How Government “Works”
March 30, 2013
The following, which is meant to illustrate government “works,” is based up a book by Jonathon Schell, entitled The Time of Illusion.
On November 3, 1969, President Richard Nixon gives a nationalizing televised address on, primarily, the Vietnam war. In that speech, using language and arguments that would easily justify sending more troops to Nam, Nixon announces that he is withdrawing some 30,000 troops from that country. Also, however, Nixon uses the speech to take on those who are opposed to the war, saying that there are those, a minority of Americans, who are trying to subvert majority rule and the Constitution to impose their will on the American people. After appealing to those he called “the silent majority,” Nixon also says, “North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.”
As Schell notes, as a result of this logic the primary front for the Vietnam was to be at home and the secondary front was to be in Nam. And “Now, in the eyes of the President, the war was a domestic struggle with some serious international consequences. Thereafter, the Vietnam war would be waged in the United States.” [pp. 65-66] Of course, Schell is correct as the “war” being waged is one to preserve the status quo.
To demonstrate his own acumen and popularity, Nixon “had set in motion an elaborate hidden machine for manufacturing the appearance of public enthusiasm for himself….he had sent himself rigged telegrams and letters of support. Then he had put the telegrams and letters on display before the public that had supposedly sent them. Then he had arranged to have the Vice President [Agnew] praise him effusively.” [p. 70]
With regard to the latter event, Vice President Agnew gave an address on November 13th in which he had argued that the President’s address, which Nixon had “spent weeks in preparation of,” had been subjected “to instant analysis and querulous criticism…by a small band of network commentators and self-appointed analysts” who were hostile to the president’s remarks. As Schell remarks, “The Vice President was calling outright for an end to criticism of the President on the most controversial issue facing the nation.” [p. 68] And, of course, Agnew appealed to the people to write to the networks in protest, which they did or seemed to do anyway.
The media, perhaps not surprisingly and with very few exceptions, took the bait and “plunged into self-examination,” focusing not on the impropriety of Agnew’s attack on the president’s critics or on presidential criticism generally but rather on examining such phrases as “instant analysis” or “querulous criticism.” As Schell says, “the networks almost seemed to welcome the opportunity to rethink their coverage of the Nixon Administration.” [p. 68] And, of course, Republican politicians chimed in with support for Agnew and a defense of the president, with George Romney, for example, saying that Agnew was the “champion of the old culture that values historic and democratic principles.” Of the few angry remarks directed at Agnew, Averill Harriman said that Agnew’s speech “smacked of a totalitarianism….” [p. 68] Of course, as Harriman had been criticized by name in Agnew’s speech, his anger could be and was dismissed at personal pique.
So, there was an obviously orchestrated “presidential offensive,” which was not labeled as such in all but a very few analyses of these events. And these events were entirely staged, let us say from start to finish, with the president becoming, as Schell puts it, “his own most ardent and prolific supporter,” insofar as Nixon was responsible for Agnew’s address praising Nixon and insofar as “The President had set in motion an elaborate hidden machine for manufacturing the appearance of public enthusiasm for himself” by “rigging telegrams and letters of support.” [p. 70]
It is easy to see why so many are willing criticize those who are, allegedly, guilty of endorsing what are called “conspiracy theories” involving our government. It is because, at bottom, it is all too clear at times that more than often than not, our government does engage in conspiracies. To be sure, these conspiracies might not be the complicated, intricate manipulations that capture the imagination, such as staging moon landings or blowing up buildings. But, nonetheless, as this illustration makes clear, our officials are adept at and government is so constructed that conspiracies are commonplace and remain, even to those thought astute in these matters, invisible.