Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Yes, Jan 2, 2018.

  1. Yes Safe, Efficient Airship Travel Since 1972

    Aug 8, 2013
    The Shire, somewhere in Cascadia
    Thank you kindly.

    You think the "X File" is all that's in play? (This is a rhetorical question, you may very well see there are other cards up my sleeve.) Strap in. I am shocked by the number of senior campaign staffers I do not put in the hospital with transient ischemic attacks, bleeding ulcers, angina, etc., in October of the 'verse here. Ol' Hunter's going to be keeping the entire peyote production of San Luis Potosi in business that month (not to mention two or three smaller Kentucky distilleries) and, in this case, quite reasonably so.
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  2. Threadmarks: McGoverning: Campaign Memorabilia '72

    Yes Safe, Efficient Airship Travel Since 1972

    Aug 8, 2013
    The Shire, somewhere in Cascadia

    This frankly magnificent piece of work (the typeface and the block coloring are period-perfect) was the product of our gifted Test Threader @wolfram, who you can read in the TL Who's Your Huckleberry, a great deep dive into 21st century Texas politics, among other things. Also a fine crafter of election games and a shockingly talented linguistics buff for a guy his age. And his work is only one of several tips of the mighty iceberg that is the Test Threads community. Some very, very cool AH.commers ginning up a whole raft of wonderful ideas over there, the best of which come to these forums for general enjoyment. Round of applause for our artisanal graphics maven @wolfram, please. Awesome stuff.
  3. Wolfram Fair to middlin'

    Dec 5, 2010
    University of Houston, Houston, Texas
    Ah, I should mention that both are ripped off from this OTL bumper sticker.
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  4. Temeraire Well-Known Member

    Jan 18, 2017
    Out of curiosity, how accurate is red as the color? My initial thought was that it should be blue, but I've heard that the blue Dems and red GOP color scheme didn't crop up until the 2000s.
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  5. Yes Safe, Efficient Airship Travel Since 1972

    Aug 8, 2013
    The Shire, somewhere in Cascadia
    That's true. It used to be, until That One Time In Florida, that bumper stickers and buttons for candidates of both major parties came in a riot of colors. An older professor in the political science department where my mother taught for years had his office door covered in bumper stickers that dated from the mid-Sixties to the early Nineties. There was everything under the sun and indeed, in the older days, individual candidates liked to be distinctive about what colors and patterns they used to set themselves apart even from rivals in the primaries. The standard Carter/Mondale coloring from four years on IOTL, for example, was grass-green and white. There was no rhyme or reason other than what the candidates thought looked good and, at times, the use of American flags faded in and out of fashion as motifs. But even then the surrounding colors varied widely.
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  6. Unknown Member

    Jan 31, 2004
    Corpus Christi, TX
    Waiting for more, @Yes, and hoping you take this far...
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  7. Yes Safe, Efficient Airship Travel Since 1972

    Aug 8, 2013
    The Shire, somewhere in Cascadia
    Thank you. That's the plan! At the very least this "installment", the McGoverning years, is outlined and storyboarded (thank you, Scrivener...)
  8. CountDVB Dual Emperor of the Aztech and Maychanical Empires

    Aug 26, 2017
    You got to McGovern with Hart...
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  9. Gentleman Biaggi Leader of the bisexual agenda

    Oct 14, 2016
    Oregonian Montana
    You have competition
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  10. Yes Safe, Efficient Airship Travel Since 1972

    Aug 8, 2013
    The Shire, somewhere in Cascadia
    What you did there ... ;)
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  11. Yes Safe, Efficient Airship Travel Since 1972

    Aug 8, 2013
    The Shire, somewhere in Cascadia
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  12. Beta.003 Despacito

    Jan 25, 2017
    Well it was the thoughts that count.
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  13. CountDVB Dual Emperor of the Aztech and Maychanical Empires

    Aug 26, 2017
    I was just trying to be clever, but this will be an interesting piece
    Yes likes this.
  14. Yes Safe, Efficient Airship Travel Since 1972

    Aug 8, 2013
    The Shire, somewhere in Cascadia
    For sheer because, a couple more from the U. of Miami archive:

    #otp (great First Couple...)

    Hanging loose

    Game face (also at least two of my uncles owned
    that shirt...)
    And... scene.
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  15. Temeraire Well-Known Member

    Jan 18, 2017
    Hm... well, given that the outcome isn't necessarily in doubt, might I ask if you have any intentions of deadlocking the College with Wallace?
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  16. Bulldoggus Socially Guelph, Fiscally Ghibelline

    May 9, 2016
    Boston and/or Nashville
    This is the ideal male fashion. You may not like it, but this is what peak style looks like.
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  17. Yes Safe, Efficient Airship Travel Since 1972

    Aug 8, 2013
    The Shire, somewhere in Cascadia
    You might think that. I couldn't possibly comment.
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  18. Yes Safe, Efficient Airship Travel Since 1972

    Aug 8, 2013
    The Shire, somewhere in Cascadia
    As early Seventies fashion (*shivers*) goes it's not bad. I remember the one uncle in particular (no longer with us, sadly) wearing it when he still had his high-and-tight as a recently-RIFed Army officer (Reduction In Force, basically rather than promote him to major they decided because they'd pulled him from college ROTC in '68 before he could finish his degree to cashier him in the post-Vietnam drawdown, fortunately he had a high-paid gig in civilian DoD lined up) it was interesting to see the almost shockingly short (for the mid-Seventies) hair together with the flamboyant shirt. Of course he always went for flamboyant in whatever the fashion of the day happened to be, pretty typical for an ex-cavalry officer I suppose. My one uncle on my father's side had it too, but he just had the bowl cut, sideburns, and droopy mustache that made him look like a news cameraman in election campaign mode.

    Fun fact: if you trawl through that photo collection, you'll see he was wearing that same shirt later that night holed up in his Miami hotel room hand editing the draft (written on legal paper) of Bob Shrum and Dick Dougherty's "Come Home America" speech. Long sleeves in Miami in July; this is a guy who could put up with a lot.
  19. Israel Well-Known Member

    Mar 12, 2016
    Best pics of McGovern I have seen thus far
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  20. Threadmarks: McGoverning: Chapter 3

    Yes Safe, Efficient Airship Travel Since 1972

    Aug 8, 2013
    The Shire, somewhere in Cascadia
    October Surprise? You Should See November…

    Nixon himself stated this law of journalism back in the Fifties, when he saw himself as a victim of attacks from the left.
    “A charge is usually put on the front page; the defense is buried among the deodorant ads,” he said. ..

    - Timothy Crouse, The Boys On The Bus

    Later he said he’d known for at least a week, and Gary Hart later said he’d known for a month …. According
    to Pat Caddell’s polls they had known — when I say “they,” I mean the McGovern top command — had
    known what kind of damage the Eagleton thing had done and how terminal it had been since September….

    - Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72

    George McGovern brought the file into the staff meeting he had called with a kind of bitter reverence, like the body of a child. Lyndon Johnson — a president, a force of nature, one of the bloody hands of Vietnam — had given the file to McGovern the day before in a plain manila envelope like the evidence of a crime that it seemed truly to be. Now McGovern and the people who had gathered around him on the principle that an election campaign could be an act of civic faith, something done despite contrary evidence to better the world you lived in, they together had to take the wild, corrupted, ungoverned power inside that file and figure out what the hell to do with it.

    Opinions varied wildly. Most of the senior staff had never seen Gary Hart so angry. “He fucked us!” Hart spat with the ferocity Jean Westwood and Frank Mankiewicz always suspected was there. “Goddammit Johnson has fucked us! We’re his tools now! Who will ever believe what we say again if we’re Lyndon fucking Johnson’s pawns!”

    While she did not share Hart’s feral sense of power lost, Westwood said more calmly that the campaign should put some distance between this revelation and the candidate. Rick Stearns, gunning for law school outside the strange kingdom of the McGovern campaign, took the attorney’s view. This was all evidence and some of it pretty damning but it wasn’t clear that it was proof. Not beyond doubt. Especially not if Madame Chennault had the salt to lie to people’s faces about it and Stearns guessed she did.

    Also there was the whole question of how Johnson had come by this information in the first place. Mankiewicz shrugged with his effortlessly malleable face, and said that he sure as hell didn’t have a brief for Lyndon Johnson but the fact Johnson was willing to put his own credibility on the line meant that this was a lot bigger than point-scoring. Pat Caddell as usual talked in intangibles. If this got out, it would shatter well over half of Americans’ trust in the current President. If you go and do that, Caddell went on, you’ve got to make damn sure that people trust you instead, or they’ll just hate you for breaking their hearts. Mankiewicz acknowledged the point. George McGovern, caught in the hurricane’s eye, said nothing.

