I started Irwin Gellman’s The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952. As I said in my last post for my Year (or More) of Nixon, Gellman essentially argues that the image of Nixon as a corrupt and shady Red-baiter during his early political career is inaccurate and unfair. In my posts about Gellman’s book, I won’t always go into what many readers would consider to be the juicy parts, namely, Gellman’s attempts to refute what he considers to be myths about Nixon. Maybe I’ll get into that when I blog through other books about Nixon, by referring back to how Gellman covered a particular event in Nixon’s life and comparing and contrasting that with other authors’ treatment. But overall, in my posts that are specifically about Gellman’s book, I’ll simply be mentioning what stood out to me, or resonated with me.
What stood out to me in my latest reading was Gellman’s statement that Nixon’s father, Frank, taught a Sunday School class that drew a lot of people. Gellman says on page 11 that “His room was always filled and had to be expanded to accommodate others who wished to listen.” Frank was energetic and dogmatic, and author Jessamyn West (who attended his class at age 16) said that his “absolute conviction appealed to her” (Gellman’s words). Gellman relates that Frank was “truculent” yet congenial, and West said that Frank “was the first person to make me understand that there was a great lack of practicing Christianity in civic affairs” (West’s words).
(UPDATE: Frank Nixon himself was a Republican, but the documented wikipedia article on Jessamyn West states that West “later wrote that Frank Nixon’s version of the social gospel inclined her politically toward socialism.”)
One thing that I admire about Richard Nixon is his reported ability to understand and lucidly articulate various ways of seeing an issue. I guess that’s the academic side in me! And yet, absolute conviction draws a number of people. Does it draw me? Yes and no. On the one hand, I feel slightly uncomfortable or un-nourished when I’m sitting in a class and a professor presents so much ambiguity that I doubt whether or not there is any firm ground to stand on, let alone to build on. I feel like I’m in a desert rushing towards a stream or a hamburger, and it vanishes into thin air because it turns out to be a mirage! On the other hand, I get turned off when people (especially those who believe differently from me) get on their dogmatic high horse, rather than considering the possibility that there are other ways to see an issue. But perhaps I would have enjoyed Frank Nixon’s ardent (yet congenial) jeremiads against immorality in the civic arena!
My blog tends to be the sort that looks at various positions and considers their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, I arrive at a conclusion about what I believe. Sometimes, I fail to do so. Some of you may like the way that I discuss issues; some of you may prefer a more dogmatic approach—-for me to preach what you believe, or for me to take a firm stand, period. But, for me, my blogging is part of my search, as I seek to discover what I should believe, and why.