The Road to 1972

The Road to 1972

When four years of Republican rule end in January 1973, the United States of America is likely to be even more tom by internal crisis than it was in the last, shambling days of Lyndon Johnson’s Administration. I write this prediction less than two months before the scheduled inauguration of Richard Nixon and in the waning days of a year that has been disastrous for prophets. In the winter of 1968 the Vietcong Tet offensive subverted the credibility of both the American military and Lyndon Johnson himself and helped Eugene McCarthy to confound all the soothsayers in the New Hampshire primary. In the spring Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot down while fighting for the rights of sanitation men in Memphis, and Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated as he campaigned for the Presidency in California.

In the summer the Democrats and the Republicans measured up to times of tumult and tragedy by nominating two representatives of the old politics; and by early fall it seemed certain that a noncampaign was going to elect Richard Nixon by a resigned, unhappy acclamation. Hubert Humphrey, it seemed, might even come in third, behind the most powerful rightist (and even semifascistic) leader in recent American history, George C. Wallace. But at the last moment all the polls had to be revised, Humphrey nearly won the popular vote, and there were several hours in which it appeared that a Constitutional crisis was in the offing.

Under such circumstances, the emergence of a frightened and bewildered political agnosticism would be completely understandable. Yet if men are to control events rather than be subject to them—and that is a major goal of the democratic Left—it is necessary to try to discern the underlying trends that are at work in these various surprises and shocks. To get some insight into this process does not, as will be seen, guarantee that political victory can be calculated and planned. But it is the precondition of even beginning to put our destiny under our control. What I write here is neither star-gazing nor an exercise in academic futurism but an attempt to help the Left better transform the immediate future by better understanding the immediate past.

What is needed is a new majority political coalition of the democratic Left capable of winning the Presidency in 1972. But before turning to the tactics of such an effort, let me suggest in broadest outline what I take to be the probabilities and tendencies of change as America enters the seventies under Republican rule.

When this Administration completes its term, the United States is likely to have more social problems than now; more racism, more urban deterioration. In saying this, I do not picture Richard Nixon as some kind of a rightist demon but as a moderate conservative in a time when basic problems cannot be solved without radical departures. And I make the optimistic assumption that the horrible war in Vietnam will be over and that a chastened Americ...