    Then Phil Hart spoke. He had been… elsewhere. As this scruffy, witty, overworked, human staff of misfits and insurgents who had launched an obscure senator to a presidential nomination tried to grab hold of the biggest bombshell of their day, Phil Hart had gone in mind and spirit to a place far more important. He was with the dead again, with the good young men torn and wrenched away from their lives by white-hot metal, metal everywhere, earth churned up like the fist of God, metal going at over a thousand miles an hour, strewn among the dead on the red sand of Utah Beach where Hart himself had nearly lost the use of an arm to a German bullet. Through the least flicker on his face Hart came back into himself and with immeasurable knowledge in his eyes looked through those big square glasses right at McGovern.

    “People died, George,” Hart said.

    What shocked so many of the younger listeners in that room was the use of the familiar; McGovern was always “the Senator.” Even Eleanor only called him George sometimes. Hart repeated in quiet the only two words that mattered. “People died.”

    McGovern pursed his lips. The fire took him, that spark of divine fury when he knew what he felt was right, when he could do what he believed to the very bottom was the only worthwhile thing in politics, the right thing. “People died.” He said it to hear it again, to absorb it. “They did. They did. This… this thing. If it’s true there’s not a hell deep enough. The fact anyone thought it is a crime. If it is true…” he shook his head. “We have to bring this out. We have to find a way, find the right way, and put this before the American people. We can’t ever be whole if this does not come to light.” No one in the room had ever heard such depth of emotion in McGovern’s voice when he said his next four words. “We have to end this.”

    The candidate laid what Walt Rostow had labeled “the X File” on a linoleum counter beside him and walked off. He had to be with Eleanor for a little while. There were too many ghosts.

    The next morning in the early cold Dick Dougherty called them all together, wrangled the pool reporters both grand and petit, got them out into the shivering open before he organized the buses for the morning event and the next inevitable trip to the airport. When the press with their usual entitlement pushed him on this unplanned gathering, Dougherty shrugged, dragged on his perpetual cigarette like a Frenchman, and said, “Frank wants to say something to all of you, and he wants to be the one to say it. So we’re here; now you know the same things I do.”

    In a few minutes the round, sturdy Mankiewicz shuffled out in front of the crowd, many of whom felt a chill not of the air come over as he did so. Those were the ones who remembered Los Angeles, remembered Frank in a much sharper suit in the glare of flashbulbs as he told the world Bobby was dead. Now he had a different weight to lay on the nation and some of the hacks could feel it in their water.

    Mankiewicz spoke up. “Ladies and gentlemen, I need,” they hung on each word, the smart reporters, they heard need and even Tim Crouch in the back watching the watchers froze still. “I need to make an announcement on behalf of the campaign. Yesterday, in Texas, the McGovern campaign came into possession of highly sensitive materials. These were papers archived by the former President, Mr. Lyndon Johnson, and in his keeping as a former chief executive. They concern matters of grave importance to national security, and allegations on which we in the campaign have neither the wish nor the right to comment.”

    The pack’s blood was up now. Every reporter there knew someone was fucked, that a great sky of American politics would now fall. Whose?

    “A political campaign is not — and let me go back over that part because it’s important, ladies and gentlemen — a political campaign is not the place or the platform for matters this sensitive…”

    The aircraft took off about the right time, as Jean Westwood’s cold-blooded rush had seen to it. The phone calls to O’Brien and Teddy Kennedy, the rolls of campaign petty cash raked out, the terrified young aide who made the run before the counters closed that night. Far from the crowd, and among the many moving pieces of the campaign, the two messengers sat together for their flight to Washington. Once there they would go separate ways. Doug Coulter, ever the cool-headed scout far behind enemy lines, would take a series of bus routes to the Senate offices of John Sherman Cooper, the resolute Lincoln Republican from Kentucky, crusader against the Vietnam War, former diplomat, and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Gordon Weil, always twenty-five going on sixty, dour as a banker faced with overdrafts, marched curtly to the offices of John C. Stennis, the Mississippi Democrat, defense hawk, and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Coulter and Weil each had copies of the same papers. The papers Lyndon Johnson had let slip like furies on Dick Nixon’s trail.

    “… and so we will not keep, nor handle further, nor comment on those materials. They have been sent directly and with as much speed as we can manage, to appropriate authorities…”

    The brown parcel overnighted by Gary Hart’s own hand took a day and a half in the mail because sometimes that was how these things went. It took half that time for the gang in the West Wing to sort out just how McGovern’s people would do it. For the other half Martin McGee, who knew unindicted conspirators twisting in the wind when he saw them, told John Ehrlichman’s aide to pound sand. Pat Gray felt the ulcer spread in his gut as the special agent brought the parcel to him. He slammed down the full-fat milk cream like bourbon and passed it on to Mark Felt’s desk. Felt did not bother with an ad in the paper this time; a call from a pay phone in Adams-Morgan with a muffled voice would do and Bob Woodward took the one word of instruction at his Post desk. “Tonight.”

    “… so they can ensure rules of procedure are followed, that the materials are weighed fairly, and proper, reasoned judgments can be made about them…”

    Cooper sent a fresh-faced page with a written note to the Senate floor just after lunchtime. The baritone-voiced Oregonian, Cooper’s fellow Vietnam peace activist and the model of a handsomely senatorial liberal Republican sent by central casting, folded that note shut with one hand and made his exit. Cooper sat, and told Mark Hatfield what he now knew, and what was not yet known, and together the two men rehearsed the possibilities and the consequences. In the end as he usually did, Hatfield brought religion into it. This can’t be a silent witness, he said to Cooper. Nothing is for certain here but if we fail to shine a light here, if there’s no debate, it will ruin us. The Senate as an institution, probably the country. I’ll talk to John too, said Hatfield — against all expectation the ex-governor who had integrated Oregon and the old Mississippi segregationist John Stennis, both evangelicals if rather different flavors thereof, were in the same senatorial prayer group. So it was John Sherman Cooper, with nothing now to think of as he faced retirement and, according to his doctors, a gradual but inexorable blindness, except the right thing, decided to read the full contents of the “X File” into the Senatorial Record.

    “… in keeping with the law, the right to a fair hearing, and the proper separation of legal matters from the motives and the work of a campaign. We can direct you to the people to whom you should talk next; I just ask that you not rush any of us here in the campaign to judgment. We’ve acted as quickly as possible to make right the problem that we were given these materials, and I speak for the very few of us who dealt with that when I say we want no part of what should be a sober process and won’t have any further comment to give from the campaign. Now if you can hold back questions I can give you those contact details.”

    They had gotten him up for it, which was half the problem Bob Haldeman reckoned. Up, after another night of little to no sleep, of the dark recesses of Dilantin and blended whisky, up in a campaign season tighter than it should be, up when he knew the boss was smart enough to put together the timing and the location and end up left in the darkness with his fear. The fear had washed away as Frank Mankiewicz walked out, as though made in black-and-white although it was a color set. Now there was just rage. Nixon said nothing, breathed nothing, glared with that level intensity he had when he devoted himself to the moment. Then as it ended, he stood up in a low rumble that never reached the stage that would form words, walked briskly towards the set and, with a batterer’s vicious swiftness, kicked in the screen.

    Haldeman, one of the least profane members of the inner circle, swore a blue streak at the dazzle of sparks and glass. A Secret Service agent rushed forward to see to the President’s safety and Nixon swatted him away, like the blows of a caged beast. John Dean, among the others in the room, sat in one part frozen by fear, in another memorizing the moment so he could replay these events when the time came to describe it in order to save his own skin. Nixon stormed out. Off to the Residence. Another wing of the prison he had made.

    Haldeman felt a strange lightness when the breach of the peace was done. It was all out now, at least everything that mattered. No uncertainty anymore. Now they’d see which way the country fell.


    It was Warren Beatty who first saw the coffins, in his mind’s eye. He was on the road with the McGovern people, playing airbrushed impressario for one celebrity fundraiser after another. In the meanwhile, in the campaign’s nooks and crannies, he indulged his own deep interest in the nuts and bolts of politics. What several senior staffers and a number of elected friends of the campaign had learned was that Beatty, the world-famous movie star, Hollywood lothario, networker among the beautiful people and by his own admission caretaker of his own Adonis-like vanity, also had a keen eye and nimble mind for the election game. He made the backrooms of the McGovern campaign his home from home not by imposing his celebrity on them, but because bit by bit the key players learned that Warren was a guy you could talk shop with, that he was a quick study and a decent judge of what worked and what didn’t out on the trail. So as the ad came on TV again and a couple of organizers started to boo it, when Beatty shushed them they had the courtesy to listen. He wanted to pay attention this time. He needed to see.

    The Nixon campaign called this one “The McGovern Defense.” It was their right cross thrown at McGovern’s proposals for defense reform, which of course the CREEP gang framed as stripping America’s military bare. What even Beatty’s bright, fierce, idealistic big sister, Shirley MacLaine, didn’t get, like so many other McGovern faithful, was just how fucking clever these Mad Ave guys on Nixon’s payroll were. The actor who really wanted to direct leaned in and watched frame by frame. In his heart of hearts, though he loathed every principle they stood for, he did love to watch these guys work. The stage was set as a game, and of course that was the point, to “show not tell” that George McGovern treated national defense in the Cold War as some kind of children’s game. Not like Republicans, the party of grown-ups, the party of responsibility even though they blew holes in buildings and taped conversations like the goddamn KGB.

