Spiro T. Agnew, the Vice-President of the United States, today (Saturday 22 August) begins an?
Spiro T. Agnew, the Vice-President of the United States, today (Saturday 22 August) begins an eight-day tour of South Vietnam and three other Asian countries on a fact-finding mission for President Nixon. It is the second time the 51 year-old Vice-President has visited the area within eight months.
Although it is strictly an information-gathering exercise, news correspondents will be watching for any slip-of-the tongue remark by the Vice-President which will reveal a new trend in American policy - or at least put the controversial figure of Spiro T. Agnew in the headlines again.
The rise of Spiro T. Agnew in American politics has been an unrivalled phenomenon. Two years ago, he was the little-known Governor of Maryland - a "middle-of-the-road" conservative - when Richard Nixon chose him as his Vice-Presidential candidate. Now, as Vice-President, Spiro T. Agnew has become a major cult figure with what he has called the "forgotten" or "silent??? or "middle" Americans.
His choice as running-mate to Richard Nixon in the 1968 Presidential elections was seen as a move to unite the Republican Party: offending neither the liberal wing of the Party nor the right-wing of the South. Originally he had been the prime supporter behind Governor Rockefeller, but changed to Richard Nixon when the New York Governor initially declined nomination.
Like President Nixon, he is a lawyer. His previous career had seen him in the Army during the second world war and, although he earned several battle honours, he failed to reach a rank higher than 2nd lieutenant. He also fought in Korea in 1950.
Spiro T. Agnew is only a second-generation American-born Anagnostopoulos, the son of an immigrant Greek fruit merchant - but he seas his primary mission as the defence of"the traditional American values."
In the two years he had been in the public eye, the Vice-President has rarely been out of the headlines. Initially he was the object of ridicule and scorn for his grass-roots patriotism and for many ill-judged off-the-cuff remarks. Now he is being regarded by many as a serious threat to liberalism: certain Congressmen have compared his attacks with Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist crusade in the early 1950's.
The Vice-President has made several vitriolic attacks upon anti-Vietnam war Congressmen, describing them as "ideological eunchs", parasites of passion" and "rotten apples which must be discarded from the barrel." Students too have been the object of much of his criticism: he was the first to talk of "campus bums" and was criticised in a Government report on student unrest shortly before the Kent State University killings. The shooting of four students by National Guardsmen at Kent University was, he said, the exploding of a powder keg...both predictable and avoidable.
Vice-President Agnew has fiercely attacked the American press and television networks, describing them as a close fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one, who censor the news to fit their own set of biases. This attack was seen by the networks and newspapers as an attempt to intimidate the news media into becoming subservient to the Government, and therefore an attack on their freedom. At the beginning of this year, the International Press Institute (which comprises of over 1,600 publishers in the non-communist world) voted and Vice-President the most serious threat to freedom of information in the western world in 1969.
Not all of Vice-President Agnew's public attacks have been so serious: in a White House tennis match against the Peace Corps he hit his partner with the ball. Several weeks earlier, the golfer Doug Sanders was hit on the temple by the Vice-President's golf ball during a tournament. The Vice-President has himself been the victim of light-hearted attacks too: a californian family has been producing wristwatches bearing a caricature of him. Dr. Hale Dougherty, the designer of the watch, agreed to make contributions to cancer research after a request by the Vice-President. Golf balls and shirts carry his face and there has even been a book published called "The Wit and Wisdom of Spiro T. Agnew" containing nothing but blank pages.
The U.S. Information Agency has recently made a 15-minute colour film on the Vice-President, portraying him as a friend of education, a foe of racial discrimination and a man who speaks his mind. The film cost 80,000 dollars (about 350,000 sterling) and is narrated by John Wayne, the film actor.
The film is based upon the Vice-President's last tour of Asia, at the beginning of this year. His 11-nation tour was to explain to Asian leader President Nixon's "low-profile" policy-change on Asian affairs: the doctrine of self-reliance.
During that tour, Vice-President Agnew paid a surprise visit to Saigon. This time it is a scheduled visit. This brief-tour is seen as checking on the progress of the Nixon Doctrine and more particularly to investigate the progress of "Vietnamisation in the Indo-China War.
The other countries he will visit are South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.
Sprio T. Agnew, in his two years as Vice-President, has emerged as a formidable political figure. to the "silent majority" he is a soft-spoken, patient, phlegmatic who expresses his message in the firmest, often flagrant, terms. To his critics he is sowing discord and tension in a nation already torn with strife.
Politically and personally, his success has been extraordinary. He is the first man to exercise political leadership from the traditionally obscure Vice-Presidency and since the 1968 Republican convention a year ago he was a foil for the caricaturist. Today he is a potential president.