Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady 9

I finished Greg Mitchell's Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady: Richard Nixon vs. Helen Gahagan Douglas----Sexual Politics and the Red Scare, 1950.  This book is about Richard Nixon's 1950 race for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas.  I have four items for today.

1.  One reason that I have long admired and identified with Nixon is that I've seen him as an underdog.  My impression from my reading and the movies and documentaries that I watched about him was that he thought that not many people liked him, there were many in the Establishment who (quite frankly) didn't like him, and Nixon continually felt a need to prove his worth.  But that's not really the picture that I got in reading Mitchell's book.  Rather, Nixon struck me as similar to a popular mean girl in high school, who singles out someone to bully and turns the campus and the faculty against her victim.  The way that Mitchell tells the story, Nixon had much of the press on his side, so he could get his message out, whereas Douglas really could not.  Nixon's campaign and his supporters appeared to have had more money than Douglas' campaign----and, even if one argues that Nixon did not have as much money as Nixon's detractors claim, one has to account for how there were so many pro-Nixon billboards in California (which Mitchell says that Douglas inquired about in a speech in 1950), for how Nixon could appear on television more than once, for how Nixon's campaign could widely circulate the Pink Sheet attacking Douglas, and for how a plane could drops gobs of anti-Douglas leaflets.  There were elites that were supporting Nixon, within business, within Hollywood, and within politics.  There were even Nixon supporters who resorted to violence, and, in an atmosphere that was already afraid of Communism, Nixon (like some of Douglas' Democratic opponents in the Democratic primary) portrayed Douglas as soft on the Communist threat.  Even after Douglas lost the campaign, there were Nixon supporters and even Democrats who tried to persuade President Harry Truman not to appoint her to any position, and Truman did not do so, as if she were radioactive.

If I were Douglas, I'd be bitter.  I'd wish ill upon Richard Nixon.  Actually, according to Mitchell, one reason that Douglas' friend Lyndon Johnson decided to become John F. Kennedy's running-mate in the 1960 Presidential election was so that he could be part of a ticket that would defeat Richard Nixon, who had ended his friend's career.  But Douglas tried not to give into bitterness.  After her defeat, she decided to work on her marriage, plus she did some performing.

It's not that Douglas was flawless.  Stephen Ambrose talks about times when Douglas attacked her opponents.  And even Mitchell goes into strategies that Douglas pursued that were not particularly effective.  But, from Mitchell's narrative, Nixon was not exactly the underdog in the 1950 Senate race.  Douglas was.

2.  I learned some things about the Korean War.  The message that I get from right-wing literature is that President Truman was essentially handcuffing Douglas MacArthur, inhibiting him from doing what was necessary to win the war.  And I agree that Truman was setting limits on MacArthur, for Truman did not want for the Korean War to be expanded into China.  But, on page 236, Mitchell says that Truman allowed MacArthur to "bomb the bridges across the Yalu", across which the Communist Chinese were transmitting supplies.  On page 249, we read that Truman told reporters that he was actively considering using the atomic bomb in the Korean War.  On a side-note, on page 253, Mitchell says that Democratic Congressman Albert Gore, Sr. suggested that Truman use the atomic bomb in Korea to create "a deadly neutral zone" (Mitchell's words), in which Communist soldiers would either die or face "slow deformity" (Gore's words).  Truman may have had different ideas and policies at different times during the Korean War.  But then I think of what Gregory Peck's Douglas MacArthur said in the movie MacArthur: MacArthur mocked Truman for allowing him to bomb half of a bridge!  Perhaps Truman did allow MacArthur to bomb bridges on the Yalu, but in a limited sense.

3.  Mitchell's book was largely about the Red Scare as it existed in 1950.  While I was reading Mitchell's book, I thought some about Ann Coulter's Treason, a book in which Coulter defends Senator Joseph McCarthy.  Coulter says that McCarthy was hesitant to name names, whereas Mitchell quotes McCarthy from the floor of the U.S. Senate calling journalist Drew Pearson a "Moscow-directed character assassin" and the "sugar-coated voice of Russia" (Mitchell's quotation of McCarthy, though Mitchell in his notes did not cite a primary source for these remarks).  Coulter lauds McCarthy as one who had a diverse staff that included homosexuals, whereas Mitchell on page 8 quotes McCarthy as saying that his goal was to drive the "Communists and queers" out of the U.S. State Department.  (For this, Mitchell cites David Oshinsky's A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy.)

On page 59 of Treason, Ann Coulter mocks Michael Ybarra's statement in The New Republic that "Truman and many liberal anti-Communists believed the best answer [to Communist subversives] was to let the FBI monitor the party and prosecute its members if they broke laws against subversion or espionage; conservatives, however, believed that the party needed to be crippled and exposed before Moscow's minions launched a revolution."  Mitchell's picture overlaps with what Ybarra was saying, while also differing somewhat.  Mitchell, like Ybarra, presents Truman as relying (at least in part) on FBI surveillance of Communists in the U.S., for one reason that Truman opposed the McCarran bill that would require Communists to register with the Attorney General was that he feared that it would push Communists in the U.S. underground and hamper FBI investigations of and infiltration into the Communist movement.  On whether conservatives believed that the Communists in America wanted to overthrow the U.S. Government, perhaps Ybarra is right in that there were conservatives who believed that, but my impression from Mitchell is that there's more nuance.  J. Edgar Hoover, for example, said that there were more Communists in the U.S. than there were in Russia during the Russian Revolution; and yet, Hoover's fear was that the Communists in the U.S. would join the Russians were a war to break out between Russia and the U.S.

Coulter says that things like the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the Smith Act, and the experience of the Hollywood Ten should not be blamed on Joe McCarthy, who had nothing to do with them.  I agree with her on that, and Mitchell himself, while he at one point uses the term McCarthyism for the Red Scare, does not blame the entire Red Scare on McCarthy.  The Red Scare was perpetuated by a variety of people: the House Commitee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), Senator Pat McCarran, Cecil B. Demille in the Screen Director's Guild, the University of California, President Harry Truman, and the mayor of San Francisco, who advised people to tell the police about people they merely suspected of being "politically tainted" (Mitchell on page 4).  McCarthy primarily expressed concerns that there were subversives within the State Department.  But I do recall----and this was either from my reading of Irwin Gellman or Stephen Ambrose (unfortunately, I can't remember right now, nor can I find the exact reference)----that McCarthy expressed support for HUAC's work.

In saying all this, I've not provided you with the full essence of Ann Coulter's book.  I think that she raises points that deserve serious consideration.  Were there Communists in the State Department?  What about those Venona cables?  Were McCarthy's accusations right or wrong, or were some (or even many) of them right?  At the same time, Mitchell does well to present details that may indicate that the Red Scare could be unfair and abusive.

4.  I enjoyed reading this book, but I didn't particularly like blogging through it.  I found blogging through it to be tedious.  For one, Mitchell had a lot of interesting stories, and so I wanted to mention as many of them as I could in my blog posts.  Second, I felt as if I had to continuously update my posts when Mitchell offered more information about a topic in his book that I had blogged about, just to be fair to Mitchell.  My posts on the next book about Nixon that I will read will probably be a little more informal.  I won't feel compelled to blog about everything that interests me, or that I feel might be interesting to blog about.

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