    Beatty shook his head and smiled, as though he had just watched the sheer athleticism of the other team’s star player. The calm, smooth-voiced baritone of the announcer explained everything CREEP said McGovern would cut, and as it did, different figures — soldiers in helmets, ships, planes — were removed from the serried ranks of toys. The two cameras they’d shot the thing with cut down and in, to highlight the gaps, emphasize the emptiness when McGovern chose like a child with a whim to pick up these emblems of American security and toss them aside. Soon hardly anything was left. The announcer delivered his sting: could you trust a candidate who would treat the nation’s safety this way? Beatty shook his head again. It wasn’t art, but damn if they weren’t good at it. But what did it say? He pushed his own mind forward. How did you get inside that little drama and beat it?

    For starters, what was the story? That McGovern would treat national security like a child at play, like a game, and leave Americans unsafe. Fine. A game. How did you play a game? What were games that you played? Beatty thought his way through children’s games, through cards, sports, gambling. Well, there was chess, too. He liked chess, especially because he was better at it than most of his opponents expected. He thought about the board, about strategy. He thought about the flow of the game, how you played, how you shaped a strategy and ensnared the other side, how you could lay a trap or wear them down with attrition. Some people took the pieces off the board, others tipped them over. Tipped over white pieces, tipped over black. Kings and pawns, pawns everywhere….

    In his mind’s eye, Beatty tipped over a black pawn. And in that moment his vision was transformed. When he charged at a trot into Frank Mankiewicz’s makeshift office a minute and a half later, Gary Hart worried for a moment that his best celebrity friend was on something. Mankiewicz just smiled. Frank had grown up around Hollywood “creatives”; as the son of one of the movies’ most renowned screenwriters, the guy who had written Citizen Kane among other things, there were writers and artists and directors in and out of Frank’s childhood home and around the dinner table most nights a week. Mankiewicz had seen this look a thousand times before. He smiled and said to his young pal Warren, “tell me.” Warren did.

    It took six days to script, then shoot, then pull every goddamn red cent they could get out of union shops and anti-war groups and women’s rights associations and celebrity donors and black churches and everywhere the hell else they could dig one last time, to make enough ad buys. To match these thirty-odd seconds up against the electoral map that Pat Caddell, Rick Stearns, and Doug Coulter had built. When it first aired in Philadelphia, where McGovern had made a campaign stop, Beatty sat at the candidate’s left hand (Eleanor was on McGovern’s right.) Then they watched.

    What they saw was a chess board. Half of a chess board, the other half was implied, out there, the foreign, the whims of a complex world. What you saw was all the black chess pieces lined up at the start of a game. The pawns didn’t have the usual knob on top, they were conical all the way up from their broad bases. And on the side of each was an American flag. The narrator — another baritone thrum of authority, it was amazing how much you had to pay for one of these guys — started in. In 1968, the United States had been mired deep in its war in Vietnam. At the same time, the US government secretly tried to make peace, and made unexpected strides.

    Then, in came Richard Nixon. Nixon wanted to be president — the camera zoomed through the rank of pawns to the king. Nixon had promised to end the war, and he was willing to do whatever it took to have a war to end. Once he’d won, he feared that if South Vietnam fell then Richard Nixon wouldn’t get a second term. In 1968, Nixon prolonged a war that might have ended. In 1972, America was still in the same war, drawn out to make sure “our guys” didn’t lose before Nixon could be elected again. In chess, you sacrifice pawns to protect your king. Now they fell. Now those pawns went down one by one like dominoes — even McGovern smiled just a little at the reference Beatty had written in there — and the camera panned along them as they dropped, black cylinders now on their side, draped in an American flag. Coffins before the king, sacrifices for his sake. Because over twenty thousand of America’s best young men had died so Richard Nixon could be president, and then be president again.

    The screen washed out. In place of the chessboard stood George McGovern, resolute and calm, in a sober suit with a dark tie, dressed for something important, perhaps even a funeral. McGovern spoke. “In America, we have no kings. And the brave men who serve our country are not pawns. They deserve a government that will never throw away their lives for cheap political gain. Together this November we can create a government as good as its people. For our future. For their sake.”

    The ad ended. There were hands shaken, a buzz of commentary, and Gary Hart leaned in towards the central clutch of figures around McGovern. “Ziegler’s already done a presser attacking the ad. He said it cheapens the memory of our fighting men and shows we just want to play politics with national defense.”

    “Then we got the bastards,” said Warren Beatty. And he smiled that smile.


    In the meanwhile the campaigns hurtled forward, like the chariots of the damned. Just two days before Frank Mankiewicz stood in front of a frigid press of reporters to light the fuse of what was immediately called “the Chennault Affair,” Richard Nixon had grabbed hold of the new broom that, he promised, would sweep clean. Amid a stop off in the friendly confines of southern California, Nixon held a brief presser, staged on his terms as always, with Governor Ronald Reagan and the man who would now become Nixon’s Attorney General, the trim, upstanding New England establishment man Elliot Richardson. Already the Senate committee had started asking inconvenient questions about Kliendienst as they tried to draw together the data about the whole ITT business and the CRP slush funds. The polls said Nixon’s trustworthiness among voters had been ground down slow but steady like a levee in a flood. This was step one to get control of that situation, cut off the damaged parts of the administration — the “Brookingsgate Boys” had already been in court and for the most part awaited sentencing — then sacrifice a big name or two and roll out the talking points about how Nixon had stepped in to take charge and end all this irresponsibility once and for all like the strong leader he was.

    Then the secrets came to light and the whole thing blew up again. First the word that there were taped conversations in the White House, which put new wind in the sails of the Senate investigators whose political maneuver had suffered from its own dryness — hours of questioning about numbered accounts and business associates failed to charm low-information voters — and gave them a compelling reason to press ahead at the White House and get this sorted out once and for all. This was buttressed by a steady stream of small details leaked by way of Mark Felt to Woodward and Bernstein, though still not yet picked up by too many other correspondents. It was reaffirmed when a visibly shaken Pat Gray had lunch with a young New York Times reporter he trusted and affirmed by his silence that there were issues and players in the CREEP mess who went all the way to the top of the administration, and all but told the shaken if eager young man to go to Felt for confirmation. Felt knew better than to play to more than one resource but the story moved ahead anyway as the Grey Lady played catchup with the Post. Momentum built in the Senate committee for action, so its chair Sam Ervin issued a subpoena for the tapes. That, Ervin expected, would create enough unforced errors to make life interesting. Certainly George Wallace eagerly implied as much out on the trail.

    And then for more than a week it was Chennault, Chennault, Chennault. A second set of Senate hearings opened up, this one in the Foreign Relations Committee where William Fulbright had the bit between his teeth. After a critical three days at the start where Nixon campaigned dully and seemed to linger in a funk to the horror of his senior aides, he sprang to life again in that way he did sometimes and turned, feral, on the attack. Accusations flew, of illegal wiretapping, of character assassination, of a personal vendetta on the part of Johnson, of Johnson’s desire to usurp the election which had the backhanded advantage of casting McGovern as LBJ’s catspaw after all, despite the deft early handling of the matter. And indeed, McGovern was so dedicated to following the campaign model laid out back in July, to be upright and issue-oriented, and seemingly paralyzed for making choices about what he might do differently, that the narrative stuck with reporters bored by McGovern’s rectitude and given to calling him “Mr. Magoo” behind his back. Though McGovern’s position was saved by Warren Beatty’s flash of inspiration, the pushback against Johnson continued.

    Lyndon Johnson, as he could do, took this in his stride. He reveled in the chance to give a full account of the case, of the data gained, of what they did not know but suspected, of the decision not to use the information four years earlier for fear of this kind of blowback (which sent more reporters in a chase after Hubert Humphrey who, aghast at the publicity, declined to comment.) Now, though, with the stream of accusations and known criminal acts — Johnson took positive glee at the chance to say, “now, this Mr. Colson, he blew up a damn building, Frank,” to ABC’s Frank Reynolds on live television — it seemed to him that the time to air this information was now. So it was that the man in American politics able to square up in the ring against Richard Nixon’s capacity to counterpunch started to wear away at the White House.

    Other things gained momentum as well. More and more Democrats, not just Ed Muskie and a few other good-hearted sympathizers, but people like Mayor Daley and onetime rival John Lindsay in New York City and Marvin Mandel in Maryland, began to rally round the Democratic ticket. This was in part the work of Phil Hart, and Larry O’Brien, and Frank Mankiewicz, in their dull but steady drumbeat of argument in favor of McGovern. But it owed even more to the sense that an unchained Nixon was a dangerous force, that McGovern needed at least to be strong enough to hobble him, and that perhaps the man of principle was pliable enough after all, given a chance to actually win, to acknowledge political debts to those who stepped in and helped out.

