I have three items for my write-up today on Stephen Ambrose’s Nixon: The Education of a Politician.
1. I read about Richard Nixon’s 1946 run for Congress against Democratic Congressman Jerry Voorhis. Ambrose overlaps with Irwin Gellman on certain issues, particularly in his contention that Nixon’s campaign was not primarily bankrolled by wealthy big business interests, as well as his notion that Murray Chotiner (a campaign manager whose strategy was to attack severely the opponents of the candidates for whom he was working) did not play a significant role in Nixon’s 1946 campaign, for Chotiner was busy with another campaign. But Ambrose still maintains that Nixon played rough, for Nixon alleged that Voorhis was supported by NC-PAC, which had some of the same prominent members as the Congress of Industrial Organizations, into which Communists were making incursions. While Voorhis had NC-PAC’s support in 1944, he did not have it in 1946 on account of his commitment to an anti-Communist foreign policy, though there were some liberals within NC-PAC who wanted for the organization to endorse Voorhis. Nixon also brought up Voorhis’ past as a socialist. But Ambrose and Gellman both present Voorhis’ responses to Nixon’s accusations as quite inept, so Voorhis’ loss was partly his own fault. For example, in Ambrose’s narration, rather than denying that he had support from NC-PAC, Voorhis said that NC-PAC and the CIO were two separate groups, and he also repudiated the support of NC-PAC, which he didn’t even have.
On the question of whether people on Nixon’s campaign staff called voters and told them that Voorhis was a Communist, a charge against Nixon’s campaign that Gellman thinks is without factual basis, Ambrose appears to be open. Ambrose says there is no firsthand evidence for such a notion, and that Nixon’s supporters say that such a strategy would backfire anyway, as they hint that the Democrats made those calls so that Nixon would get the blame. Yet, Ambrose mentions a Voorhis leader whose niece claimed to work for two days in Nixon’s 1946 campaign, and she said that she got $9 a day for making phone calls alleging that Voorhis was a Communist.
2. Ambrose talks about Nixon’s role on the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) when he was a Congressman. Ambrose depicts Nixon as open-minded when he was asked to serve on HUAC, for freshman Congressman Donald Jackson related that Nixon wondered aloud if liberals were correct in their criticisms of HUAC. When Nixon listened to a speech by President Harry Truman about the dangers of international Communism, as well as talked with Father John Cronin, an anti-Communist priest who was once in the CIO and who helped the FBI on projects, Nixon became more convinced that Communism was a threat.
What did Nixon believe that the Communist Party in the United States would do, however? Did he fear that it would overthrow the United States government? Ambrose’s answer to that is no. Ambrose notes that Nixon stated that the U.S. government was “stronger than that of the Czar in 1917” (Ambrose’s words on page 151). But Nixon feared that, if there were a war between the U.S.S.R. and the West, the Communists in the U.S. would support the U.S.S.R. and would sabotage the U.S. economy. As Ambrose says on page 151, “Everyone recalled that during the Hitler-Stalin pact period, CIO unions that were Communist-dominated had called strikes for the purely political purpose of disrupting American aid to Britain.”
I have much left to read before I can judge whether Ambrose will portray Nixon’s activity on HUAC as fair and moderate, or as extreme and exploitative. Irwin Gellman in The Contender argued for the former. On page 159, however, Ambrose tries to read between the lines on the issue of Nixon’s approach to alleged Communist influence within Hollywood: “Always unspoken in Nixon’s remarks, but always there, was the implication that the Jewish studio owners and the Communist movie writers were involved in a conspiracy. They were willing, in fact eager, to attack Nazis, but hesitant, not to say unwilling, to go after the Communists.”
3. On pages 137-138, Ambrose talks about the inflation that existed during the Truman Administration. The inflation was essentially due to demand exceeding supply right after World War II. Ambrose narrates : “After the binge of the V-J Day celebration, America went into a long hangover. Throughout the nation, people had eagerly anticipated the coming of peace. It would mean jobs, houses, new cars, new refrigerators, electric toasters, plentiful supplies of meat and liquor, the good life they had fought to preserve and expand. But a year after the Japanese surrender, all these items remained in short supply. The economic dislocations of the war could not be set straight overnight.”
Ambrose can see Nixon’s point that the governmental Office of Price Administration (OPA) was part of the problem. The OPA’s limits on the price of beef discouraged ranchers from putting their cattle on the market, since the price for their product was too low, and thus there was a shortage of beef on the market. That encouraged more people to look for substitutes such as chicken and fish, thereby increasing demand for those products, and thus prices.