My latest reading of Irwin Gellman’s The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952 was about Richard Nixon’s 1950 campaign for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas. A big issue in that campaign was on whether or not Douglas was soft on Communism.
One issue was the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), which Douglas opposed. Douglas said, “Of course traitors should be brought to justice, but we should and must end once and for all these despicable attempts to use the red smear to stampede the American people into reaction” (page 302). She also stated, “I will not sacrifice the liberty of the American people on the altar of hysteria erected by those without vision, without faith, without courage, who cringe in fear before a handful of crackpots and their traitorous Communist cronies” (page 313). Douglas “proposed a citizens’ commission on Un-American Activities headed by Eleanor Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover” (Gellman’s words on page 302). At the same time, she indicated that she felt that there were already laws on the books and legal machinery that were adequate for ridding security risks from the U.S. Government. Such a sentiment was also held by U.S. Attorney General J. Howard McGrath, who said that HUAC was unnecessary because the FBI “was sufficient to investigate Reds” (Gellman’s words on page 325). McGrath also claimed that the Justice Department rather than HUAC deserved the credit for exposing Alger Hiss, a claim that Nixon did not buy! While Douglas maintained that she was for getting rid of security risks in the U.S. Government, Nixon cited a 1946 statement in which Douglas said that “We all know communism is no real danger to the U.S.” (page 326).
Another issue was Congressman Vito Marcantonio of New York. Marcantonio was believed to have Communist associations, although he himself was not a member of the Communist Party. Marcantonio opposed HUAC, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan on account of “its anti-Russian implications” (Gellman’s words on page 307), and aid to Chiang Kaishek. Meanwhile, Marcantonio never spoke against Joseph Stalin’s foreign policy. What did Marcantonio have to do with the Nixon-Douglas race for Senate in 1950? Well, Nixon was pointing out that Douglas in the U.S. House had voted with Marcantonio an overwhelming number of times (354 times to be exact), agreeing with him on issues pertaining to the fight against Communism. Douglas responded, however, that there were times when Nixon had voted with Marcantonio—-in opposing aid to South Korea and in reducing funds to NATO, for example. As far as I could tell, Gellman did not explain why Nixon voted to cut funds for NATO. But, regarding aid to South Korea, Gellman noted Nixon’s explanation that he was making a gesture of protest. Nixon said that he voted against the first package for aid to South Korea because it did not include aid to anti-Communist Formosa, or Taiwan, but he supported the second package because it included that aid.
Gellman thinks that it was a mistake for Douglas to attack Nixon from the right on the Communism issue, for Nixon held that territory pretty safely on account of his role in bringing down Alger Hiss. What Gellman thinks she should have done instead, I don’t know. According to Gellman’s narrative, she was already unpopular, even with Democrats, on account of her leftist stances (though Gellman says that Humphrey Bogart introduced Douglas’ husband on the radio when he was about to make a political statement!). Moreover, even if she had stuck with a theme of applauding the New Deal and Fair Deal, Gellman contends that a number of voters were growing tired of those government initiatives, and so I wonder if such a strategy would have helped her.
One more interesting item in my latest reading: On page 324, Gellman states: “On October 5, the Los Angeles Sentinel, which had a circulation of 25,000 and the largest advertising volume of any Western African American newspaper, editorialized that although it still liked Douglas…it could not support her for the Senate.” Its reason was that it thought that Douglas was “weak kneed” (its words) on Communism and its fellow-travelers.