    Meanwhile, George Wallace damn near rejoiced in everything that seemed to happen, in the chance to thrill friendly crowds with tirades against Nixonian corruption, about how he was the only man in the country not afraid to call Nixon crooked in public. Even when the IRS began the inevitable public investigation of Gerald Wallace’s business tax shelters, the one that had been coming since Wallace walked out of the Democratic convention into the arms of the AIP, he gave Nixon a taste of the same medicine saying that if the men behind Brookingsgate had it in for George Wallace’s very own brother, an upstanding Alabama success story, then clearly George Wallace was on to something.

    Through the melee, between bouts of anxiety and doom-saying that tore at his soul, between sleepless nights and slugs of alcohol and barbiturates, Nixon had the cold, steady eye to see two pieces on the board that could see him through. He had crafted those pieces and put them in place himself. Now, perhaps, they were set to deliver him out of the flames and into a second term, the biggest triumph of them all against these odds. The pieces were Warren Burger and Henry Kissinger. When the White House flatly refused to hand over any tapes on grounds of national security, Ervin the constitutional lawyer — he carried pocket copies of the Constitution in the many folds of his overcoat, like a fence carried watches — filed suit in the Federal District Court of D.C. first thing the next morning, after Rufus Edmisten spent the whole night typing up the complaint personally. Given the gravity and apparent urgency of the matter, the court agreed to two things: to hear arguments within a week, and to sit en banc, all justices present, in order to ensure a thorough decision.

    Fourteen judges appeared; a daunting sight. To the shock and concern of his colleagues, and the interest of the press, Ervin appeared pro se in Ervin v. Nixon. They need not have worried. This was the last bow of a great Senate legalist and he came ready for war, ready too to allow Nixon’s personal attorney for the matter to hang himself up by his own arguments. The judgment came back the next day, which Bob Haldeman at first tried to hope was a sign in the President’s favor: 10-4 for the plaintiff. The opinion was given to the unremarkable John Sirica, an Eisenhower appointment, to write, who managed, against similar expectations to those for Ervin, to write a short, lyrical holding on the limits of power. The case was appealed and now it was in Warren Burger’s hands, the solid conservative who Nixon had made Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Nixon hoped Burger would find six justices ready to buy an argument that this was a “political question” — a legitimate contest between the other two branches of government that judges should not properly decide.

    Kissinger was busy on his own front, doing what he loved best: advancing his own career in the name of American statecraft. His visits to Paris this October had been furious in their pace, almost constant, and after a meeting with his opposite number Le Duc Tho on the 19th, it seemed everything was in readiness. No one was to mention that, if you had asked Nixon’s national security staff and the president himself three years, or even one, earlier that the terms on the table now amounted to surrender of the American bargaining position. Nor really should anyone mention that they abandoned the very thing that now hounded Nixon by insinuation, his determination to stick up for the prim, grandiose, volatile South Vietnamese leader Nguyen Van Thieu.

    Kissinger always found it paid to be flexible about one’s desired outcomes; it helped guarantee success every time. Thieu could stay on, however, while the parties — the North, the South, and the “Provisional Revolutionary Government” that was the rebirth of the Viet Cong out in the Mekong provinces — would simply stay where they were, resupplied by their sponsors at parity, with a guarantee of a cease-fire long enough for the United States to get the hell out of town. It suited every political end Kissinger sought after for his boss and for himself. He came back to Washington practically a cherub, dancing off his feet that peace was at hand. They would pull the rug out from under McGovern’s peace candidacy, blitz him with ads about his irresponsible policy proposals, and squeeze the vice on Wallace until his more respectable supporters shuffled off to support someone stronger. Whatever this whole business about ‘68 holds Mr. President, said Kissinger, you can face it as a man reelected by a grateful country.

    It was then the harvest of folly was brought home. As the stories emerged McGovern’s Dick Dougherty, a good unreliable Irish Catholic, wondered out loud whether irony was God’s favorite carving knife. The terms of the Washington-Hanoi proposal in Paris reached Saigon as they were bound to do. Nguyen Van Thieu reacted with a rage he did not bother to suppress. First, no matter how balanced nervous Washington correspondents tried to make their coverage, Nixon’s grand promises from 1968 were dashed on the rocks. Johnson had known exactly what was going on and now, almost casually, Johnson — and there were few men alive Thieu hated more — had ruined the reputation, the political leverage, of the patron who had assured Thieu that everything would be alright, that South Vietnam would last like Gibraltar and Thieu could grow a personal dynasty in that fertile soil. Second, that goddamn trickster Kissinger had sold Thieu down the river. Hanoi and the PRG would hold their breath long enough for the Americans to get out, and then they would come for him. And he could no longer believe Nixonian guarantees of support. Thieu physically tore the telexed copy of the draft agreement, brought still warm from the American embassy, into pieces. In its place, with the petulant fury of a strongman on borrowed time, he wrote up nearly one hundred fifty amendments that between them guaranteed South Vietnam a sovereignty never promised in Geneva in ‘54. He might have no other power in practical terms, but Thieu would make the peace, or give none to Nixon.

    A few days later, as a federal grand jury convened in the Gerald Wallace investigation, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called its first witnesses in the Chennault Affair, as Pat Gray left his office at the FBI on extended sick leave with a bleeding ulcer and dangerous hypertension, as Kissinger’s promise of peace was pipped by the man at the center of the new Nixonian scandal, the Supreme Court signed off on a piece of paper. Ervin v. Nixon had come to them, like a family scandal aired in front of all the neighbors, and they took it for consideration. There was plenty of other movement, with sentencing scheduled for six of the “Brookingsgate Boys,” Senate subpoenas for every piece of paper John Mitchell had that was tied to the CREP operation, and a pre-trial status check for Loeb v. Segretti. But it was the big Court that mattered. It was there that Richard Nixon looked for relief, for a dismissal that would validate his power, lock down the tapes, and let the President argue on his own terms to voters that he was the victim of liberal perfidy. And it was just then that, in Johnny Apple’s memorable phrase in one of the bars that were always there along the trail, that the Supreme Court walked up, clasped the defendant in a manly embrace, and fucked Richard Nixon hollow.

    The court granted a writ of certiorari on October 26th. A Thursday, and barely a week and a half from the election. Not only that, not only had they left Nixon’s political-question argument in the dust with the rest of his designs, but they would not hear the arguments until after the election. It was the Caesar’s-wife approach, not one sign to be made that the Court would influence a political outcome. Except, of course, that this is exactly what they did; a will to hear the matter implied guilt as much as it did innocence, when tied to the decision to wait. There were other logics, other principles, other political ends to be met, even on the right, than the vast animal reach of Richard Nixon’s will to political survival. The Court chose to exercise theirs. The pieces had fallen. The board was shrouded in fog. Dick Nixon would have to fight his way blind, simply forward against whatever he met. No more rules — at least that was clear now.


    They called it “the Fort Wayne story.” “They,” of course, were the people who knew, the people who always knew in the current of whispers that ran beneath the surface of reported news, the truths not meant to be heard, the polite silences, the bombs that waited to go off in many a political life: who was a drunk, who was a crack-up, who was homosexual, who beat their wife, who’d gambled it all away, who was in bed with the mob, who tomcatted around town, who had a secret family, who had diverse other hidden crimes. It had started to look like 1972 was a banner year for Them; what was certainly true was that They were far from done.

    The story was this. In the wild, lovely, terrified days between his draft notice and the war he’d waged, George McGovern met a girl. They knew each other in those familiar summer campgrounds of the Upper Midwest, and in the rush of infatuation and real fear of death that moved both of them, McGovern had sex for the first time. Within days the girl, a formidable young woman McGovern’s own age, told her impulsive beau she was pregnant. When McGovern clumsily tried to figure out how he could make things right, she told him calmly that she wanted neither a back-alley abortion that might kill her or a marriage to someone she barely knew who might very well come home in a pine box. She would take her chances, throw herself on the mercy of war’s expediencies, and leave for relatives in Indiana — this was where the reference to Fort Wayne came into the tale. There she was delivered of a girl and, as he wanted her to, she assigned to the hospital record as the father’s name “George McGovern.” From there, like so many unwed mothers of the time, she disappeared into sealed legal records and the eddies of the now. George McGovern, bewildered but with a typical optimism weighed against his practical Plainsman’s view of the world, went on to fall in love with his wife, fight his war, and come home alive to start a family. It seemed to have turned out for the best, all things considered.

