By: Isaac Gewirtz  | 

Horseman, Pass By In The Wasteland (Vol. 35, Issue 14)

Washington is laid out in a drunken fashion, its broad avenues intersecting each other at random and rambling off into marbled horizons. The streets seemed to have been spaced according to some absurdist system of things, meaning no system at all. If, as Dostoevsky says, there are premeditated and unpremeditated cities, Washington surely falls into the latter category. It is the only large urban center in the United States where a lost visitor, walking aimlessly through the night, guides himself by the tallest projection in the city. The Washington Monument points its bright stone head into the sky reassuring all lost pilgrims. Coming to Washington, one rediscovers this country's pioneer roots. Street names are meaningless in a wilderness. One looks for the tallest tree in the area and keeps it in sight while wandering through the monotonous terrain. In the midst of Washington's moving chaos of redundant marble buildings and islands of tangled woods and brush, the monument is the city’s one fixed point.

Beyond the monument, separated from it by an ellipse shaped field and a city block, is the White House, where the most premeditated man in the nation worries about a second term in office. A couple of weeks ago, one hundred thousand gathered in the ellipse to tell him not to worry about the second term. When David Dellinger called for Nixon’s impeachment, the sundazed crowd rose from its lethargy and gave one of the longest and most powerful ovations of the day. Their message was very clear: if Nixon wants to continue the war, let him haul his ass and those of Messrs, Agnew and Mitchell over to Vietnam to be blown off. Nixon didn’t have to take a pre-dawn stroll around the monument and tulk surfing to students who came to talk peace to find out what the protest movement has been saying for the past five years. 

Should we have been amused or angered over his belated, token expression of willingness to communicate with those who won't opt for his technocratie vision of America? Earlier that week he had begun speaking with the deans of some prestigious universities to gain an insight into what is troubling the students. He knows what's troubling us. And let me make one thing very clear; that move to narrow the “communications gap” was the biggest public relations sham a president has tried to pull off since Lyndon Johnson fabricated a North Vietnamese invasion out, of the discovery of two North Vietnamese trucks and a few uniforms. But Nixon had to, look good for Time and Newsweek, two magazines which still mistake a president’s gesture for his intent.

The communications gap doesn’t exist over the “what,” but rather, over the “why.” Nixon cannot, and probably never will be able to understand why students are against the napalming and defoliation of Vietnam. Since when has morality played a role in politics? It is probably inconceivable to him and much of America, why, once the President has deigned to grace students with the status of citizens who deserve to be spoken to (though only in the most indirect and superficial manner), they ignore his beneficence and shout for his impeachment. Mid-America’s cotton-candy faith in the ability of people to renounce differences and unite behind a leader probably stems from their inability to comprehend that an individual will take a position on moral grounds which no amount of selling will persuade him to abandon. I was struck by this mindless babbitry on the day before the demonstration, when a reporter anxiously asked a presidential advisor if maybe the students had been persuaded by the President's “recent activities.” The only recent activity of any importance which I could recall was thousands of American troops moving into Cambodia. Could that reporter have seriously thought that the students were now convinced that their president meant all for the best, and what the hell, it's hot and the surf’s running high, so whatdya say we forget this anti-war thing and drive down to Ft. Lauderdale? Yes, he could. When the President comes on the T.V. screen and looks real serious like Ben Cartwright, and says he'll sacrifice his second term, and even stumbles in the middle of his speech like any ordinary clod (a stroke of staging Genius which looked too good to have been unpremeditated), why how can’t you support him?

Well, we can't. And the question which we have to face is, how to end a war when we have a public relations man for a president in a country where deep thinking means will Monty Hall give the sneakered old lady the big prize or stick, her with a year’s supply of baked beans. We have to keep the pressure on that hunch shouldered mannequin until he cracks, Dave Dellinger had his number when he said that under the hard television lights one thing came through: the man is a loser. And if we're strong enough we can send him back to the monument at dawn where he might regain his bearings.