I have three items for my write-up today on Greg Mitchell’s Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady: Richard Nixon vs. Helen Gahagan Douglas—-Sexual Politics and the Red Scare, 1950.
1. As I said in my last post on Mitchell’s book, and also in previous posts about Richard Nixon’s U.S. Senate race against Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas, Nixon attacked Douglas by saying that, in the U.S. House, she voted similarly a significant number of times to Representative Vito Marcantonio, a far left congressman who was believed to have pro-Soviet sympathies. Later, Nixon’s campaign manager Murray Chotiner admitted that “you can take any vote and you can find that a man as conservative as Bob Taft voted the same way as Marcantonio for different reasons.” Conservative Republican Senator Robert Taft, after all, was largely an isolationist, so he would overlap with Marcantonio when the two cast isolationist sorts of votes. That doesn’t mean Taft was pro-Communist, though! What’s interesting is that, when Taft was running for re-election in Ohio and was playing the anti-Communist card, his Democratic opponent, Joseph Ferguson, pointed to the number of times that Taft voted the same as Marcantonio (page 128). Ferguson lost that election.
Mitchell, like others I have read, believes that Douglas’ strategy of pointing out the number of times that Nixon voted the same as Marcantonio was not particularly effective. For one, nobody would believe that Nixon was pro-Communist because he was the one who took down Alger Hiss. Second, my impression is that Mitchell believes that Douglas should have focused on domestic issues, the concerns that were impacting Californians’ lives, while emphasizing that big money was not on her side. While Douglas indeed did talk about domestic issues and her commitment to the people rather than special interests, she got sidetracked by moving into Richard Nixon’s territory, namely, anti-Communism. I don’t know if focusing on domestic concerns would have won her the election, even according to Mitchell, for Mitchell narrates that many Americans were afraid of Communism in 1950. Regarding her strategy of highlighting where Nixon voted the same as Marcantonio, I can see merit in that sort of approach, even if it ultimately failed for Douglas. Granted, Douglas probably would not convince anybody that Richard Nixon was pro-Communist, but such an approach could show that voting the same as Vito Marcantonio did not necessarily mean that one was pro-Communist.
Nixon contemplated other ways to associate Douglas with Communism, such as telling an aide to track down times when the People’s World said that Douglas spoke before front groups (though I doubt that People’s World called them that), or Communist Mother Bloor’s praise for Douglas. The California chairman of the Communist Party, William Schneiderman, however, was rather critical of Douglas, for she supported the Korean War. Schneiderman charged that Douglas “had been moving to the right since 1947” (Mitchell’s words) and was “one of the chief liberal apologists for the reactionary policies of the Truman Administration” (Schneiderman’s words, quoted on page 144). Schneiderman still regarded Douglas as better than Nixon, though.
2. Did Nixon exploit anti-Semitism in the 1950 race, since Douglas’ husband was Jewish? On pages 91 and 281, Mitchell refers to letters in which a Nixon secretary and a woman from Iowa discussed the fact that Melvyn Douglas’ last name was originally Hesselberg. On page 139, Mitchell states that Nixon occasionally in speeches referred “to his opponent as Helen Hesselberg, before correcting himself”. Nixon also did not repudiate the support of anti-Semite Gerald L.K. Smith until Douglas criticized Nixon for having Smith’s support, plus Nixon let the anti-Communist legislator Jack Tenney “stand in for him at some campaign rallies when [Nixon] was called back to Washington” (page 139). Tenney was “very close to Smith” and said that he had a good relationship with Nixon, even though Tenney didn’t care for Nixon’s campaign manager Murray Chotiner, a Jew.
I’d like to make an observation about Nixon’s stance on African-American issues in his 1950 Senate race, based on what I have read so far in Mitchell’s book (which I have not finished). It seems that Nixon was trying to gain African-American votes. Nixon was interested when speaker of the California State Assembly Sam Collins told him that he (Collins) asked a committee to investigate a bank that supposedly had never loaned money to African-Americans, a bank that Douglas supposedly directed (page 91). A Women for Nixon ad featured an African-American woman who (with other women) was trying to persuade a Douglas supporter to vote for Nixon. And Nixon praised the service of African-American soldiers in Korea.
(UPDATE: On pages 205-206, Mitchell goes into more detail on the topic of race during the 1950 U.S. Senate race in California. He refers to an African-American newspaper that endorsed Nixon, which said about Douglas: “Of course, she favors civil rights legislation. At election time…what politician doesn’t?” Mitchell also mentions African-American celebrities who endorsed Nixon, such as actress Louise Beavers and ex-football player Kenny Washington. But Mitchell also notes the African-American support that Douglas received—-from the Sun Reporter newspaper and A. Philip Randolph—-and Mitchell says that Nixon’s campaigns planned only a “few major events in minority neighborhoods”, and that some have testified that Nixon was uncomfortable in urban areas and around African-Americans, though Mitchell says on page 238 that Nixon after his campaign went to Kenny Washington’s home, drank beers, and played the piano. Moreover, on page 230, Mitchell states that “Some voters in all-white Republican strongholds received postcards from a mythical Communist League of Negro Women urging them” to vote for Douglas. Mitchell does not say that Nixon was responsible for those postcards, however.)
3. Mitchell talks about the loyalty oath at the University of California, which, according to this site, included “a denial of membership or belief in organizations (including Communist organizations) advocating overthrow of the United States government.” A number of talented faculty people refused to sign it due to their commitment to academic freedom, resulting in some drain of talent from the University of California. Some protested that the loyalty oath would be ineffective because a Communist could simply lie by signing the oath! Interestingly, after a bill was passed that codified Governor Earl Warren’s suggestion that all public employees be required to sign a loyalty oath, a Communist signed it, saying that he didn’t intend to overthrow the U.S. Government, for he didn’t need to do so: America, he said, would “collapse from its own rottenness” (the Communist’s word, quoted on page 173).
On pages 134-135, Mitchell quotes a statement by the San Francisco Examiner supporting the loyalty oath at the University of California: “While American youth is being conscripted to die fighting Communist barbarism in Korea and elsewhere[,] it is proposed to accord to thirty-nine professors and assistant professors…the privilege of defying a simple regulation to protect the institution which is engaged in research vital to national defense.” That’s a valid point, in my opinion: that a subversive should not be in a position in which he or she could negatively impact research that is “vital to national defense”. I don’t think that all leftists should have been barred from such research (and whether or not that happened, I don’t know), but I can understand the concern.