Thursday, August 15, 2013

Roger Morris' Richard Milhous Nixon 19

I have two items for my blog post today about Roger Morris' Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician.  The context is the 1952 race for the Presidency between Republican Dwight Eisenhower and Democrat Adlai Stevenson.  Richard Nixon was Eisenhower's running-mate.

1.  On page 751, Morris talks about Nixon's criticism of Stevenson's stance on the Korean War:
"When the Stevenson camp at the end of August alluded to 'a plan' for ending the Korean War but then refused to reveal details as a matter of national security, Nixon lashed back.  'If he has had such a plan he should have disclosed it to the Joint Chiefs of Staff...[and] if he does not have such a plan he should honestly tell the American people that he has no easy solution to the Korean War,' he said in an indignant statement.  'Mr. Stevenson is putting out bait for votes and working a cruel hoax on the men fighting and dying in Korea and their families and loved ones...if he continues to leave the impression...that he has some magic formula which could bring the Korean War to an end on an honorable basis.'  Sixteen years later, Richard Nixon would campaign for the Presidency on his own 'secret plan' to end another bitter and unpopular Asian war."

Nixon himself, in volume 1 of his memoirs, denies that he was claiming in 1968 to have a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War.  Nixon states on pages 368-369:

"As a candidate it would have been foolhardy, and as a prospective President, improper, for me to outline specific plans in detail.  I did not have the full range of information or the intelligence resources available to [President Lyndon] Johnson.  And even if I had been able to formulate specific 'plans,' it would have been absurd to make them public.  In the field of diplomacy, premature disclosure can often doom even the best-laid plans...I never said that I had a 'plan,' much less a 'secret plan,' to end the war; I was deliberately straightforward about the difficulty of finding a solution.  As I told the AP on March 14, 1968, there was 'no magic formula, no gimmick.  If I had a gimmick I would tell Lyndon Johnson.'"

Was Nixon inconsistent, as Morris argues?  I would ultimately say "no."  Both in his criticism of Stevenson and in his memoirs, Nixon says that one should tell people in charge if one has a plan for ending a war, which is different from going public with one's plan.  But I'm taking Nixon at his word that he did not claim to have a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War, and I don't know what the facts are about that.

2.  In my post tomorrow, I will get more into Morris' discussion of Nixon's fund from the donations of California businessmen, which was controversial in the 1952 Presidential election and led to Nixon's famous "Checkers Speech."  What I want to mention in today's post is something on pages 787-788: Morris talks about the reaction of Nixon's father, Frank, to the Fund.

"Back in Whittier the anguish was still deeper.  Joe Johnson, Frank's old friend from Yorba Linda, went by their house on Anaconda as the Fund scandal grew and found Frank sick in bed but furious with his famous son.  He was 'very disgusted with Dick that he would ever let himself get into that position,' Johnson recalled.  'There was no earthly reason for it and he was pretty near mad [at] the guy...no reason to take that money.'  Only afterward did Richard Nixon learn that Frank Nixon was nearly hysterical during the episode that seemed to doom his son's meteoric career, and even beyond throughout the general election.  'I found out,' he acknowledged later, 'that my proud and combative father had been reduced to bouts of weeping as each new smear surfaced.'"

I've long wondered what exactly Frank Nixon thought about Richard Nixon during Nixon's political career (the part during which Frank was alive, of course).  Frank was very opinionated and outspoken when it came to politics.  He detested political corruption, such as the Teapot Dome Scandal.  And there were seasons in his life when Frank was quite progressive: he helped workers organize for better working conditions, he was critical of big business, and he became a supporter of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.  In light of all that, what would he think of Nixon getting the backing of big business, Nixon's support for Taft-Hartley (which restricted union activity), or Nixon's overall opposition to the New Deal?

Of course, there were also times when Frank was a Republican.  Frank once supported the Republican Party on account of its support for a tight currency (which would mean less inflation), and he also chided his wife Hannah for voting for Woodrow Wilson.  Maybe Frank came to agree with his son Richard about the downsides to New Deal government programs.  I don't know.  I have a hard time envisioning Frank letting go of his antipathy towards big business and his championing of the common man.

Much of what I have read about Frank's views on Richard Nixon the politician has been in the writings of Nixon himself.  In Nixon's telling, Frank was rooting for Richard, and Frank was saddened by the accusations against his famous son, implying that Frank did not think that the accusations were true.  Roger Morris' narration of what Frank's friend Joe Johnson said exposed me for the first time to another perspective on Frank: that Frank was upset and disappointed with his son.  That doesn't mean that Frank believed the accusations against his son, however, for Frank may have simply thought that Nixon's fund was foolish in that it had the potential to bring about the misunderstanding that Nixon was corrupt.

I should note that Morris' quote of Joe Johnson is one of many reasons that Morris' book is an excellent biography, and I'd even go so far as to say that it is the best book that I have read thus far for My Year (or More) of Nixon.  Morris brings in all kinds of eyewitnesses in his research, many of whom did not feature in the other biographies of Nixon that I have read.

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