I finished Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Education of a Politician, which was the first volume of a three-volume series about the life of Richard Nixon.
my latest reading, Ambrose talks about Nixon's 1962 race for Governor
of California against Democrat Pat Brown (the father of Jerry). Here
were some aspects of Ambrose's discussion that stood out to me.
the first time, in the race for a Republican nomination, Nixon had to
fend off challenges from the right. The John Birch Society was
attaining more power and influence within California Republican
politics, and Nixon was challenged by someone who was further to the right
than he was. That resulted in less money going into the Nixon camp.
Nixon criticized the John Birch Society, particularly the charge of its
founder, Robert Welch, that Dwight Eisenhower was a conscious agent of
the Communist conspiracy. And there were prominent John Birchers who
privately told Nixon that they disagreed with Welch's more outrageous
----The Brown campaign contended that Nixon wanted the
Governorship so that it could be a stepping stone for him to reach the
Presidency. Whether this was true or not, Ambrose narrates that Nixon
had little interest in the issues facing California. There were also
scandals that Brown harped on. For one, in Washington, when Nixon
bought a house, he signed a "restrictive covenant" in which he promised
not to sell his home to an African-American or a Jew. John Erlichman
advised Nixon to respond to the charge by saying that he did not read
the fine print, but Nixon was hesitant to say this because he thought
that there were plenty of voters who approved of such restrictive
covenants. This troubled me because Ambrose has pointed out more than
once in the book that Nixon was quite progressive about racial issues,
and the idea that Nixon backed down from this somewhat in his race for
Governor disturbs that favorable image, especially since there were times when Nixon refused to live where there was a restrictive covenant. I got a chuckle out of
something that Ambrose said on page 661, however: "In two years, Nixon
had fallen from debating with John Kennedy over the fate of the world in
front of the largest audience in history to arguing with Pat Brown over
a house deed he had signed eleven years ago."
concerned Nixon's brother Donald, who received money from business
magnate Howard Hughes when his (meaning Donald's) restaurant was in
trouble. There was speculation that Hughes was doing this to get
governmental favors from Richard Nixon when he was Vice-President, but
Ambrose, as he considers Eisenhower Administration documents, sees no
evidence for this.
----After Nixon lost the race for Governor, he
told the press that it wouldn't have Nixon to kick around anymore. Many
thought that Nixon's political career was over, but Democrats such as
Harry Truman were hesitant to conclude this because they recognized that
Nixon's statement appealed to his Republican base, which thought that
the newspaper media were biased. Ambrose does not think that
Nixon's accusations against the press were particularly accurate, for a
number of newspapers in California were Republican. Moreover, while
Nixon said that the press didn't report that Nixon defended Brown's
patriotism, Ambrose states that "Actually, all the California papers had
quoted Nixon's statement on Brown and Communism to the effect that
Brown was just as anti-Communist as Nixon, but did not know how to work
effectively against the conspiracy" (page 670).
I'm on the issue of the press, I'd like to return to Ambrose's
discussion of how Nixon would have governed had he won the Presidential
election in 1960, as opposed to how he governed in 1969-1974. As
President in 1969-1974, Nixon felt under assault by the liberal
establishment, including the news media. Would Nixon have been as
distrustful had he won in 1960? Ambrose doubts this, for he says that
Nixon's relations with the press were pretty good until he alienated the
press in 1962. But I wonder about this, for, in his book Six Crises (which Nixon wrote before he ran for Governor in 1962) Nixon complains about the press, portraying it as biased.
----I'd like to comment on Ambrose's own view on Nixon. Ambrose says that he initially did not care for Nixon, seeing Nixon as looking out primarily for Nixon!
Ambrose was reluctant to write a biography on Richard Nixon, and
Ambrose's dedication refers to his (Ambrose's) brothers, who voted for
Nixon, whereas Stephen Ambrose did not. But Ambrose's book on
Nixon, at least the first volume (which is the only one that I've read
so far) was quite fair towards Nixon, critiquing Nixon at times, and
defending him at other times. Because Ambrose is a masterful
storyteller, as well as a thorough researcher, I felt that I knew Nixon a
lot better after reading Ambrose's book.
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