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No Clear Victories
For most of the '60s, the nation was transfixed by its darker side, as if some impulse of Ahab were obsessively driving it to a suicidal reunion with an evil deep in its own nature. The astronauts reasserted the chief mate Starbuck's cool, professional sanity. Not intellect, but intelligence. Not evil, but remediable errors, course corrections, chatter from Capcom to Houston. In the Middle American version, the Pequod steers for home: Moby Dick is a holdful of whale oil for the nation's lamps.
Some liberals grumbled that the Apollo program's $26 billion would have been better spent on curing hunger or the urban malaise. Poet W. H. Auden wrote dyspeptically:
It's natural the Boys should whoop it up for
so huge a phallic triumph, an adventure
it would not have occurred to woman
to think worthwhile, made possible only
because we like huddling in gangs and knowing
the exact time . . .
Yet Americans, particularly Middle Americans, reveled in the lunar landings precisely because they were victories purely accomplished; in Viet Nam, in the carious slums, in the polluted environment, no clear victories seemed possible any longer.
"To go forward at all," Richard Nixon said at his inauguration, "is to go forward together." Assuming office after a year of wrenching passions, Nixon enjoyed a honeymoon of lowered voices that lasted at least through the summer. Except for the farther radical fringes, antiwar dissenters wanted to allow Nixon time to make good his pledges to extricate the U.S. from Viet Nam. The nation had overcommitted itself both at home and abroad, and Nixon took it to be time to stop making promises, to realign American obligations with the nation's resources and desires. There are many who feel that America's problems are so great and urgent that it cannot endure an era of "consolidation." But the Nixon Doctrine appealed to Middle America.
He recast domestic policy, establishing a White House Council for Urban Affairs designed to give coherence and continuity to urban planning. Like many Middle Americans, Nixon reflected what would have traditionally seemed a contradictory mixture of liberal and conservative impulses. From a liberal point of view, the record of Nixon's first year is probably better than his poor public relations and awkward rhetoric would indicate. At year's end, the Administration saved its "Philadelphia Plan," designed to open construction trade unions to thousands more black workers (see BUSINESS). His bold welfare reform for the first time proposed a policy of guaranteed annual wages combined with a work incentive. His draft reform, instituting selection by lottery, brought a new equity to the Selective Service system. He won liberal applause for ending the U.S. production of biological weapons and