I have two items for my write-up today on Greg Mitchell's book about the 1950 U.S. Senate race in California between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas. The book is entitled Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady: Richard Nixon vs. Helen Gahagan Douglas----Sexual Politics and the Red Scare, 1950.
This first item is about President Harry S Truman's approach to the
issue of alleged subversives in the U.S. Government. Truman sent a
letter to an official in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in which Truman
complained about the "fuss" about what political groups people belonged
to. Truman said: "I'd be willing to bet my right eye that you yourself
and I have joined some organization that we wish we hadn't. It hasn't
hurt me and I don't think it has hurt you any" (Truman's words, quoted
on page 7). Yet, in response to the growing concern among Americans
about Communism in the U.S., and perhaps with an eye on the Presidential
election in 1948, Truman instituted a loyalty program for federal
employees, which removed those who (after a background check) were
concluded to be disloyal to the United States Government.
According to Mitchell on page 85, Truman's loyalty program had problems.
Mitchell says that "Dismissal would not take into account whether the
employee was engaged in a sensitive national security job or worked as a
clerk in the Agriculture Department" (page 85). Mitchell also states
that "Disloyalty was broadly defined", as it covered espionage and
sabotage, but also sympathy for groups that the Attorney General
considered to be totalitarian, fascist, Communist, or otherwise
subversive. In addition, according to Mitchell, "What constituted
suspicious political activity was highly subjective", and "Advocating
civil rights for Negroes often set off alarms" (page 85). Not only
did the loyalty program go after federal employees who were concluded to
be involved in these sorts of activities, but it also dismissed federal
employees with a spouse or a close relative who was "friendly with a
Communist front", as well as federal employees who drank too much or had
"sexual indiscretions that left them vulnerable to foreign agents"
(Mitchell on page 85). Moreover, "the accused had no right to confront
their accusers or even know exactly what the charges were and who made
them" (page 85). When only 201 federal employees were dismissed, half
of those cases were under appeal (through what kind of due process, I do
not know), and no spies were found, there were conservatives who
criticized the Truman Administration's "standards for disloyalty" (page
When Truman no longer had to contend with a Presidential
election, however, he opposed certain anti-Communist bills, such as
Mundt-Nixon, a bill that I discuss in my post here.
Mundt-Nixon would require people in "suspected Communist Party
organizations and front groups" to register with the Attorney General
"or face severe penalties" (Mitchell on page 109). Truman
opposed Mundt-Nixon because he felt that it would threaten labor unions
and liberal organizations, but also push the Communists "deeper
underground, preventing surveillance and FBI infiltration" (Mitchell on
2. This second item is about Hollywood and
the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), though I'll also
talk about an anti-Communist who became a victim of the Red Scare.
and others on HUAC inquired of Hollywood representatives where the
anti-Communist movies were. The thing is, when anti-Communist movies
did appear, they ended up being "shoddy" and received a "tepid public
response" (Mitchell on page 62). Producer Sam Goldwyn asked how he
could make a decent picture, when his best writers were in jail (page
112). The writers were in jail on account of the Red Scare (page 112).
This intrigued me because it made me think about whether one
can be a conservative and also write a good story. There are
conservatives or libertarians who have been renowned for their fiction,
such as Taylor Caldwell, Ayn Rand, William F. Buckley, Jr., and others.
I suppose that conservatives could write good fiction, as long as the
complexity of their characters is not sacrificed to hyper-moralism
(though one could argue that there have been decent moralistic works,
such as Ayn Rand's books, episodes of The West Wing, which are liberal, etc.).
quick tangent on Hollywood: Many would probably expect for Hollywood
and the media to go for Douglas in the 1950 Senate race, for were these
not prominent elements of the liberal establishment? Actually, that
wasn't exactly accurate. As Mitchell states on page 101, there
were prominent Nixon-supporters in Hollywood. Some of these were
actors, such as John Wayne, Robert Montgomery, Ginger Rogers, and
Adolphe Menjou. Others were higher-ups, such as Walt Disney and MGM's
chief attorney Mendel Silberberg. And there were plenty of prominent
people in the media who supported Nixon against Douglas, such as William
Randolph Hearst and a number of California newspapers.
Back to Hollywood and HUAC! One of the people in the Hollywood Ten was screenwriter Lester Cole,
who went to jail for refusing to answer Congress' questions about
whether or not he was ever a member of the Communist Party. And guess
whom Cole encountered in jail? J. Parnell Thomas, the former chairman
of HUAC, who was there for "taking kickbacks from friends and relatives
he had placed on his congressional payroll" (Mitchell on page 111; I
write about Thomas in my post here). They taunted each other while Thomas was gathering eggs and cleaning the chicken coop!
I'd like to turn now to the story of Westbrook Pegler, a right-wing journalist. When
Pegler wrote that the U.S. should withdraw from the Korean War, stay
out of the Far East, and lock up Communists and fellow travelers in the
U.S. in concentration camps, some newspapers did not print his column,
and the head of a right-wing group, Friends of Democracy, sent a letter
to Truman's Attorney General, asking that Pegler be prosecuted for
sedition (I guess because of Pegler's isolationist views). As
far as I can see in the wikipedia article about Pegler, nothing came of
that. It is interesting, though, that even right-wing anti-Communists
could fall victim to the Red Scare. It reminds me of when devout
Christians were accused of witchcraft in The Crucible.