Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ambrose's Nixon: The Education of a Politician 18

My latest reading of Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Education of a Politician covered Vice-President Richard Nixon's visit to the Soviet Union, as well as advice that Nixon received from prominent figures about strategy for his 1960 run for President.

Ambrose quotes Nixon's correspondence with Ronald Reagan, who at the time was on General Electric's speaking circuit.  Reagan by that time had become a conservative, and Reagan praised Nixon for his speech to the Soviet Union, which was one of the rare times that someone was allowed to go on Russian television and "accuse Pravda, the Communist journalistic bible, of distorting the truth" (James Reston's words, page 531).  Regarding the coming 1960 Presidential election, Reagan encouraged Nixon to run as a conservative, since Reagan felt that the United States was conservative economically.  Reagan also recommended that Nixon tag Kennedy's "bold new imaginative program with its proper age", for Reagan said that "Under the tousled boyish hair cut it is still old Karl Marx----first launched a century ago" (Reagan's words, page 546).

John F. Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson as his running mate, and that outraged liberals because Johnson in the U.S. Senate helped to weaken the 1957 Civil Rights Act.  But, according to Ambrose, the liberals would not vote for Nixon, and Kennedy by selecting Johnson took a stronger hold on the Southern vote, so there was a political method to Kennedy's move.  Some thought that Nixon should pick a Catholic as his running mate, but Billy Graham advised Nixon against that, saying that this would split the Protestant vote, which was larger than the Catholic vote.  Graham suggested that Nixon select Congressman Walter Judd, who at one time was a Protestant missionary.  According to Graham, Judd was highly regarded by fundamentalist Protestants and would "put much of the South and border states in the Republican column and bring about a dedicated Protestant vote to counteract the Catholic vote" (Graham's words, page 547).  Graham also recommended that Nixon destroy Graham's letter after reading it!

(UPDATE: Nixon asked Judd if he wanted to be Nixon's running mate, and Judd responded that he'd rather stay in Congress.  Judd delivered the keynote address at the 1960 Republican convention.  Regarding Catholicism, Ambrose appears to argue that Nixon did not want to play on anti-Catholicism to get votes.  Ambrose also notes that Nixon's loyal secretary, Rose Mary Woods, was a Catholic.)

Nixon wanted to select as his running mate liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller, who was planning to challenge Nixon for the 1960 Republican nomination for President.  Nixon asked Dwight Eisenhower for advice on this, and, while Eisenhower acknowledged that Rockefeller had popular appeal, he thought that Rockefeller had too much personal ambition.  If Nixon asked Rockefeller to be his running mate, Rockefeller would run out and tell the world, Eisenhower thought!  Eisenhower said that, if Nixon wanted to persuade Rockefeller to be his running mate, Nixon would probably have to promise only to serve one term as President (perhaps to pave the way for Rockefeller).  Nixon didn't care for that idea!

(UPDATE: Nixon selected UN ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge to be his running mate, but Nixon cut a deal with Rockefeller in seeking to put together a Republican platform that Rockefeller would support.  A number of right-wingers have criticized this.  I think of Phyllis Schlafly's 1964 book, A Choice Not an Echo, and Barry Goldwater likening Nixon's meeting with Rockefeller to Munich.  As I read Ambrose, however, I didn't see what the big deal was, at least from a right-wing perspective.  According to Ambrose, Nixon rejected Rockefeller's proposals for using Social Security to pay for health insurance for the elderly, and for giving the federal government "compulsory arbitration power in labor disputes", to draw from Ambrose's phraseology on page 551.  But Nixon and Rockefeller agreed on increasing the defense budget, in departure from Eisenhower's policy, and increasing the defense budget is something that the right-wing usually supports.  This article implies, however, that Goldwater's problem was with two planks: one calling for aggressive federal action on civil rights for African-Americans, and one concerning health insurance policy, in which private insurance would be one option.)

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