In my last post on The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952, I said that I would discuss Irwin Gellman’s attempt to refute what he considers to be inaccurate narratives about Richard Nixon’s 1946 congressional campaign. I’ll just mention some highlights. Gellman disputes the story that Nixon supporters called voters to tell them that Jerry Voorhis (Nixon’s Democratic opponent) was a Communist, and also the story that wealthy outside interests were helping to finance the Nixon campaign because they didn’t care for Voorhis challenging their monopolies. On the other side, Gellman disputes Pat Nixon’s recollection in her memoirs that Democrats broke into Nixon’s campaign headquarters in 1946.
On what basis does Gellman dispute these narratives? Often, it’s on account of an absence of evidence for the narratives’ viability. Sometimes, it’s because a charge did not surface until some time after the 1946 campaign—-and what’s interesting is that, once one particular charge surfaced, even those who were involved in that campaign (such as Voorhis himself) bought into it. Never underestimate the power of retrospective history! Another consideration is that one person who worked for Nixon’s campaign, Murray Chotiner, puffed his influence, whereas others have claimed that his influence in Nixon’s 1946 campaign was quite marginal, and yet some have accepted the idea that Chotiner’s influence was vast in attempting to posit some sort of conspiracy. Implausibility is another factor, for Gellman asks how Nixon in Maryland would have been able to respond to a California newspaper ad to launch his political career. Moreover, I liked Nixon’s response when he read Voorhis’ statement in his 1948 book that the Nixon campaign had a lot of money: “What I am wondering is where all the money went that we were supposed to have had!”
For Gellman, there were a variety of factors that contributed to Nixon’s victory over Voorhis: growing disillusionment with the New Deal, and Voorhis’ blunders (such as failing to campaign during the primary when Nixon was becoming known and liked). But Gellman also portrays Nixon as an aggressive debater, for Nixon really attacked Voorhis by claiming that Voorhis was supported by a union that had a number of the same members as the CIO (into which Communists were making incursions), as well as by alleging that Voorhis had a dearth of legislative achievements. Gellman portrays Voorhis as responding to Nixon’s charges ineptly. As I read Gellman’s narration of Nixon’s debates with Voorhis, I thought of Mitt Romney’s first debate against President Barack Obama in the 2012 Presidential election.
Something else that stood out to me in my latest reading was California Governor Earl Warren’s refusal to endorse Nixon, for Warren wanted to be above partisanship. According to Gellman, Nixon realized that he could not vocally criticize Warren on account of Warren’s clout, and Nixon “could not afford the governor’s antipathy” (page 77). Isn’t that the sort of situation in which many of us are? We may not like a situation, but we have to accept it to avoid offending the wrong people, while finding some way to work through it or around it.