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"Recently," says Columbia Sociologist Amitai Etzioni, "there has been almost unanimous agreement among newspaper commentators that the country is moving sharply to the right. These statements are far from accurate." In terms of philosophy, Etzioni observes, practically all Middle Americans would call themselves conservatives, favoring more individualism, more freedom, less government power. But on an operational level, he insists, in terms of the specific Government policies it will accept, the country is liberal. According to a study that Etzioni completed last summer for the Office of Economic Opportunity, the nation, in operational terms, is 65% liberal, 21% middle-of-the-road and only 14% conservative.*
Middle America does not express its likes and dislikes very well. "It's really too bad that we Middle Americans don't have an articulate spokesman," says Opie Shelton of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Nixon, Mitchell and Agnew speak to Middle America, but they are not its leaders. Nixon, in fact, excites little of the personal enthusiasm that even Agnew can arouse. Nor does Middle America have any organization. The anti-Moratorium rallies, for example, were largely a failure. For all the great joiner's tradition in the U.S., Middle America is diffuse and tends to be private to the point of self-consciousness —demonstrating is not its style.
To Assist, Not Resist
Yet the Man and Woman of the Year have, with a new sense of truculent self-awareness, presented Nixon with a special paradox. According to Etzioni, the issues that have thrust forward his relatively conservative politics are inflation and crime. If he solves both problems, the saliency of the issues will diminish and the voter will go back to attaching more weight to the liberal issues—and may vote Democratic as a result. If Nixon does not redress inflation and cut crime, then the country may turn even more conservative—to George Wallace—particularly if the Viet Nam War is viewed as a defeat.
TIME'S Washington Bureau Chief Hugh Sidey confesses "the uneasy sensation that Nixon is riding the crest of the huge wave called Middle America, but he is reacting to it rather than leading it." There is a precedent for that view of the presidency. Woodrow Wilson wrote that "the ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people. He cannot be of the school of the prophets; he must be of the number of those who studiously serve the slow-paced daily need."
The trouble with that formulation is that America's needs have long since