During this Summer 2012, ErnBlog will take a moment to reflect on each of the twentieth century icons highlighted in Billy Joel’s 1989 hit tune.
Joe McCarthy was a US Republican Senator from Wisconsin from 1947-1957 who believed that Communists were secretly positioned throughout the United States as citizens planning to overthrow our democratic form of government. Although short, McCarthy’s years in the Senate were filled with drama and espionage. He lambasted President Harry Truman for firing General Douglas McCarthy during the Korean War. A former Marine, McCarthy took a special interest in the US Armed Forces, conducting an investigation of the Army to ensure that liberal ideas had not circulated into the military hierarchy.
During his Congressional career, McCarthy played a key role in the development of the US House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee, that conducted hearings of suspected American communists. In 1953, an American couple, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed after it was discovered that they stared atomic bomb secrets with the Soviets.
In general, however, McCarthy’s ideas were mostly paranoid. The US won the 30-year Cold War with the Russians; a struggle that actually challenged America to achieve several of its ecomonic and techological goals. A pinnacle of these accomplishments occurred on July 20, 1969 when American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to step foot on the Moon.
US President Richard Milhous Nixon is the only person referenced twice by Billy Joel in the song. This first mention of Nixon is in association with his career as Vice-President under President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. Born on January 9, 1913, Nixon was a Capricorn like Big Ern. The 1950s was a tremendously successful time for the United States as industry boomed, new super highways were developed, and more Americans than ever were purchasing their own homes.
Unfortunately for Nixon, one of the most successful and involved Vice-Presidents in history, he was not able to capitalize on the popularity and legacy of the Eisenhower Administration in his 1960 Presidential bid. The 1960 Presidential Campaign was the first to be widely transmitted into most American homes via television. Nixon’s opponent, US Senator John F. Kennedy (D – Massachusetts) was rich, tall, eloquent, and handsome. In nationally televised debates, Nixon portrayed himself and clumsy, awkward, and most importantly – easily angered. This association of anger with Nixon would remain with the American public for the rest of his life. Kennedy won the 1960 Presidential Election by one of the most narrow margins in history.
In 1964, back in his home state, Nixon made another push for office, running for Governor of California. He lost again and in his speech acknowledging defeat, Nixon uttered one of his most famous quotes, “The American people aren’t going to have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore.” But, as Billy Joel sings, Richard Nixon would be “back again” in 1968.