I finished Irwin Gellman's The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952. I have a couple of items to discuss, then I'll give my overall impression of the book.
my write-ups on Gellman's book, I haven't gone into much detail
regarding the charge that Richard Nixon was bankrolled by wealthy big
business interests when he ran for the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, a
narrative that Gellman seeks to put to rest. In my latest reading, Gellman makes at least three arguments against that claim.
First, on page 456, Gellman essentially argues that the narrative is based on exaggeration. Ernest Brashear, for example, who wrote a critical piece about Richard Nixon for the September 1, 1952 edition of the New Republic,
noted that Herman Perry recruited Nixon to run for the U.S. House in
1946, but Brashear "promoted Perry from a local bank branch manager to a
wealthy Bank of America 'financier'" (Gellman's words on page 456).
in taking on the charge that wealthy interests spent vast sums of money
on pro-Nixon billboards, Gellman argues that Nixon's campaign budgets
were "miniscule", and Gellman appeals to Nixon archives, which
"demonstrate that almost all major expenditures were done by the
campaign and accounted for" (page 458). And, third, Gellman states
that, if the numbers that certain Nixon detractors have posited
concerning spending by wealthy interests on pro-Nixon billboards were
indeed true, that would have to entail a huge pro-Nixon blitz that
blanketed the state, but "Media reports from the time mention no such
blitz" (page 458). In short, people weren't asking during this campaign
where Nixon got the money for all of the billboards blanketing the
state, so the likelihood is that pro-Nixon billboards were not
blanketing the state!
2. I'd like to go back a couple of readings
ago. On pages 338-340, Gellman talks about Helen Gahagan Douglas'
narrative about her loss to Richard Nixon in the 1950 U.S. Senate race.
In October 1952, Douglas said: "The whispering campaign is what was so
vicious. People were paid to deliberately spread lies----and, of
course, the biggest one was that my husband and I were Communists.
[Nixon was] much too wise to have called me a communist in so many
words[, but the] pink sheet gave the impression to the reader who was
not too well acquainted with the workings of Congress that there was a
Marcantonio program presented in the House of Representatives which I
supported 354 times." In her memoir, Douglas discusses Nixon's
campaign against Jerry Voorhis for U.S. House, and Gellman states on
page 339 that "One of Douglas's campaign workers' daughters, [Douglas']
bizarre tale continued, had spent a day at Nixon headquarters, assigned
to a room filled with people using telephones, saying, 'Good morning.
Do you know that Jerry Voorhis is a Communist?'"
this to be interesting, for it raised questions in my mind. First,
while Gellman focuses a lot on what Nixon said and did on the surface
during his House and Senate campaigns and concludes that a number of
accusations against Nixon about his campaign strategy during those times
are unfair, could Nixon have supported a smear campaign (or, in
Douglas' words, a "whispering campaign") in secret, behind the scenes?
Second, should we be so quick to dismiss Douglas' appeal to the
recollection of her campaign worker's daughter about what went on at
Nixon headquarters----that people there were calling voters and telling
them that Voorhis was a Communist? These are just questions
that I have. Gellman would probably come back and say that there's no
evidence that Nixon conducted an underground smear campaign, and that we
can't exactly trust an appeal to the testimony of someone who knew
someone who saw something, and Gellman would be well within his rights
to make those points.
3. Overall, I enjoyed Gellman's
book. I was expecting to find the book informative, but not so much to
enjoy it, and so I was pleasantly surprised that my reading of Gellman's
book went as well as it did. I have learned that I enjoy
political books that focus on personalities and ideology, not so much
the nuts-and-bolts of policy, and Gellman did well on the former, for he
gave a biographical background for key players as well as discussed
their ideologies. I loved learning about the left-wing Vito
Marcantonio, the conservative William Knowland, the somewhat
conservative Richard Nixon, and others.
In terms of
Gellman's overall argument, I thought that Gellman did well to highlight
that Nixon's opponents lost for reasons other than Nixon conducting a
dirty campaign (for Gellman seems to deny that Nixon's campaigns even were dirty).
At the same time, questions persist in my mind. Why were there people
who thought that Nixon played dirty----in his campaigns, in his activity
during the 1952 Republican National Convention, etc.? Gellman
talks about the phenomenon of Nixon-hating, and he maintains that
Brashear's 1952 article was an example of that, but why were there
people who hated Nixon? Another question concerns whether Gellman
accepts the narrative that Nixon engaged in dirty tricks later in his
(meaning Nixon's) career----during his Presidency, for example. If so,
then to what would Gellman attribute Nixon's transition from a fairly
honest politician and public servant to a crafty, shady political player
who did not hesitate to play hardball against those he considered his
enemies? Was it because Nixon became bitter over the years?
is a chance that I will refer to Gellman's work later in My Year (or
More) of Nixon, for I will be reading some of the books that Gellman
critiques, and so I'll probably return to Gellman to remind myself of
what he thought was wrong with those books' arguments.