Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Nattering Nabobs of Negativism"

The Less-than-Honorable Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew
Maybe I'll rethink my blog-writing style that does occasionally resort to alliteration. I am currently reading a good book, Very Strange Bedfellows: The Short and Unhappy Marriage of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, by Jules Witcover (Public Affairs, New York 2007). And it reminds me that Vice President Spiro Agnew was the master of musical messaging (oops).

It's a good book by a veteran journalist from Baltimore, so he has a good grasp on the former Governor of Maryland and his background. I know how it ends. Agnew resigned the Vice Presidency in disgrace as part of a plea deal with prosecutors in Baltimore because they had the goods on him for old-style political graft - receiving cash kick-backs for government contracts in Maryland. 

Nixon also resigned the Presidency in disgrace as Articles of Impeachment were voted out of the House Judiciary Committee. Lest we forget his real crimes, a little more serious than lying about sex, I think there were actually two smoking guns for the unindicted co-conspirator's obstruction of justice. One was the power-play of trying to get the CIA to shut-down the FBI investigation of Watergate on phony "national security" grounds. The other, and as ham-handed as Agnew's kick-backs, was conspiring to pay-off Watergate burglars (i.e., perjuring testimony) with cash from a secret campaign slush-fund. Then of course there were all the lies and cover-up of lies. Maybe no president is any better, but Nixon was stupid enough to record himself, so the evidence was pretty solid.

What I found interesting so far in the book is Agnew's diatribes against the protesters on the Left. While citizens have the right to petition and protest (and the Left in Agnew's day certainly had some just cause), some on the Left were rather extreme or even engaged in clearly illegal violence (the Weathermen come to mind).

But none of those disputes are what interest me here. The surprise came when I saw this quote from Agnew. In defending "the South" against "intellectuals" (i.e., hippie protesters), he said:
Their reactions are visceral, not intellectual; and they seem to believe that truth is revealed rather than systematically proved."
Witcover, at 75.

The surprise being, that the dialogue has shifted a little. I don't thing we would hear that argument about the Left today. The modern Right tend to focus on intellectual elitism as an evil in itself, the Right having their answers from revealed religion, historical practice (the way things have always been in society), or their own gut feelings (W Bush looking into Putin's eyes). They reject the "intellectuals" who are more into science (climate change, evolution, reproduction realities, etc.)

Obviously Agnew was not saying the Leftists got their ideas from religious "revelation," but that they were self-generated instead of being based on reason and rationality. Nowadays the Right tends to talk against science relying on their various forms of "revealed truth." I'm not sure what to make of this. I just found it interesting. And when you read political biography for a hobby, Nixon and Agnew are always interesting.

ADDENDUM (Later, the same day)
I probably should explain that the quote in the title is perhaps Agnew's most famous alliterative put-down of the Press. It's not very smart to make enemies of the Press when you are trying to hide graft and corruption.

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