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, I’ll feature and comment on five quotes that stood out to me.
1. On page 151, Mitchell narrates the following about the Korean War:
“Over the past several weeks, General Curtis Le May’s SAC bombers, with little fanfare, had dropped more than three thousand tons on bombs on North Korean targets—-said to be ‘military’ or ‘industrial’ in nature but often the centers of large cities. As in World War II, ‘precision bombing’ was a misnomer of profoundly tragic dimensions. Le May had also introduced a little-known weapon, napalm, a mixture of phosphorus-ignited acids that burned inside wounds for as long as fifteen days. Thousands of civilians had already perished in this limited war, and a U.S. military dispatch described a ‘wilderness of scorched earth’ across parts of North Korea.”
This passage stood out to me because it was about the tragic aspects of war. And civilian casualties have occurred in a number of other wars that we have fought: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and (if you count this as a war) the drone-strikes. Like Ron Paul, I have wondered if there are better ways than war for the U.S. to keep herself or her allies safe, such as trade.
2. Republican Governor Earl Warren of California, who later was the notorious liberal Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, ran for re-election in 1950 against Democrat James Roosevelt, who was Franklin Roosevelt’s son. For a variety of reasons—-James Roosevelt’s alienation of Harry Truman, James’ lack of political experience, James’ lack of political talent, etc.—-James’ candidacy was not going too well. But I chuckled at what Mitchell said on page 162: “[James] Roosevelt, with his pedigree, could not even charge the governor with shattering the unspoken limit of two gubernatorial terms.” Yup, I guess James couldn’t (since his father FDR served more than two terms as President)!
3. On page 163, Mitchell says that California voters liked the fact that Governor Earl Warren “had balanced seven consecutive state budgets…” On page 175, Mitchell says that “Somehow Warren managed to reduce taxes while increasing medical, unemployment, and old-age benefits, earning Democratic support despite attacking the New Deal as impractical and bureaucratic.” Remarkable! What was Warren? A magician?
4. The McCarran bill would require Communists to register with the U.S. Government. Some liberals had a problem with this bill, so (to avoid appearing soft on Communism) they proposed an alternative: to allow the President to declare an “internal security emergency”, during which time the Attorney General could “round up persons whom the president had ‘reason to believe’ might engage in espionage, sabotage, or other acts of subversion” (page 159). A White House aide called this “a concentration camp bill”. Liberals claimed that this was better than the McCarran bill because it would “focus on acts, not just on agitation” and would “avoid character assassination” (Mitchell on page 159). Mitchell says on pages 159-160:
“Now it was time for the Republicans (and conservative Democrats) to rail against an ‘unconstitutional’ measure that would lead to ‘dictatorship.’ But that didn’t mean they could not live with it…Rather than attempt to vote down the Democrats’ substitute measure, the GOP brain trust (which included Congressman Nixon) decided to incorporate the detention-camp aspect into their own bill.”
I admire bipartisanship and openness to the other side’s ideas, but not in this case!
President Harry Truman vetoed the McCarran bill, noting that federal intelligence agencies said it “would weaken, not strengthen, the fight against communism” (Mitchell on page 167). He compared the rule that Communists register with “requiring thieves to register with the local police” (Mitchell on page 167), and he said that the concentration camp part of the bill was “probably unconstitutional” (Mitchell on page 167). Truman said that people should be punished for crimes, not for holding certain opinions. The House overrode Truman’s veto by 286-48 (as Douglas voted against overriding it), and the Senate overrode it 57-10. The outcome of the McCarran Act, according to Mitchell, was that no one registered with the Attorney General, so “now it was up to the attorney general to find the Reds, go after them, and punish them—-if he could” (page 227).
5. I got a chuckle out of what Mitchell said on page 165:
“Finally, and perhaps most effectively, Nixon resorted to a simple rhetorical trick he would rely on for the rest of the campaign: claiming that unnamed advisers had urged him to avoid certain issues, but he was going to talk about them anyway. No matter that the ‘warning’ from his aides might be apocryphal. Murray Chotiner believed that these avowals demonstrated to the voters that the candidate was ‘willing to meet’ difficult issues. Usually, the issue Nixon purportedly was told to ignore concerned the Hiss case or some other aspect of the Communist threat. But in his kickoff speech, the subject he claimed to have been advised to avoid was the gender of his opponent.”
Essentially, Nixon said that he would criticize his opponent, even though his aides advised him that criticizing a woman could cost him the election. Nixon may not have actually heard this from his aides (I don’t know). But, elsewhere in the book, Mitchell says that Nixon was walking a fine line: he wanted to criticize Douglas, but he also did not want to look like a bully. Apparently, Nixon got around that by resorting to his strategy of claiming that he was bravely going against the advice of his aides, out of his commitment to telling voters the truth.