    That was not the end of the story, however. By the end of the Fifties, as the forces of postwar American liberalism and the national-security state ranged the field against each other and took one another’s measure, George S. McGovern came to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover. And whether any of the decades-long whispers about America’s secret policeman were true or not, he certainly had the obsession with controlling other people’s dirty secrets shared by a number of closeted men who also happened to hold great power locally or nationally. Hoover even had a special cadre of special agents whose job was to keep their muckrakes sharp and oiled, and as they trawled through the past of George McGovern they practically tripped over the “Fort Wayne story.” Like so many of Hoover’s actual files it was a bureaucratic tangle of insinuation and supposition, but it was enough to rouse attention when seen. And anyway, They tended to talk about such things when the drinks flowed. Backchannel chats were the finest of Washington’s aphrodisiacs; far better than actual sex was the raw animal thrill of power over others’ dirt. For the road crews of American journalism, the cheap hacks as well as the Apples and Andersons, an affected world-weariness was the proper response to such things. We know all of what They say, the reporters yawned, but that’s not where the game is played, just where the real men go to relax, and anyway there are libel laws as our lawyers love to remind the editorial staff. You’d have to open up J. Edgar’s vaults before you….

    It was late September when the field hands for the Indiana Republican Party went digging in Fort Wayne. A little insurance, they thought to themselves, for they had heard Their stories as the carnival passed through town back in primaries season. They charged through the city loud and clumsy enough to wake the papers, and those who knew what They said kept a side eye on what came of it. All leashes were off now; the Chennault Affair had put everything on the table. After all, a McGovern scandal would provide balance, a little something to stay on the nice side of editors harried by their advertisers about liberal hit jobs on President Nixon. County clerks protested, upright citizens well backed by rolls of unmarked hundreds from the state GOP pressed ahead, the municipal court hemmed and hawed.

    All the while George McGovern watched, in solemn quiet, along with Frank Mankiewicz and a couple of other people who knew: Eleanor, among them, who had not known until the last year when her husband decided there was no way they could take on this enterprise with any secrets between them even from so long ago. So now it journeyed with them, like a family shame just off the glare of the spotlights, with at least each other for company. Sometimes they could even let it rest, nearly forget, hope that the walls between different people’s hoards of secrets would stay firm, that Nixon might think it would only reflect badly on him, that they were far enough behind so the hard-faced men in the White House would not feel threatened, or that they simply would get lucky, stay as lucky as they had been before they rose this far. Then Lyndon Johnson chose this moment to tell the truth — it was always Lyndon, it seemed — and all the rules changed.

    One morning late in October a message found its way to Frank Mankiewicz. The McGoverns were back in Washington, as the Senator had to go be a senator for a couple of days, and while the campaign hurtled on around the country its two principals were temporarily bound to the capitol. Mankiewicz read the message, and felt the great, cold stone in his gut that he remembered, the one that came that June of '68 when there was nowhere to run to, when you were condemned to the moment. He found Gordon Weil, the senior-most aide in the offices that early morning, grabbed him by the arm even, and spoke in low, slate words across which winds blew. Go to the Senator, he told Weil. Tell him they’re digging in the county clerk’s office in Terre Haute. Don’t ask. Just say the words.

    Weil did as he was told and turned up, with his undertaker’s charm, at the McGoverns’ Washington home. McGovern himself, in an open-necked shirt and slacks but with a robe on, stood at the door. Resolute. It had come, there was no turning away from that. Now he would have to figure out what to say, and when to say it. But he meant to breach the wall himself. No cheap thug on a witch hunt was going to twist words or facts. If it’d come time for the truth then he was the one to tell it. Face unmoved, he listened to the sentence Weil had memorized at the campaign office. He neither blinked nor spoke. The least moment passed, but long enough, and he nodded, then in a low voice that still held a whisper of kindness said, “thank you, Gordon. Tell Frank thank you, too. Make sure you do that.”

    With that he walked inside, where Eleanor only had to look at him to know it was time. She rubbed his arm as though he were terribly cold, and said, “right, then. Do you want to call the Harts or should I do that?”” McGovern simply nodded, and she found the living room phone. In less than an hour, as the newsmen were just waking up to the day’s possibilities, Phil and Jean Hart drove themselves to the McGovern home where they were let in by the Secret Service detail. Once there, and around the kitchen table like any Midwestern family’s secret laid bare, McGovern told them. The truth they knew — McGovern felt he couldn’t in good conscience ask them to be a part of this venture without that. What they needed to know now was what was likely to happen, and McGovern made plain his intent. There was silence for a little while. Then Jean Briggs Hart spoke.

    “No you will not, George McGovern. No you will not. Let me tell you why.” She had but to tilt her head a little for her husband to stop himself before he said a word. “There is not a damned thing to find in Fort Wayne, you know that and I know that. How Hoover’s men managed to play that particular game of telephone I don’t know but it just goes to show they’re not supermen. And these cheap precinct hacks from the Indiana GOP are no better. They should never have been let in there to begin with but do you know what? It’s a good thing they were. It’s good that they bulled around that china shop and have nothing to show. Now I’ve heard this same thing that Frank heard — wives aren’t deaf, you should know that perfectly well. The Terre Haute district court judge isn’t going to let them in. Records like that are sealed for a reason. I have spent enough time in the care and concern for young women in that situation who only want to be allowed to get on with their lives without all this nonsense and shame and all for our neanderthal attitudes about birth control…. You will not say one thing. I take that back. You’ll say one thing, and it is this: there is no hidden child in Fort Wayne. It has the virtue of being entirely true. If some pool reporter is fool enough to ask, in this climate, you say that. And that is all you will say before this is done in November or you’re a bigger fool than ever was Dick Nixon.

    “More than that. More than that. You get that hatchet man of yours, Gary Hart, and you have him send a message to Mr. Butterfield at the White House. The one with the tapes. He seems to be a decent soul all things considered and he’ll tell the others. The message is: we’ll talk. The wives will talk. The aides will talk. The butlers, the cabbies, the whole damned town will talk. Because we know. No one says it in the open but those days may be gone now. We will talk, and every hidden sin of every elected Republican above dogcatcher will sweep the news like the wrath of Almighty God. And every hand, every hand that man ever raised at that poor woman,” here she meant Pat Nixon, for They would know that instantly, “will be splashed over the front page of the Post like blood. He can measure out his own rope if he wants to. I doubt he does.”

    She was right enough. And she found an unexpected ally in Gary Hart; through him an approach was made and not much more than a day later Hart and John Dean met in a parking garage — they had become the agora of this year of spilled secrets — where the lawyer in Hart laid things out neatly for the lawyer in Dean. The Gerald Wallace investigation was a matter for the proper authorities at this point, said Hart. But if CREEP tried to attack the character of George McGovern or George Wallace for that matter, there was a dam ready to burst and in such a short window before the election it would go very badly for the GOP. The President knew how hard it was to get people to listen to a denial, said Hart with a twist of the knife. We’ll even pull the ad with the coffins, he added, enjoying the moment with a desire to sound magnanimous. With his usual eye for the last branch to grab on the way down, Dean did so and asked, Why do that if you have nothing to hide? Hart’s face betrayed him but his mind danced. Because the President needs to feel like he’s won something in this deal, Hart went on. That’s how he operates, isn’t it? Dean nodded, took the terms, and left with mind afire about how to undermine McGovern from the flank.

    Another day passed, and the campaign returned to the rhythm of public appearances and travel. That was when it happened. Mankiewicz was right — it was a pool kid, one of the wire-service stringers who knew that the big men of the press plane thought McGovern was getting in deeper and deeper, who wanted a reaction, who asked. There have been reports about Republican staffers going through vital records in Indiana, on a tip-off from some source inside the government. Could the Senator comment?

    McGovern stopped his forward motion and stiffened awkwardly the way he did when one of the press guys got under his skin; this was why the grandees of correspondence didn’t take to him, he had no sense of how to play the game with good grace, only honesty. Mouth twisted between a flat line and a frown, prickled across his face and neck with heat and guilt and frustration, McGovern sucked in a breath through his nose and replied. Frank Mankiewicz and Gordon Weil, who by chance were walking together nearby in the scrum of staff and scribblers, saw the pause, thought they caught at least a part of the question, and seemed to pause mid-step suspended.

    “Now I know what you’re going to ask, young man,” said McGovern, suddenly the stern schoolmaster. “And I’m going to address it right here. There’s no hidden child in Fort Wayne, Indiana. None. Just as Gerald Wallace is innocent until proven guilty and George Wallace likewise and, for that matter, so is President Nixon. Some terrible things have been done in this country in the name of power. But that doesn’t mean we need to swim in a sea of mud when there are real issues we have to deal with. That’s not what the public wants. Frankly all of this hurling rumors and false stories around is a bunch of guff.”

    A head of almost literal steam built up in McGovern’s wiry frame, furor at the press, at the Nixon machine, at himself. He snapped, “what this is, is the Committee to Re-Elect the President trying to drag this campaign down to their level!” Other reporters crowded in as McGovern moved ahead again and asked if he could please get some questions about issues to talk about. Mankewicz carried on wary. Weil lowered his chin and walked beside. Somewhere a little back, still notable for his height despite his shrug of a posture, Pat Caddell nodded steadily. The Senator had lost his temper but he’d managed to say the right thing by chance. Everyone knew CREEP was crooked, that they were a symbol of everything broken about American politics. If you could be the good man smeared by crooks, the mud only made you look better to disaffected voters. Wallace knew that, he practically rolled in the damn stuff. As long as you were the good man it would work out. That was the model, anyway.


