In my last post on The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952, I said that I would discuss Irwin Gellman's attempt to refute what he considers to be inaccurate narratives about Richard Nixon's 1946 congressional campaign. I'll just mention some highlights. Gellman disputes the story that Nixon supporters called voters to tell them that Jerry Voorhis (Nixon's Democratic opponent) was a Communist, and also the story that wealthy outside interests were helping to finance the Nixon campaign because they didn't care for Voorhis challenging their monopolies. On the other side, Gellman disputes Pat Nixon's recollection in her memoirs that Democrats broke into Nixon's campaign headquarters in 1946.
On what basis does Gellman dispute these
narratives? Often, it's on account of an absence of evidence for the
narratives' viability. Sometimes, it's because a charge did not surface
until some time after the 1946 campaign----and what's interesting is
that, once one particular charge surfaced, even those who were involved
in that campaign (such as Voorhis himself) bought into it. Never
underestimate the power of retrospective history! Another consideration
is that one person who worked for Nixon's campaign, Murray Chotiner,
puffed his influence, whereas others have claimed that his influence in
Nixon's 1946 campaign was quite marginal, and yet some have accepted the
idea that Chotiner's influence was vast in attempting to posit some
sort of conspiracy. Implausibility is another factor, for Gellman asks
how Nixon in Maryland would have been able to respond to a California
newspaper ad to launch his political career. Moreover, I liked Nixon's
response when he read Voorhis' statement in his 1948 book that the Nixon
campaign had a lot of money: "What I am wondering is where all the
money went that we were supposed to have had!"
For Gellman, there
were a variety of factors that contributed to Nixon's victory over
Voorhis: growing disillusionment with the New Deal, and Voorhis'
blunders (such as failing to campaign during the primary when Nixon was
becoming known and liked). But Gellman also portrays Nixon as an aggressive debater, for Nixon
really attacked Voorhis by claiming that Voorhis was supported by a
union that had a number of the same members as the CIO (into which
Communists were making incursions), as well as by alleging that Voorhis
had a dearth of legislative achievements. Gellman portrays Voorhis
as responding to Nixon's charges ineptly. As I read Gellman's narration
of Nixon's debates with Voorhis, I thought of Mitt Romney's first
debate against President Barack Obama in the 2012 Presidential election.
else that stood out to me in my latest reading was California Governor
Earl Warren's refusal to endorse Nixon, for Warren wanted to be above
partisanship. According to Gellman, Nixon realized that he could not
vocally criticize Warren on account of Warren's clout, and Nixon "could
not afford the governor's antipathy" (page 77). Isn't that the sort of
situation in which many of us are? We may not like a situation, but we
have to accept it to avoid offending the wrong people, while finding
some way to work through it or around it.