Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ambrose's Nixon: The Education of a Politician 1

I started Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962.  This is the first volume of Ambrose's trilogy about Richard Nixon.  I have two items for today's post.

1.  Richard Nixon's father, Frank, was quite opinionated.  In my first post about Irwin Gellman's The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952, I said that Frank was a Republican, and yet his Sunday School class inspired author Jessamyn West to lean towards socialism.  I got that part about socialism from wikipedia, which was basing it on something that West wrote in Double Discovery: A Journey.  In my latest reading of Ambrose, I saw what West said.  On page 18 of Ambrose, we read:

"Frank would express his strong political convictions in his teaching; he was, West declared, 'the first person to make me understand that there was a great lack of practicing Christianity in civic affairs.' He may have voted Republican, but 'what Frank had to say about probity in politics pointed...straight to Norman Thomas,' at least as far as West was concerned."  Norman Thomas was a six-time socialist candidate for the Presidency of the United States.

I got a taste of Frank's political beliefs in Gellman's book.  On page 11 of The Contender, Gellman states: "Frank also believed in the 'little man' and opposed the 'robber barons' who controlled a large portion of America's wealth at the turn of the twentieth century.  Despite the connection between big business and the Republican Party, he remained a staunch defender of the GOP."

Ambrose himself says that Frank could be quite staunch when it came to defending the Republican Party, for Frank alienated customers at his grocery store by debating the Democrats who came in to shop!  According to Ambrose, Frank grew up as a Democrat, but he became a Republican when he was seventeen.  Frank made the switch for at least three reasons.  First, Frank blamed an economic depression on Democratic President Grover Cleveland.  Second, as a hard worker, Frank came to appreciate the value of a dollar, so he supported the Republicans' policy of sound money.  And third, Frank met Republican candidate for President William McKinley, who was impressed with Frank's colt!

But that was not the last time that Frank switched his political affiliation, Ambrose narrates on pages 28-29.  Frank's wife Hannah had a Republican background, but she voted for Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and Frank "chided" her for that (Ambrose's word).  In 1924, however, Frank voted for the Progressive Party after his disenchantment with the Republicans.  In 1928, he returned to the Republicans by voting for Herbert Hoover.  But he voted for Franklin Roosevelt in 1936.  Ambrose states that "whoever his candidate, Frank was ardent about him, and politics in general" (page 29).

I identified with a lot of this.  I was once a Republican, but I ended up voting for Barack Obama and other Democrats in 2012.  I had my reasons for being a Republican back when I was one, and they were legitimate reasons, in my opinion, but I got to the point where I was disenchanted with the G.O.P. and thus switched.  I'm probably not as opinionated as Frank was, but I used to be.  Like Frank, who confronted and debated Democrats when he was a staunch Republican, I would start political debates with the liberals and Democrats I knew.  If someone made a harmless, innocent comment about how Bill Clinton was a good leader, I'd be right there, ready to argue!  Come to think of it, I sometimes behaved that way after I became a Democrat!  Nowadays, I don't feel as inclined to get into debates.

2.  Frank's son, Richard, liked to debate as well.  While Frank raised his voice, Richard focused on facts and logic.  And Richard would take a contrary position on an issue simply to have an opportunity to debate.  Richard did not like girls in his younger years, but as one female acquaintance remarked as she thought back, Richard was eager to debate them!

At Whittier College, Richard was awkward around women, yet he went steady with the most popular girl in school.  Why did she like him?  She said it was because she admired Richard's mind, and they'd get into political debates.  She liked Roosevelt, but Richard did not.  Conventional wisdom dictates that we should never bring up politics on a date, and there's probably a lot of wisdom in that: it's better to inquire about your date's family, movies he or she likes, etc.  But, in my opinion, it would be cool if I could have a relationship in which my date and I would discuss substantive issues.  That's part of getting to know what matters to a person.

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