    By the rules. George Beall believed in the rules, which was on reflection hardly surprising. A belief in the scrupulous, fair, faultless application of rules had driven his career and indeed shaped the world in which he tried to live. Beall was a distinguished graduate of Princeton, a high-flyer in the Justice Department, one of the younger United States Attorneys — in charge of an entire federal District, in this case the state of Maryland — in the business. He lived with pressure to achieve even more. His father had been a rock-ribbed Republican United States Senator from Maryland, a position now held by George’s older brother John Glenn Beall, Jr. There was a lot to live up to there, and at the core lay the conviction that it was both a practical need and a moral duty to do it right, whatever “it” was.

    Now, in the autumn of 1972, “it” was a major investigation into networks of bribery and backhanders at the county and state level in Maryland. The trawl through public contracts concentrated on Baltimore, in part because as the big city of the state it was an obvious target, in part because it would not hurt that a county and city dominated by Democrats was likely to yield a fair number of actionable cases. But for George Beall that was simply a happy accident that might reflect well on him with the embattled Nixon administration. His real concern was to clean up public business in his home state; doing well out of doing good was just a happy dovetail of circumstance. He had, though, sped up his plan to get to work on this, committed more resources sooner, with the atmosphere of scandal and investigation in the national news. There were scandals in the states too — the whole Sharpstown business out in Texas came to mind — and he meant to show the reporters that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Maryland knew how to handle these things properly. Indeed it had only been a few weeks and already they had some plausible sources.

    One in particular gave him some pause. The man’s name was Matz, Lester Matz, and he was a contractor who had worked at high levels in Maryland road-building and construction projects for years. He had a tale to tell. Among the many other things he said about the underground economy of kickbacks that launched other parallel investigations by Beall’s assistants, was that he had made regular payments to secure work on major projects to Ted Agnew. This had gone on for years, said Matz, since Agnew’s service in Baltimore city government up through his Vice Presidency. There was a system, said Matz, and the two men among several others had kept their ends of it up a decade or more. Beall’s investigators took down all the details. Beall interviewed Matz personally. Beall had his own level of skepticism about it — Baltimore Sun reporters and Democratic opposition researchers had been after Agnew on bribery causes for years to no effect. But it seemed Beall was the only one so scrupulous. Word got out just enough from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland that George White, Agnew’s personal lawyer — not White House staff, Agnew’s personal lawyer — had an afternoon coffee with Beall about it. Beall made clear he didn’t think much of Matz’s story on its face. It was the kind of thing anyone could say, there weren’t enough proofs of the elements of the crime in play, and the best thing for the Vice President was to let Beall trawl this through properly and clear his name. In the meanwhile, on the presumption of innocence, Beall told White it could be kept quiet.

    Word, once out, never goes in one direction only. In a matter of days a mimeographed copy of Matz’s longest interview, a couple of hours with Beall’s investigators transcribed, made its way in another one of the manila envelopes that were the currency of the 1972 presidential cycle to a friendly source in D.C. and from there to Montgomery. George Wallace read them twice front to back, before he spent a full night possessed of coffee and a demon’s own energy deciding what to do next. Two days on, a pair of men set their shoe leather to the streets of Maryland and started looking. One was slighter of build, in glasses, trained by one of Hoover’s g-men in the forensic arts of digging up dirt and in forensic accounting. The other was lean but powerful, a former state trooper, Alabama’s praetorian guard of segregation, who knew just how a carefully applied mix of a voice with menace and a Southern accent gave nervous Yankees the shits. They had a ream of potential suspects, and a number of useful leads supplied over quiet cups of coffee by politically connected Wallace supporters in-state. There was not much time to work but they took the almost reckless urgency of the effort as fuel, not unlike the reporters on the many beats that these days promised scandal and an upheaval of the politics most regular citizens took for granted. They worked Matz by working around him; he was the spoke, not the wheel. Sure enough it paid off.

    His name was Jerome, and wasn’t that fitting thought the two of them. Jerome B. Wolff, and he was a nervous bastard and a bit of a hoarder, both of which were gifts if you wanted to know these things. Jerome Wolff was also the chief of the State Roads Commission and he had the paperwork to prove it. Much of that paperwork, when you spent enough hours in his musty attic as the light faded, had to do with how the kickback system worked. Some of it, reams worth of paperwork, dealt with when, and how, and for how much, Ted Agnew had been bribed for contracts. The forensic accountant didn’t even have to work at it. Even the old trooper could see some of what was laid out in the bills itemized here. If you kept two sets of books to throw off the scent, this was definitely the other set. Wolff, who paced the downstairs like a setter anxious for its master, kept the black book with obsessive clarity. They took their pictures, made their notes, advised Jerome of his civic duty to make the U.S. Attorney’s office aware of these materials — they had, in the moment of final triumph somewhere around eight that night, found payment records dated after Agnew’s vice-presidential inauguration — then made their way out, trilbies on, like the secret policemen they nearly were.

    This was the last Monday of October, the night before Halloween. The two men in hats flew out of Baltimore the next afternoon bound for Birmingham. The day after that Jerome B. Wolff walked, a little befuddled, into the U.S. Attorney’s office and complicated George Beall’s life to no end. The Assistant Attorneys were nearly frantic; they got the political implications. Beall, between deep breaths, kept calm. He had obligations. Obligations to do this right. A very East Coast Establishment variety of rectitude was for all intents and purposes the Beall family business. He had no intention to betray it now. This would be quiet, he told his staff, or at least as quiet as we can make it. But we will search through it all. If it implicates the Vice President in any way that does not change our job. We have a duty. Let’s just hope we don’t have to do that duty.

    George Wallace sat for three whole days. Sat with the information, sat and waited to watch Beall’s office, then the Office of the Vice President, come into the same information his boys had turfed up. Waited to watch them sweat. He spent part of a fourth day in silence just to watch the bastards fidget, wonder in their every wakeful moment who else knew, and what they knew. Then he struck.

    On Friday morning, November 3rd of that year, four days prior to a nationwide general election, Wallace summoned the reporters who would always descend on his press conferences if you just said his name and turned around three times. He told them about the concerns that had arisen in Maryland, and about the good offices of the federal attorneys there who were just trying to do their duty. Then he told them what he had. After that, he let them examine the photographic copies of the materials that Wolff had shown freely to private investigators. And at last, Wallace settled back into the twisted metal of his wheeled throne and watched with satisfaction as, across the wire services of an unsettled nation, the flames whipped up around them.


    They had spent as much of the day up in the sky as they could let themselves do; as the night drew in it was time to come back down. George McGovern had started the day with a speech and last-minute fundraising breakfast in St. Louis, flanked by Missouri’s governor Warren Hearnes and Senator Tom Eagleton. McGovern remained cagey about one of the Missourians’ big concerns, McGovern’s defense proposals that could cancel McDonnell Douglas’ F-15 fighter, a jobs issue of the first order here. Instead he talked about new labor laws, a “revolution” in support of Missouri’s farmers, and federal investment in McDonnell Douglas’ civil-aviation projects. After a meeting with dockyard workers from the Mississippi waterfront, it was back to the “Dakota Queen II” and the flight, above November grey, to Sioux Falls.

    There it was bunting and bands and a grandstand shared with the other two most powerful Democrats in South Dakota, the governor Dick Kniep and Senate candidate James Abourezk, both friends of McGovern’s even before this run. The candidate gave a stemwinder to the large crowd, urban by South Dakota standard, and a pep talk to get out the vote in the state’s largest city, crucial in order to carry his home state. After that it was Mitchell. Home. To vote, and to wait.

    The other candidates did much the same. Courtesy of wife Jean’s redoubtable helicopter, Phil Hart leapfrogged from a breakfast with the Knights of Columbus in Erie, PA, to a UAW event in Cleveland that dovetailed with a photo op with Urban League leaders there, then back home to Michigan to vote. The Harts would take an early dinner then board a plane for Sioux Falls. If traffic wasn’t awful with the media hogging the two-lane highway they would be in Mitchell as the East Coast picture became clear. Spiro Agnew, for his sins, spent the day shaking hands in his home state Maryland, hounded by reporters, as polls showed Nixon’s lead hemmed in tight by a late Wallace surge and McGovern as well, helped at the state level by McGovern’s fast and enthusiastic friend Sargent Shriver.

    Against the advice of his doctors George Wallace barnstormed through Tennessee, one of the states he had to have in order to prevent an Electoral College majority, and yes he was ready to answer questions about what his campaign had dug up about Ted Agnew, why thank you for asking. Out west in the depths of Orange County both the President of the United States and the inimitably awful John Schmitz held dueling fundraisers that morning before Schmitz lit out by plane for Alabama and Richard Nixon decamped like the rough beast before Jerusalem to his fortified ranch-style villa. The others threw themselves at the crowd one last time; Nixon dug in.

