Saturday, April 20, 2013

Richard Nixon: The Man Behind the Mask 1

I started Gary Allen's 1971 book, Richard Nixon: The Man Behind the Mask.  Allen was a member of the right-wing John Birch Society, and he also wrote speeches for Governor George Wallace of Alabama.

Whereas the last book that I read, Jerry Voorhis' The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon, was a critique of Nixon and Nixon's policies from the left, Allen attacks Nixon from the right.  Voorhis portrayed Nixon as someone who hampered the federal government's attempts to ameliorate the country's problems, beefed up spending on national defense, and assaulted Indochina with repeated bombing.  Allen, by contrast, depicts Nixon as a big-spender (on the domestic side), as one whose Administration is inhabited by liberals, and as one who shrinks the size of the U.S. military while refusing to do what it takes to win the Vietnam War.

And yet, there are areas in which the left-wing Voorhis and the right-wing Allen overlap in their critiques.  For one, both are critical of President Nixon's outreach to Communist China (or, for Allen, Nixon's desire to reach out to Communist China, since Allen's book came out in 1971).  Allen is much more critical, mind you, for Allen is probably against the U.S. reaching out to Communists, period, whereas Voorhis speculates that it might have been a good idea had the U.S. reached out to the Chinese Communists early on (in the 1940's), and Voorhis also says that it would have been appropriate had Nixon sought to normalize relations with Red China in a low-key manner (rather than with the flash that accompanied the normalization).  And yet, Voorhis does not strike me as overly thrilled that Nixon publicly and unexpectedly reached out to Red China, since it is a dictatorship that frightens other countries (such as India).

Second, both Voorhis and Allen essentially depict Nixon as ambitious----as one who is looking out for himself and his own political advancement rather than maintaining any commitment to a certain set of principles (left or right).  For Voorhis, this means that Nixon behaves progressively at the right time to get votes, while ordinarily he impounds government funds that are appropriated for domestic programs and serves the interests of his rich buddies, who don't like taxes, regulations, antitrust suits, protesters, their companies getting nationalized in socialist countries, etc.  For Allen, this means that Nixon talks like a conservative to get votes (since Allen argues that a significant number of American voters, including union people who have entered the suburban middle-class, lean to the right), yet governs like a liberal.  Allen also believes that Nixon serves the interests of the rich and the elites, but Allen understands the rich and the elites in this case----not to be right-wing----but rather to be international bankers and members of the Council of Foreign Relations, who (according to Allen) desire a world collectivist government that they can exploit for their own power and wealth.

Both Voorhis and Allen present Nixon as rather duplicitous, as one who tells people one thing and does another.  Voorhis says that Nixon does this with our foreign friends.  And Allen tells a story about how Nixon in 1962 told conservative Republican Joe Shell that he (Nixon) did not intend to pursue the California Governorship, freeing Shell to seek the Republican nomination.  Nixon then turned right around and entered the race, after Shell informed liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller that he (Shell) was not in Rockefeller's corner!  (Allen seems to be arguing that Nixon was serving Rockefeller's interests in this case.  For Allen, Nixon and Rockefeller may or may not like each other, but Nixon realizes that he needs Rockefeller because the Eastern Establishment's support is necessary for his own political advancement.)

Third, Voorhis and Allen argue that Nixon distorts statistics for his own ends.  Voorhis contends that Nixon does this in seeking to argue that crime is slowing down, that farmers are doing well, and that the U.S. under his Administration is spending more on domestic concerns than on the military.  Allen, however, says that Nixon spreads foreign and domestic aid around in his Administration such that he's spending more on these things that he's letting on.

