"The sound alone was worth the $24 billion!" So said fellow Nixon speechwriter Ray Price as the mighty Saturn V rocket lifted Apollo 11 and Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins off the launch pad, three miles away, on the start of their voyage to the moon.
It was a splendid moment in that first year of the Nixon presidency, a year that had gone remarkably well for a minority president who had come to office with both houses held by the opposition.
Within weeks of taking office, Nixon had taken a grand tour of the European capitals. He had proposed a Family Assistance Plan, cooked up in Pat Moynihan's shop, to wide applause. He had announced a withdrawal of 100,000 troops from Vietnam.
He would greet the astronauts on the aircraft carrier in the Pacific on their return, travel to Guam to announce the Nixon Doctrine, journey on to Vietnam and visit the troops, thence to Romania — the first U.S. president to travel behind the Iron Curtain. Returning in triumph, Nixon departed for his August vacation.
When he returned to D.C., the storm clouds had gathered. In mid-October, hundreds of thousands of protesters surrounded the White House demanding an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, egged on by a media establishment that had cheered JFK and LBJ all the way into liberalism's war.
With David Broder writing of the "breaking of the president," Nixon went on national television to implore the "great silent majority" to stand with him for peace with honor in Vietnam.
The networks trashed the speech. But Vice President Spiro Agnew launched a counter-attack on media power and prejudice. By December, after another 500,000 had marched on Washington, Nixon was at 68 percent approval and Agnew, after Nixon and Billy Graham, was the third most admired man in America.
Though elected in November 1968, it was November 1969 that made the Nixon presidency and produced the New Majority Republicans would rely on for decades. Obama is approaching such a moment of truth.
The universal health insurance plans being advanced all appear too complex, costly, and non-credible to pass both houses. The cap-and-trade carbon emissions bill, with its huge costs to be passed on to U.S. producers and consumers, as China opts out, seems an act of national masochism.
The $787 billion stimulus bill has done zip to stimulate the economy. Less than 10 percent of the money has gone out the door, which makes one wonder why it was called a stimulus package. Unemployment is at 9.5 percent, well above what the Obamaites predicted, and rising.
As worrisome is the situation in Afghanistan. The United States has 66,000 troops in country or on the way, as our NATO allies look for the exit ramp. We are seven and a half years in and the Afghan army is not remotely capable of defending the nation or regime.
Afghanistan is now Obama's war. He made the decision to deepen U.S. involvement as we headed out of Iraq. Yet, it is unclear how many U.S. troops will be needed, for how long, to create a stable government and army that can secure the national territory and prevent a return of al-Qaida. Moreover, Kabul continues to protest U.S. air strikes that continue to kill civilians, as Pakistan protests the Marine offensive in Helmand that is driving the Taliban into Baluchistan, where a secessionist movement is developing.
Pakistan also seems more worried about shifting its army away from the border with India than about defeating an Afghan Taliban with whom it had a working relationship before 9/11. We are thus today pushing the Afghan regime to do what it is not capable of doing, and the Pakistani government and army into doing what it would prefer not to do. This does not appear a formula for victory.
Also looming is the issue of Iran's nuclear program. Obama has moved up from December to September the deadline for serious discussions to begun. If they have not begun by October, will Obama go to the U.N. for sanctions? If the Russians and Chinese object, will Obama and NATO impose sanctions of their own? Will Obama step on an escalator leading inexorably to war? Or authorize Israel to launch an attack?
Does Obama have the authority to take us to war against a nation that has not attacked us? If so, where did he get this authority? While Congress would readily agree to sanctions, would it sign off on yet another war?
From North Korea to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Honduras, and from the economy to health care to carbon emissions, things are not going Obama's way. He is 10 points below where Nixon was after a full year, and on economic issues — unemployment, the deficit, spending — he is under 50 percent. This presidency is not yet in trouble. But it is sure headed that way.
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