    It was probably the biggest outdoor stage anyone ever had built in Mitchell, South Dakota, so thank God the weather held off, as Mitchell’s native son George McGovern himself pointed out to Gene Pokorny who’d been tapped as ringmaster for the whole business. Some of the younger staff — well, most of the staff were young in political terms, these were those youthful in spirit — had wanted something bright, something alive, spring colors and a rainbow and the bright sun of possibility. Jean Westwood thought that kind of optimism tempted fate, Frank Mankiewicz gently steered the designers away out of concern the hippie-lover bylines would write themselves, Gary Hart just wanted it fucking done because there were other things to get on with. The result was a vast, long, quiet blackness, with heavy curtains that shielded the shanty town of McGovern’s last campaign headquarters, the final stand of the adventure. The outside looked sober, and stilted, foursquare, downright Lutheran in its circumspection. Dick Dougherty, through his fog of chainsmoke, dubbed it “the grandest high-school auditorium of them all, from the town that gave the world the Corn Palace.” Someone had the sense to drape a large “McGovern ‘72” banner down over the center behind the plinth, though that nearly did not happen. The campaign’s minds were elsewhere, at feverish work to set up all the phone and teletype lines, swaying in the adrenal haze before the first polls closed alongside the Atlantic. In California, the familiar scowls of the Nixon crew passed through the President's front door one after the other, snatched briefly by telephoto lenses of the encamped press out beyond the gate while the council of war assembled.

    Then the polls did close and there were no words for it, as every guess, every hope, every terror collapsed into inescapable facts that burst one by one like children into a suspended moment, separate from the ordinal flow, apart from time. First, it was clear that this was a three-way battle after all, which washed over the McGovern staffers like a kind of salvation. Pat Caddell and a trio of secretaries not too put out at the young egotist’s manner huddled over the Eastern and Central time states’ exit polls. If those were right, Caddell said, there was at least a shot at a hung Electoral College and a contingent election. But they needed to be watched; there had been what Caddell described as “static” ever since the conventions. What did that mean? asked Pokorny and Weil. What it meant, Caddell said, was that probably there were voters out there who lied. Mostly Nixon voters, Caddell hoped, but there was friction there that meant probably there were Nixon voters who when it came to it would vote for Wallace instead. Maybe even a few for McGovern.

    Rick Stearns picked his chin up from a rhythm of nods and said, watch the differentials. If we get real precincts from a state that come away from the exits, that’ll tell what the differences are. At that point, so far, there seemed to be few. But Connecticut, maybe, was promising. There, besides a small hunk of Wallace voters that scuppered any hope of a Nixon majority, the polls found what looked like strong turnout among the working poor, minorities, and just maybe suburban liberal Republicans who’d walked in to that booth and decided that George McGovern was the only decent man in the race. All together that had put the Democrats in the lead. That and the merry chase both McGovern and Wallace were leading the Republicans in Maryland, met by cheers and hoots from junior staffers who’d started already on the liquid courage, gave some encouragement for the evening. What the hell about Pennsylvania? asked Rick Stearns. We don’t know yet, Gary Hart replied, his face like iron, even as Mankiewicz had a call in to governor Milt Shapp’s direct line for an update.

    Then it started to happen. Dick Dougherty blew in like a magician in the usual miasma of cheap cigarettes. “Christ on a tuna melt,” said the gnarl-faced Irishman. “Get the hell in here and look at ABC. Look at ‘em. What they’re saying about Maine.” A couple of key heads turned. What about Maine, said Gary Hart like a hound on a scent. Get in and see, said Doughterty. From nowhere and yet from always, as he now had become as though part of the campaign’s furniture, Hunter Thompson appeared deep into an eye-reddening dose of mescaline beneath the tinted glasses and higher than a kite already on the adrenaline of political crisis. Howdy Dick, Thompson said to Dougherty, with the typical hint of sarcasm. “Get in here,” responded Dougherty with a grin. The ABC faces droned on.

    What was happening, it seemed, was that Maine was anybody’s game. Maine was never supposed to be anybody’s game. Other than two or three percent at the very most, George Wallace had no presence up there despite all the state’s backwoodsmen. And without somebody named Muskie on the ticket it was hard to fight generations of partisan training. But here it was: William Hathaway was getting straight away with it in the Senate race, he looked set to win in a walk, and George McGovern and Richard Nixon were within one and a half percent of each other while nobody had finished counting either Portland or the Frenchies up north yet. Ed Muskie was as good as his word. He had sweated blood into the presidential back in his home state, probably visited every single home he’d door-knocked when he first ran for governor, day after day since the Chennault Affair blew up. Here it was actually paying off. There was a decent chance McGovern would poach a state where he was never meant to be in the game. Thompson stood there silent for upwards of five minutes as he absorbed the implication. “Holy Mary we could win this fucking thing,” said Dougherty, which gave voice to the moment. “We could win tonight.”

    The ride grew wilder. Next thing anybody knew Pennsylvania was in play. A momentary frisson ran through the NBC field reporters, which also blew up the teletype in Gary Hart’s office, where it looked like Wallace was gaining on Nixon in Florida. This faded back again, but not before it became clear that Wallace was set to take most of the Deep South right up to the line Strom Thurmond had drawn for the GOP at the South Carolina border, and that Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina were all in play for the AIP’s candidate. The networks shifted their coverage towards the grand ballroom in Birmingham George Wallace had rented out to celebrate his ultimate revenge and the atmosphere was festive. Good, said Frank Mankiewicz calmly. Our West Coast people could use a kick in the pants, he added, as Westwood and Stearns never left the phones to California. The reporters smelled it too, now, and stalwarts of the McGovern beat like Peter Greenberg pressed ever harder to get in with Gary or Jean or even Gene Pokorny to see if they knew what the hell was really going on. No one seemed to, for sure.

    By ten-thirty in Mitchell, half an hour after most polls closed on the West Coast (the Caddell team believed they could reasonably suppose Alaska and Hawaii were set to go for Nixon), a picture become more clear. George McGovern had, as the press pack said in that sporting language they favored, “overperformed” in the Northeast and New England. Not only had he taken more obvious states like Massachusetts and New York, but also Connecticut and crucially Pennsylvania, where a combination of factors that included the outreach to the Miners for Democracy movement, higher than normal minority turnout in the cities, and the revulsion of liberal Republicans with Nixon — plus a strong Wallace vote in the “Pennsyltucky” steel-and-coal belt — looked set to deliver the state. Even small favors like Delaware, again with one of the strongest Wallace votes outside the South and what looked like “reverse coattails” from the young lawyer running for the Senate, Joe Biden, brought McGovern along. Cronkite had called Michigan just recently for McGovern, to the delight of all that Phil Hart had helped deliver his state.

    The rest of the upper Midwest, inclusive of South Dakota, was McGovern’s firmest ground of the night, with outright majorities there, in Minnesota, and very narrowly in Wisconsin. Thanks to a late surge of support from both the Democratic left and right in Illinois, things looked secure there as well. At the same time Wallace had locked down nearly all the Deep South and looked set to win in at least Arkansas and Tennessee too. Howard K. Smith went on about how the AIP could improve on their totals from ‘68 and how significant this was. No one knew who the hell was going to come out of Ohio, or Iowa, or Missouri with a win. Nixon held the remainder and, as downstate totals started to pile up, looked set to pull out Maryland while a Republican sea opened up across the Great Plains and the Rockies. But as it wore on towards midnight in Mitchell it looked very much like McGovern was going to reach at least two hundred electoral votes and George Wallace might make it to sixty. A hung election permeated the air.

    The result, to the embarrassment and circumspection of the McGovern campaign’s staffers, was panic. The same kind of panic and indecision and dissociated foundering that had struck at other difficult points, like the collapse in the Ohio primary or the second debate out in California. For over an hour and a half the decision makers of the campaign were seized by rumors and caught up in a roil that approached civil war about the Wallace campaign if there really was no winner that night. One of the coolest heads, Doug Coulter, later said, “our greatest flaw was the lack of faith in ourselves, that same combination of fatalism and lurching around for solutions to prove we could handle a crisis, which of course proved we couldn’t.”

    One rumor, that Wallace had won North Carolina after all and that Nixon looked set to take Missouri, sent a buzz through headquarters. Another, that Nixon was on course to take both California and Ohio and maybe pull this thing out after all, plunged junior staffers into despair. All the while behind the scenes a visceral debate went on among senior staff about whether to move towards a compromise to keep Dick Nixon out, or to keep away from Wallace like the plague because it violated the campaign’s principles. Pat Caddell, at full height with his voice raised, insisted on the former, that together McGovern and Wallace voters represented a spectrum of ordinary America alienated from its failing institutions, that had to come together somehow to create a solution. Jean Westwood, almost to her own surprise, was the loudest voice for telling Wallace where to go, joined in a purely tactical alliance by Gary Hart who again feared that reaching out meant handing the family jewels over to Larry O’Brien and Bob Strauss and the party establishment.

