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:
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
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.'"
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.
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.