For my blog post today about Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, I will use as my starting-point something that Black says on page 126. The subject is President Harry Truman's run for re-election in 1948.
was 'giving 'em hell' and making tremendous inroads, warning that the
Republicans were reactionary enemies of the working families of
The reason that this passage stood out to me was that I
had recently listened to a speech by Pat Buchanan, which was delivered
in 2013 for the centennial of Richard Nixon's birth. (To watch the
speech, see here.)
Buchanan was saying that the same people who praised Harry Truman's
"give 'em hell" campaign in 1948 were quite critical of Richard Nixon's
hard-hitting campaign against liberal Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas
when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1950.
I was not sure how to react to that. I had read Greg Mitchell's book about Nixon's 1950 Senate race, Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady,
and what Mitchell said that Nixon and Nixon's supporters did in that
campaign disturbed me. And yet, I'm not always disturbed when one
candidate attacks another candidate. I actually enjoyed watching Barack
Obama's attacks on his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, in 2012. And,
although I don't know a great deal about Harry Truman's "give 'em hell"
campaign for re-election in 1948, I don't exactly flinch when I read
that Truman warned that the Republicans were "reactionary enemies of the
working families of America" (Black's summary).
So why do I like
it when Obama and Truman attack their opponents, while I am disturbed
when I read about Richard Nixon's hard-hitting campaign against
Douglas? Is it because Obama and Truman were Democrats, whereas Nixon
was a Republican, and I tend to agree with Democrats more than
Republicans? I hope that it's not just that.
There are a
variety of things that disturbed me when I was reading Mitchell's
book. Probably what disturbed me most was that the 1950 race destroyed
Douglas politically. Douglas made political blunders in her campaign,
but Nixon's campaign was calling her pink, in a time when there was
widespread fear of Communism. Moreover, the way that much of the press
sided with Nixon and did not allow Douglas to adequately get her message
out struck me as unfair, and the mob-like, disruptive approach of some
of Nixon's supporters also bothered me. On these sorts of issues, I try
to be fair and to apply the same standard to both sides. Granted, I
enjoyed watching the news media point out Romney's mishaps on a daily
basis, because I thought that would lead to Romney losing the election,
but I believe that Romney should have been able to get his message out.
And I'm not overly keen on supporters of one candidate bullying
supporters of the other candidate, or going to the other candidate's
events and being disruptive. I want for people to be able to say what
they want to say, without having to put up with a mob, or with
disruptive people. I'd say this also about the liberals who disrupted
the 2004 Republican National Convention when George W. Bush was giving
his speech: they should have allowed Bush to give his speech, without
On the 1950 race, to tell you the truth, I don't think
that everything that Nixon said about Douglas was unfair. Nixon was
saying that Douglas' ideas would hinder the United States' attempts to
protect itself from Communism, and I believe that he was entitled to
that opinion, and that he was right to make that an issue in 1950
(though he was not the first to make it an issue, for some of Douglas'
opponents in the Democratic primary harped on it, as well). Douglas was
to the left of even a number of Democrats, and I can understand why
many would believe that her ideas would not be useful in the face of the
Communist threat. Had Nixon simply said that he questioned her
judgment, not her patriotism, I wouldn't have had a problem with his
campaign. But, while that was his message (on some level), he and his
campaign went beyond that. They called Douglas pink. And there were
Nixon supporters who went so far as to call her red. That damaged her
significantly, considering the fear of Communism at the time, whereas I
doubt that Truman's attacks on the Republicans or Obama's attacks on
Romney did as much damage.