What's interesting is that the right-wing Allen actually speaks highly of the left-wing Voorhis in this book.  You may recall that Nixon in 1946 defeated and unseated Voorhis in his race for U.S. Congress, thereby launching Nixon's political career.  Allen portrays Voorhis as an anti-Communist and as an opponent of deficit spending, the Federal Reserve, and the international bankers.  Meanwhile, Allen accepts the popular leftist claim that New York banking interests were financially helping out Nixon's campaign, probably because this fits into Allen's narrative of Nixon being a tool of the international banking conspirators.  Allen refers to Voorhis' story that someone from a New York financial institution visited California to encourage influential people there to support Nixon, describing Voorhis as "one of the most dangerous men in Washington" (page 131).

Allen also is not overly critical of Nixon's opponent for the U.S. Senate, liberal Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas.  According to Allen, Douglas and her husband were both members of Communist fronts, yet Allen says that "Although Mrs. Douglas was blind in many ways about Communism (as she remains today) and was used by the Communists, she was not consciously pro-Communist", for she was a strong opponent of Henry Wallace's Progressive Party (page 147).

Allen's assessment of Douglas intrigued me, for at least two reasons.  First, Allen acknowledges that Douglas was not pro-Communist, even though she was in Communist fronts.  Throughout his book, Allen resorts to the sort of argumentation that presents people as part of a conspiracy on account of the groups that they are in, or the people with whom they are close: if you or your family are or once were in the Communist Party, or the Council on Foreign Relations, or in an international banking firm (in a high-ranking role), or on friendly terms with Nelson Rockefeller (i.e., being his lawyer), as Allen argues is the case with high-ranking people who have helped out or served Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, then you very well might be part of the globalist conspiracy, with the goal of promoting domestic (and ultimately worldwide) collectivism!  When it comes to Douglas, however, Allen doesn't think it's that simple! Even if Douglas had loose (perhaps unknowing) affiliations with Communists, Allen argues, she also had anti-Communist views.

Second, although Allen presents Nixon's aggressive, red-baiting campaign strategies against Voorhis and Douglas as rather misleading and unfair, Allen appears to think that Nixon would have done well to have used that kind of strategy when he ran against John F. Kennedy in 1960, and against Pat Brown in 1962.  On page 212, Allen laments that Nixon did not attack Kennedy for seeking to repeal a loyalty oath provision, for supporting "Communist revolutionaries in Algeria", and for wanting to repeal the Battle Act provision prohibiting "the sending of strategic materials to Iron Curtain countries", or Lyndon Johnson (Kennedy's running-mate) for killing a bill allowing states to "punish subversion."  On pages 219-220, Allen wonders why Nixon did not attack Pat Brown for being President of the Northern California chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which the House Committee on Un-American Activities called "the foremost legal bulwark of the Communist Party" (HUAC's words); for his close association with the California Democratic Council, which an FBI undercover agent said was formed with Communist Party assistance; and for opposing Proposition 24, which would ban the Communist Party in California.  Allen thinks that Nixon could have won with this strategy.  Had Nixon run as a right-winger in 1960, Allen argues, he could have gotten more of the South, which would have made a difference in that close election.  And, on the basis of polls, Brown's poor record, and a certain conservative who did win in California in 1962, Allen believes that Nixon could have defeated Pat Brown for the Governorship of California.  Why didn't Nixon go for the jugular, according to Allen?  My impression is that Allen thinks that Nixon was serving the Establishment, which had a strategy: there would be an overtly liberal Presidency during the 1960's, then a covertly liberal Presidency after that.  (Allen acknowledges some nuance to this, for he argues that Lyndon Johnson ran as somewhat of a conservative against Barry Goldwater in 1964.)

That brings me to Alger Hiss, the alleged Communist spy whom Nixon took down when Nixon was in Congress.  For Allen, the Alger Hiss case has enabled Nixon to pursue liberal policies without a whole lot of scrutiny from conservatives.  After all, how could Nixon be soft on Communism, when he was the one who brought down Alger Hiss?  (Allen acknowledges some nuance to this, for throughout his book he quotes a number of conservative critics of Nixon or Nixon's policies, such as William F. Buckley, James Kilpatrick, and Human Events magazine.)

