Fifty-one years ago, the national Democratic Party and its presidential nominee were characterized as the party of ”acid, amnesty and abortion” in one of the more devastating and effective slogans in American political history.
Its goal was the portrayal of a party in thrall to a far-left fringe element whose policies and philosophy were out of the American mainstream and should be rejected. Acid referred to the casual acceptance of a drug culture exemplified by the use of the hallucinogenic LSD. Amnesty referred to forgoing criminal prosecutions and allowing young men who had moved to Canada to avoid the military draft to return home. Abortion referred to legalizing the procedure on demand and without restriction.
President Nixon won re-election in a landslide in 1972 against North Dakota Sen. George McGovern, carrying 49 states. As preparations ramp up for President Biden’s re-election campaign, he confronts his own version of acid, amnesty and abortion – inflation, immigration and in debt.
While lacking quite the same alliterative rhythm of the 1972 catchphrase, it could inflict a similar bite on the Biden administration if economic conditions worsen, tens of thousands of migrants continue streaming across the southern border, and the nation teeters on defaulting on its debts for the first time in history.
Biden’s public approval rating is only around 40% and a clear majority expresses dissatisfaction with his handling of the economy and immigration. Coupled with serious concerns about his age, cognition and ability to withstand the meatgrinder presidential campaigns have become, a majority of Democrats have expressed a preference for someone else to lead their party into the 2024 election.
While inflation has eased slightly, fears of recession have increased, along with rising mortgage rates and dramatically higher costs of everything from eggs to cars. Americans have turned increasingly to credit cards to carry them through, while the number of those who describe their situation as living paycheck to paycheck has risen. High-profile bank failures have contributed to the unease in the country and a fear of what lies ahead.
The record influx of migrants has fractured Democrats as communities along the southern border deal with an unprecedented demand for social services and accommodations beyond their abilities to support. Democrats in Congress have become increasingly outspoken in their criticisms of Biden’s response, while big city mayors have bused migrants out of their towns and into surrounding communities, citing their own shelters as at capacity and earning the enmity of their neighbors.
The administration’s response has been one of blaming Congress, minimizing the situation and denying it exists while claiming the border is secure – despite overwhelming visual evidence and widely viewed scenes of mass crowding at border crossings.
Meanwhile, the stalemate continues over increasing the national debt limit, with the president adamant in his demand for an unconditional increase. Congressional Republicans have agreed to raise the limit in return for trillions in spending cuts. The administration has warned the government will default on its obligations as soon as the first week of June, upending the global economy and sending the country into fiscal chaos.
There remains hope that cooler heads will prevail and a compromise reached, but Biden will share much of the blame for whatever the outcome and for his perilous brinksmanship with the nation’s economic health.
In 1972, McGovern led far left-wing liberalism. With the positioning of today’s Democratic Party, he’d be considered a moderate. The acid, amnesty and abortion critique was wildly successful in its time and has stood the test of political effectiveness by being cited a half-century later.
It fit neatly on a bumper sticker or handheld campaign rally sign. Inflation, immigration and in debt may take up a bit more space, but the message is equally succinct.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail.