unruh’s efforts.

Oh, how Reagan would have loved having Occupy Wall Street to play the role of foil. Why haven’t today’s GOP frontrunners learned from his example?

Related: James O’Keefe has read his Rules for Radicals: