I have four items for my write-up today on Greg Mitchell's Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady: Richard Nixon vs. Helen Gahagan Douglas----Sexual Politics and the Red Scare, 1950. It's about Richard Nixon's 1950 U.S. Senate campaign against liberal Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas.
My first item concerns how Douglas absorbed and communicated
information. A friend of Douglas described Douglas' absorption of
knowledge as follows: "She doesn't bother much with logical processes,
she just wraps herself around an idea more or less in the way an amoeba
wraps itself around a bit of food, a good nourishing way of absorbing
information" (page 22). Douglas described her way of learning this way:
"When you dig into a problem you will learn what you need to know, you
will learn how to solve it, you'll stumble upon authenticity and the
people with the answers."
For some reason, I'd expect for a
person who absorbed information and made it a part of her to be able to
communicate it in a clear, articulate, compelling, and seemingly
authentic manner. Perhaps this is because I have read of people, such
as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, who were able to absorb information
and then go on to communicate that information effectively.
But that wasn't entirely the case with Helen Gahagan Douglas. She was
probably a good speaker on account of her experience in drama, but she
tended to drone on and on about policy details. On page 34, we
read about Douglas speaking by the hour in the hot sun about the
160-acre water limit----which referred to a liberal law that "limited
state-financed irrigation to farms of no more than 160 acres" and was
"meant to give the small farmer a chance to survive in a state dominated
by agribusiness" (page 29). Nixon, too, had a tendency to
drone on, but he learned how to be more concise in his public speaking.
Moreover, my impression is that Nixon communicated his views on policy
in a clear and compelling manner. Some people have that talent. Bill
Clinton and Barack Obama have it. Paul Ryan sometimes has it, and
sometimes does not. Newt Gingrich just overwhelms people with facts in
his forums, but I don't think that he breaks them down as well for
public consumption as Clinton and Obama do.
2. My second item can
be entitled "Mother issues". Mitchell talks about Nixon's relationship
with his mother, Hannah Nixon. Richard was closer to his mother than
the other brothers were, and Hannah speculated that this was because
Richard, who was quiet, needed her more than his brothers did. When
Hannah spent a lot of time away from Richard because she was in Arizona
caring for Richard's brother, Harold, who had tuberculosis, Richard
resented her absence (or so Mitchell says). Mitchell refers to views
that this tended to alienate Richard from women, made him more
distrustful of people, and drove his ambition. (I should note that
Nixon's ambition was what attracted Pat Nixon, who initially was not
attracted to Richard, but who later concluded that he was going places.)
also briefly mentions Lyndon Johnson's Mother issues. Unlike Nixon,
Johnson was quite easy-going with women. He poured out his soul to
them, and he flirted with them. Johnson's friend George Reedy said that
Johnson was vulnerable to women and poured his soul out to them because
"They all reminded him of his mother." Johnson was friends
with Helen Gahagan Douglas, even though they differed on civil rights
and labor, with Douglas being more liberal than Johnson. While
Johnson flirted with Douglas, she was committed to her husband and her
children. (UPDATE: I've not read Robert Caro's book on LBJ, but, according to here and here, Caro argues that Douglas and LBJ had a romantic relationship.) Mitchell says on page 71: "Yet Lyndon Johnson, little known
in California, could not help Douglas much in her Senate race."
Apparently, Johnson in 1950 was not the nationally-known figure that he
would become in later years!
3. On page 53, Mitchell discusses
Nixon's finances in the 1950 Senate campaign. Mitchell says that "the
Nixon campaign coffers were flush, but driving for more Democratic votes
cost a lot of money." Irwin Gellman, in The Contender,
criticizes Mitchell's claim that Nixon's campaign had vast amounts of
money, stating that Mitchell provides no evidence that Nixon had $4.2
million in his campaign coffers (Gellman 340).
I don't know enough
about Mitchell's claim, for I haven't yet gotten to that part of the
book. I should note, however, that, on page 56, Mitchell refers to an
article by Paul Jacobs in the June 17, 1950 New Leader that
predicted that Nixon would have "ample funds, 'a smear machine' at his
disposal, and a generally supportive press" (Mitchell on page 56).
This, in my opinion, is significant because it's a source from the time
of the 1950 election that posits that Nixon would have lots of funds.
Gellman, on page 458 of The Contender, says that (presumably in
1950) there were no newspaper accounts of a state-wide blitz of
pro-Nixon billboards. That's a valid point, but there was at least one
voice in 1950 who envisioned Nixon as having lots of campaign funds.
page 53, Mitchell says that Nixon tried to get a $5,000 donation from
Owen Brewster, the head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, but
the committee could not give money to a Republican primary candidate.
Nixon kept asking, and so Brewster gave the money to lobbyist, gambler,
and influence peddler Henry Grunewald, who relayed the money to Nixon. I
checked the notes to see if Mitchell provided primary-source evidence
for this story, and all I could see was his reference to Roger Morris
and Fawn Brodie. I wonder if they have primary-source evidence. I'll be reading Roger Morris' book sometime down the road, so maybe I'll see there.
The role of Murray Chotiner in Nixon's campaigns has been
controversial, since Chotiner's campaign strategies were often quite
aggressive and ruthless. Both Irwin Gellman and Stephen Ambrose contend
that Chotiner's role in Nixon's 1946 U.S. House campaign was marginal.
Mitchell acknowledges that Chotiner only worked for Nixon part-time in
1946, since Chotiner was also working on Bill Knowland's U.S. Senate
re-election campaign. But, according to Mitchell, Chotiner was the one
who came up with the idea that "turned [Nixon's] campaign around",
namely, to attack Jerry "Voorhis as a tool of left-wing labor PACs"
(page 47). I could not find Mitchell's documentation for that specific
claim, though. Mitchell has notes, but they're not always attached to
specific things that Mitchell says.
Mitchell told a story about
Chotiner's relationship with California Governor Earl Warren, whose
election Chotiner assisted in 1942. I was curious about this because I
had a hard time envisioning Chotiner helping a liberal Republican like
Warren, since my impression was that Chotiner liked candidates who could
attack from the right. Essentially, after helping Warren, Chotiner
went to Warren's office to ask for a favor, and Warren threw him out!
may have been for attacking from the right, but he was smart about it.
On page 48, Mitchell says that Chotiner preferred using "state
socialism" rather than "socialist-labor government" in
attacking the Truman Administration because the latter would alienate
labor unions unnecessarily. Chotiner also did not care for
denunciations of the "welfare state" because the term "welfare" referred
to human well-being, which is a good thing.