What does Allen have to say about the Alger Hiss case?  Allen does not buy Nixon's narrative that he (Nixon) courageously stepped forward to take on Alger Hiss because he smelled a rat during Hiss' testimony, when so many others were believing Hiss.  Allen says that Karl Mundt of HUAC in a 1962 interview related that President Truman's Assistant Secretary of State secretly showed him (Mundt) State Department information indicating Hiss' guilt, and that this was before Nixon even heard Hiss' testimony.  Allen also says that "a group of ex-Communists and former FBI agents" was pressuring Nixon to go after Hiss, but Nixon was very reluctant to do so.  Allen bases this on what an anonymous person from that group told him (meaning Allen).  And Allen quotes Martin Dies, who had been chairman of HUAC.  (The source is a May 1964 article that Dies wrote for American Opinion, a Bircher publication.)  Dies said that HUAC knew about Hiss for a while, even before Chambers and Hiss testified, and that Dies had interacted with Chambers on numerous occasions.  After Dies left Congress, Dies' Chief Investigator and Secretary, Robert Stripling, heard from Chambers, and Stripling passed on the facts that he (Stripling) learned to Congressman Richard Nixon.  Nixon decided to take up the Hiss case and thereby advanced his own career (which was why Allen says that Nixon overcame his timidity and took it up!).  But Dies narrates that Nixon later chose not to reward Stripling by giving Stripling a post in the Eisenhower Administration, as that would alienate the liberals whom the Eisenhower Administration was trying to appease.  Later in the book, Allen finds it odd that Nixon as President has been served by friends or supporters of Alger Hiss.

Allen's discussion of the Hiss case fascinated me.  I've read speculation that Nixon already knew about Hiss' guilt before Hiss' testimony, but, in books about Nixon that I have read thus far, the argument about that has hinged on the account of Father Cronin of the FBI, who said this was the case, only later to retract that claim.  Allen refers to sources that indicate that Nixon knew about Hiss' guilt before Hiss testified, and also that Nixon was not the only one who believed that Hiss was guilty.  Whether or not I like or accept Allen's Bircher spiel about a globalist conspiracy, Allen's discussion of the Hiss case definitely makes his book worth reading.

Allen also makes some points about the events leading up to Nixon's Checkers Speech, in which Nixon said that a fund that he had from donations was for political purposes, not for his own personal enrichment.  Allen says that most politicians had this sort of fund.  But Allen refers to additional two considerations.  First, Allen seems to imply that Nixon may have been using his political influence to help some of the contributors.  Allen mentions an article in the Washington Star saying that "Nixon's office had interceded on behalf of [Dana] Smith [who put together the fund] in a Justice Department case in which a company owned by Smith's family was seeking a tax rebate of more than half a million dollars" (Allen on page 157).  Allen also says that the firm that the National Republican Committee hired to look into the fund found that a few contributors "had contacted Nixon to request his assistance in connection with matter pending before a department or agency of the government" (Allen's quote of the September 24, 1952 Washington Star).  Second, while Allen acknowledges that much of the fund was for political purposes, Allen says that Nixon "had earlier admitted to columnist Peter Edson that had it not been for the fund, he could not have made the down payment on his house in Washington" (Allen refers to the Lost Angeles Daily News, September 17, 1952). 

This is the first thing I have read that criticizes Nixon on the fund issue, for other books I have read have tended to defend Nixon.  I wonder, though, if what Allen presents on the fund actually shows that Nixon used any of it for personal purposes.  Dana Smith may have organized the fund, but was he a contributor?  Contributors may have asked Nixon for help, but did Nixon say yes?  And did Nixon use part of the fund for his house, or was Nixon merely saying that, because the fund covered political activity, Nixon didn't have to use his own money for that, and so the fund enabled Nixon to use his own money to make a down-payment on his house?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog