The Republican Convention at Miami turned out to be a parody on a grand scale of the little burlesque at Smith College recorded in Julie's diary. Nixonettes, straw boaters, foregone conclusions. Selfless equalled selfish, to a fault. The Smithies had given no decent preview of the noses afire in Miami with expense-account bourbon. Richard Nixon, the most foregone of all the conclusions, was chosen on August 8 and at once massaged Middle America: "The forgotten Americans, the non-shouters, the non-demonstrators, they're decent people. They work hard and they save and the pay their taxes and they care." The only kink in the Miami plot line was its O. Henry ending: the choice of Spiro Agnew - could we have that name again, please? - as the Vice-Presidential candidate.
Here at last were two Americas which we could, without too much straining, tell apart: those of Spiro Agnew and Tiny Tim.
Spiro Agnew, whose father was named Anagnostopolous, looked at 50 like a businessman with a very slightly shrunken head, and talked like a businessman, save for one minor speech impediment, evidently brought on by a cruel schoolteacher of Highlights of Rhetoric just as some people could not help stammering. Spiro Agnew could not help alliterating.Election to the presidency of a junior-high-school PTA gave him a heady start in politics, but on his next outing he came in last in a field of five running for a county judgeship. On a local zoning board he learned the essential modes of dealing with contractors - lessons which were to translate into solid dollar values later. The funniest joke in his biography is that he was elected County Executive in Baltimore County in 1962 because his Democratic opponents had been caught grafting. He carried all his expertise, including that relating to contractors, into the governorship of Maryland in 1966. Nominated for the Vice Presidency, he called Humphrey "squishy soft on Communism," and spouted epithets like "Polack" and "fat Jap." For five years, until he signed off as a crook for having taken kickbacks, many "forgotten Americans" loved the garbled sounds that came from his foot-filled mouth.
Tiny Tim, born Herbert Buckingham Khaury, was a 45-year-old boy soprano with shoulder-length hair who wore a black raincoat, a checked sports jacket, a speckled brown tie, and green socks, and carried a shopping bag containing a left-handed ukulele and hand cream. He sang old songs - "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," "Dinah," "In the Blue of the Night" - in the manner, though in the treble clef, of oldie singers like Rudy Vallee, Nelson Eddy and John MacCormack, whose spirits, he said, lived in him. This was his year. Whereas in 1967 he had grossed only $2,500, in 1968 he took in half a million - and appeared on "Laugh In," and with Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson. He was a baffling paradigm of some kind of liberation - was he a female impersonator in male drag? But no. "I sing for the ladies," he said. "I like to imagine that I'm alone with them in moonlit gardens, and that I can express for them the kinds of inner thoughts few men understand." He took a dailying all year. Under Alexander Dubcek, press controls had been eased; students had been allowed to shout whatever they wanted at rallies; pre-Communist heroes like Thomas and Jan Masaryk had been brought out of the closet; "Stalinists" had been purged; relations had been opened with West German. . . .
The Warsaw pact nations, alarmed at the way grass fires have of spreading in a wind, held summit meetings and military maneuvres, and issued warnings. Dubcek replied on television: "We do not wish to yield anything at all on our principles."
And so, in three days of late August, we saw heartrending pictures of young Czechs standing unarmed before Soviet tanks, shirts spread open, as if to say, "Fire your anti-tank gun at this heart.
A few Molotov cocktails. Shouts and tears in the streets. Silence.
For Americans the Czech affair served as a cruel inverted parable of Vietnam: a great power crushes a small one in the name of its ideology. The new Soviet doctrine, rationalizing the invasion, spoke of the "international duty" of socialist countries to intervene in other nations to protect the gains of socialism, wherever they might be threatened. Turn that sock inside out and it would pretty well fit our foot. We were forced to remind themselves of George Orwell's warnings about the multiple, manipulable meanings of the century's buzzwords: democracy, freedom, socialism; to say nothing of the bendable buzzslogans Orwell had set down on paper long before CzechoSlovakia and Vietnam: pacification, transfer of populations, elimination of unreliable elements. With the Czech catastrophe it was as if we were looking in one of those distorting mirrors in the Fun House - the warp of the glass being that Soviet supply lines were short and ours long; they won fast and we were losing slowly.
The First Circle, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's best novel, is published in the U.S. - one more massive document, as if we needed it, of paranoia . . . .