There were two passages in my latest reading of Irwin Gellman’s The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952 that stood out to me:
1. Murray Chotiner worked for Richard Nixon when he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives and also the U.S. Senate. On pages 351-352, Gellman states:
“Nixon referred to Chotiner as ‘one of the most objective and astute political observers in the country.’ He occasionally attended a Democratic political meeting, ‘as one John Q. Public, in order to make a firsthand observation of the opposition party,’ and evaluated Truman’s successful selling of his anti-inflation bill, which would halt rising prices, while his opposition’s proposals would not. He analyzed criticisms of Nixon’s senatorial operations, as well as traveling throughout California and sending the senator [Nixon] a comprehensive report of the conditions there.”
I admired Chotiner when I read this. He was a hard worker. He was eager to learn, even from the other side. And he was willing to look at his own side’s weaknesses and to evaluate them.
2. On page 353, Gellman states the following about Senator Nixon’s relationship with Republican Senator William Knowland of California:
“Nixon and Knowland had always been closely aligned. Not only were they both conservative Republicans in their domestic views, but they also agreed on many foreign policy issues such as support for the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Nixon also defended Knowland, who was scorned as the ‘senator from Formosa’ for his advocacy of the Nationalist Chinese position. Nixon felt that too many Californians did not recognize ‘the great service he [Knowland] has rendered to the country in pointing up the dangers which that situation presents to the very security of the nation.’ After assuming his Senate seat, Nixon and Knowland rotated returning home so that at least one of them would always remain on Capitol Hill.”
So there was a time when California had two conservative Republican Senators! Imagine that! Anyway, this passage stood out to me because it’s beautiful when two people can see eye to eye, respect one another, and work together. Often, this doesn’t work out, and with good reason, since people can have legitimate differences. And yet, it’s beautiful when it does work out. In the case of Nixon and Knowland, they saw eye to eye in that they were conservative, even as they both departed from a number of conservatives in that they supported the Marshall Plan. (Later in the book, however, Senator Nixon appears to gravitate to and from isolationism, for Nixon was sometimes thinking that Europe should become more self-sufficient, as well as was reluctant to support sending U.S. troops abroad.) According to the wikipedia article on Knowland, however, Nixon and Knowland later battled each other for influence in the California Republican Party.
3. I’d like to add a third item. Gellman talks about the life of Rose Mary Woods, who was Nixon’s secretary from his Senate days through his Presidency. One thing that I really like about Gellman’s book is that he tells us about the life and background of several figures. I enjoy reading people’s stories and getting to know them as people.