Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady 1

I started Greg Mitchell's 1998 book, Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady: Richard Nixon vs. Helen Gahagan Douglas----Sexual Politics and the Red Scare, 1950.  The book is about Richard Nixon's 1950 run for the U.S. Senate against liberal Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas.  Mitchell says in the Preface to this book that he has looked at documents from this campaign that have not been considered in the past, and that these documents shed light on an election that Nixon did not care to discuss that much after his victory.  The inside jacket of Irwin Gellman's The Contender, which was more pro-Nixon than Mitchell's book, made a similar claim: that Gellman was "the first historian to have complete and unfettered access to (among other sources) the 1946, 1948, and 1950 campaign files in the National Archives; papers from the executive sessions of HUAC; and every document dated through July 1952 in the Nixon Library & Birthplace."

Mitchell's portrayal of Nixon in my reading thus far is more negative than what I encountered in Gellman's The Contender, Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Education of a Politician, and (of course) Nixon's own Six Crises.  These three works depict Nixon as cautious about McCarthy, as Nixon thought that McCarthy was on to something when McCarthy attacked the problem of Communists in the U.S. Government, yet did not care for McCarthy's irresponsible claims.  (Actually, Six Crises does not mention McCarthy explicitly, but Nixon in the book does criticize anti-Communists who make irresponsible accusations.)  According to Mitchell, McCarthy actually drew from one of Nixon's speeches against Communism in conducting his own anti-Communist crusade, and, when McCarthy visited California, Nixon appeared with him on stage and prayed that McCarthy might have the strength to carry on.  Ambrose does not mention this particular incident, but Ambrose does say that Nixon did not appear on the same stage with McCarthy when McCarthy spoke in California in 1950 to support Nixon's candidacy for U.S. Senate.  (UPDATE: On page 176, Mitchell says the same thing, asserting that Nixon did not want to be associated too much with McCarthy when Nixon was trying to move to the center to attract Democratic voters.)  The backdrop for Mitchell's narration is the fear that existed in 1950 about Communism, as international Communism made advances, and people in the U.S. were concerned about Communist infiltration in the U.S., even though the number of members in the Communist Party in the United States had declined.  (UPDATE: On page 79, Mitchell says that "Nixon was no McCarthy; blacklisting and loyalty oaths made him uncomfortable."  Yet, on page 208, Mitchell says that Nixon "denounced those who refused to sign loyalty oaths.")

Mitchell makes clear in the Preface, however, that his aim is not to write an anti-Nixon book.  Actually, Mitchell has fond memories of Nixon!  He and his family saw Nixon when they visited the White House during Eisenhower's Presidency, and Nixon waved to them.  And Mitchell was one of the few people in his junior high school class who voted for Nixon in his school's mock 1960 election, and he even took Nixon's side in his school's debate.  Still, the Nixon in Mitchell's book, at least in my reading thus far, appears more ruthless and conniving than the Nixon I have read about in other books for my Year (or More) of Nixon.  And yet, even Mitchell's Nixon had talent!  On page 15, Mitchell tells the story of how Nixon at Berkeley gave a speech and answered questions so skillfully that a number of the indifferent were persuaded to support Nixon, while those who came to heckle him left with doubts about their stance.  Someone from Berkeley's Students for Douglas reported this to Douglas.

Mitchell made some interesting points in my latest reading.  For example, he presented California as a state of paradox.  California had the highest rate of job creation, yet also the highest unemployment rate, plus there were other paradoxes about it!  I'm not surprised that this was the case in such a large and populous state!

Mitchell also provides background information on Helen Gahagan Thomas.  She was raised in a Republican family, in which she as a girl made herself heard among the males.  Helen loved to be in the limelight, and she became an actress.  She was somewhat of a snob at first, especially when it came to riding trains, buses, and subways (she said that the people smelled), but her interest in politics and the plight of the poor originated on account of her husband's political activity.  She became a champion of the marginalized and associated with them, and yet her comments about African-Americans (i.e., "I just love the Negro people!") came across as condescending.  She did practice what she preached, however, for, as a U.S. Representative, she was the first white U.S. representative to hire an African-American secretary.  In the U.S. Congress, Douglas was admired on account of her beauty, yet being an outspoken liberal female did not exactly endear her to her colleagues!  One story that Mitchell told that stood out to me was when she loudly hissed at a Southern congressman's speech that "blamed many U.S. casualties in World War II on the ineptitude of Negro soldiers" (page 25).  It's tragic that there was a time in U.S. history that such a speech would be made and tolerated on the floor of the U.S. Congress.

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