My latest reading of Stephen Ambrose’s Nixon: The Education of a Politician was about the fall of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Nixon, as Vice-President, had the task of trying to restrain McCarthy, who was attacking some of President Dwight Eisenhower’s appointees. McCarthy liked Nixon because of Nixon’s record as a fervent anti-Communist. And Nixon, while he thought that McCarthy could be reckless in his accusations, still thought that McCarthy meant well.
Eisenhower was firing a number of government workers, and Nixon wanted for Eisenhower to point to that to claim that the Eisenhower Administration was dealing with the problem of Communist infiltration in government, as a way to silence McCarthy. But Eisenhower’s Attorney General, Herbert Brownell, had problems with this approach, for he feared that it would give those who had been let go a bad reputation and thereby hinder them from getting future employment. Notwithstanding his hard-line stance, Nixon knew and helped a friend of his who was experiencing a similar problem. An African-American named Bill Brock, with whom Nixon went to Whittier College, and who was a member of the Orthogonian group that Nixon helped to establish there, was a socialist at one time, yet he later repudiated that ideology. Still, he was fired from his job at Hughes Aircraft because he was deemed to be a security risk. Nixon took a year to help Brock, but he had the FBI and McCarthy check out Brock’s record, and, when Brock turned out clean, Nixon instructed his staff to talk with the Pentagon security people.
One interesting detail that Ambrose mentioned was that, while Nixon had a precise memory when it came to names, his memory was not as good when it came to places. Nixon in his memoirs, for example, states that he met with McCarthy and other officials for a fried chicken lunch in his own office when McCarthy was taking on the army (for promoting, then discharging, a dentist who was a member of the American Labor Party and did not sign a loyalty statement), and the officials were seeking to tame McCarthy. But the meeting actually occurred in Senator Everett Dirken’s office.
Interestingly, according to Ambrose on pages 338-339, Nixon played a role in McCarthy’s downfall, for Nixon leaked to the press an army report about intimidation and threats that were conducted by McCarthy and Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s chief counsel. I’d like to use this opportunity to cite an example in which Nixon tried to use intimidation against someone. When Nixon was a Senator, a professor named Charles Alan Wright of the University of Minnesota defended Alger Hiss, whom Nixon believed to be a Communist spy. Nixon wanted a businessman from Minneapolis to tell the regents that Wright was a biased scholar, for Nixon did not think that Wright should stay on the faculty. Ironically, however, Nixon as President used Wright’s services and called Wright a “distinguished constitutional scholar” (Nixon’s words, page 237) when Wright defended him during Watergate!
But back to Nixon as Vice-President! As Vice-President, Nixon gave a televised speech in which he indirectly criticized McCarthy, while also defending Eisenhower’s foreign policy. Nixon himself disagreed with Eisenhower on certain foreign policy questions, for Nixon was much more hawkish when it came to dealing with Communism abroad. But, as an able debater, Nixon defended Eisenhower’s stances, and Nixon made the interesting point that the Communists want to draw America into as many conflicts as they can to drain the U.S. of its resources, but the U.S. would not be playing ball. Nixon said in the speech that no country was falling to the Communists on Eisenhower’s watch, but, as Ambrose notes, Nixon neglected to mention that Vietnam was falling rapidly. Incidentally, my latest reading also covered Vice-President Nixon’s visits to Asian countries, such as South Korea and Vietnam, as Nixon formed relationships that would last.