    Conflicting messages went out, a phone call rang for a Wallace intermediary in Louisiana, and a line was opened for a long-distance call to Birmingham for McGovern himself before Hart, who physically ran through the warren of makeshift offices backstage in Mitchell, reached his least likely ally Jean Briggs Hart and together they went to McGovern to say he should stay cool and hold off on Wallace as long as possible. The issue continued to paralyze the campaign, as Frank Mankiewicz called O’Brien, and Jesse Unruh in California, and Stuart Symington in Missouri, everything he could think of but not an answer to the question: what do we do now? Even Dick Dougherty, buttonholed by the press pool for comment, simply said, “guys, I’d tell you something if I knew what to say.” In distant Washington, D.C. David Brinkley was unimpressed.

    Then California happened. And everything changed. Steadily, up to about two in the morning South Dakota time, something changed in California. First, turnout was lower in the Southland strongholds of the GOP, particularly the San Diego area and Bakersfield County, than normal. Second, on the backs of what native Californian observers would call “Yorty voters” and a guerrilla campaign in Orange County, George Wallace took over six percent of the statewide vote. Third, a much higher turnout among voters under 25, black and Chicano voters, and union voters than observers anticipated aligned with the same kind of shift seen in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, where the most liberal of typically Republican voters looked at their options and, with reluctance balanced by disgust with the other candidates, pulled the lever for George McGovern. The end result was that, as the count moved into historically Democratic counties in the northern and north-coastal parts of the state, McGovern looked to be in the clear. Not by much, about one percent all told, but in the clear.

    In California. “Sweet electric honky-tonk Jesus,” Hunter Thompson scribbled down in the heat of the moment, “what tectonic power was unleashed out there on the West Coast? All of a sudden the craziest chance of a crazy year opened like the pearly gates and out stepped George goddamn Washington, dressed strikingly like Elvis — or maybe it was just Harry Reasoner, it was hard to tell through the Camels and Wild Turkey — to say that George Stanley McGovern, a Methodist history professor of Mitchell, South Dakota and erstwhile Senator, might actually be in the lead.” This was so. By two-thirty it appeared McGovern held the states he’d seemed to earlier, plus California with Oregon thrown in for good measure. More and more states went Nixon, including a comeback with urban votes in Arkansas that bid fair to clip George Wallace’s wings as a spoiler. But it was not clear any of them truly mattered. None, at least, except Missouri and Ohio. Missouri, and Ohio, and Maine because who’d have thunk?

    After the first giddy rush of the news McGovern’s headquarters quietly transformed. Phil Hart, well into a fresh pot of coffee, and Frank Mankiewicz took shifts phoning Larry O’Brien in D.C. who now kept the reporters fed, and Ohio’s governor Jack Gilligan for the latest on where the votes were and what they looked like. Ohio, it seemed, was the least of their worries; this was another state where George Wallace’s capture of disgruntled conservatives and the ability of the United Auto Workers’ leadership to keep rank and file on board made the difference as in Michigan to the north. There were rural counties voting, but even a few of those had colleges in them whose students were among the most motivated voters under 25, and there were many precincts still out in Cleveland. Ohio could hold, and if it did McGovern had undisputed first place in the Electoral College. Dick Dougherty rounded up staffers and told them what not to say to reporters. Gary Hart and Rick Stearns held continuous conversation over how to approach the Democratic leadership about a contingent election. Doug Coulter, cool-headed as ever and good natured, sat with Eleanor and made conversation. With his minder young Tim Crouch absorbed in study of the press pool, Hunter Thompson liberated several bottles of champagne “for practice” and popped the corks like small arms fire to the Secret Service’s dismay.

    The call to George Wallace went out at last at quarter past three in Mitchell. McGovern, as ever “Midwest nice” with the governor, and Wallace, who clung now to threads of a recount chance in Arkansas with North Carolina gone to Nixon, circled each other warily. Each sentence of diplomatic small talk waited on the other side to make a break, to put themselves forward. But nothing budged. Wallace had angrily vetoed staffers’ calls to reach out to Richard Nixon, and now he was perfectly willing to make McGovern ask for it, and hold it over the Democrat if he didn’t when it all went to Congress. In this hour of the wolf Wallace held that chance close to him, his own health teetering on its edge, the chance that Nixon would make good on Missouri and Maine and, thereby, make George Wallace the most powerful man in the country. After four minutes of irritation McGovern decided to bring it all to a close, then seemed to look into the distance for a moment and exclaimed, “that man!” Now he asked for fresh numbers from California. Gene Pokorny, who seemed to be everywhere now and had the legendarily prickly Stuart Symington holding on another line, said not to worry, California’s good. We have California and we’re damn sure going to have Ohio. Get me Maine, said McGovern stiffly but with urgency.

    What happened then was fable, the stuff of a strange and wild and dangerous magic, the kind that gives you the world and then as the cheering fades names the price. There was quiet for a time, as Gary Hart talked to Ted Kennedy and Sargent Shriver on the phone, Shriver an especially hale fellow still frustrated at the near miss against Ted Agnew in Maryland, but good for getting McGovern at last to laugh a little when the candidate joined the conversation. Pat Caddell, Rick Stearns, and Gordon Weil sat with the numbers and began to bring them together. Jean Westwood stepped briskly out on stage and started to sort out the various elements of McGovern’s eventual appearance; there were only two states that mattered still in play, the candidate would need to say something soon.

    Then there was a call. Who, was Mankiewicz’s simple question. Tom Eagleton, said Shirley MacLaine, who had wandered in from the celebrity gathering run by her baby brother and, stood next to the phone as she was, decided to make herself useful. Eagleton had been one of the most hesitant of the mainline Democrats, schmoozed gently but persistently by Phil Hart, but now here he was. What does he say? Asked Mankiewicz. Almost in a whisper MacLaine said, He says we did it.

    Every head in the room turned. MacLaine went on. We did it, she said. The state’s gone for McGovern. All that’s out are a few Ozark counties running heavy to Wallace, and St. Joe, and the Independence area. These are our people and we’re nine thousand up. There was no time for the excitement before Jean Westwood grabbed Mankiewicz by the arm. Her face was stone. Get the Senator, she said. Mankiewicz was taken aback, but there were few people on the campaign he trusted so thoroughly. A runner found Eleanor, and Eleanor pulled her husband, in a quiet chat with Gary Hart, to the phone. NBC still hadn’t called Missouri.

    George McGovern picked up the receiver. On the other end was a familiar New England rumble. It was the man who had, quietly, transformed both McGovern’s campaign and McGovern’s understanding of what he sought after, what he was there to do for others. Ed Muskie.

    “Good morning, Mister President,” said the man who had started 1972 in expectation of those words. George McGovern heard them, and breathed out very slowly, and then he smiled.

    The party became a local legend. They shot off fireworks in front of the Corn Palace. Paul Newman found himself, grinning like the kid who’d just broken his rotten neighbor’s window, walking backwards in front of a high school band that left the stage site and marched down the main drag. McGovern’s speech, a deliberate echo of his announcement the previous year, did not go down in the books but the sheer dumbfounded shock of the outcome did. At the time it hardly seemed to matter that Richard Nixon did not call until the next day — in the exuberance of the moment, Frank Mankiewicz beamed as he shrugged and said, “ah, fuck ‘im” to Tim Crouse’s delight. The President of the United States, though no one would say until the tell-alls crept on to bookstore shelves some years later, was as far into a fugue state as he was into a bottle of Canadian whisky when it became clear Maine and Missouri had gone to the Democrat. Warren Beatty, tireless and frankly on top of the world, roused young aides who had worked sixteen- to eighteen-hour days for the last ten months to raid the campaign liquor cabinet and have a proper shindig. Hunter Thompson staggered, oddly observant, through one of the strangest trips of his bohemian life.

    As the cheering died down in the deep darkness just before the November sunrise, as you could almost hear the prairie silence again from which this unlikely president had come, Eleanor McGovern gave her husband a firm peck on the cheek before she went off to celebrate with their children. As she did, her husband leaned himself against a wall, turned towards Frank Mankiewicz, and shared a look. It was Mankiewicz who had come to McGovern, Mankiewicz who had walked out into the wall of cameras in Los Angeles a little over four years before to tell the world the two men’s beloved friend Robert Kennedy was dead. Now here they were.

    McGovern waxed historical. “You know Frank, when the British marched out of Yorktown after their surrender, their band played a tavern song. It was called ‘The World Turned Upside Down.’” Mankiewicz smiled and nodded, to encourage more. McGovern went on.

    “There’s a world upside down now, Frank. I just hope it’s not ours.”
    Last edited: May 21, 2018