For my post today about Conrad Black’s Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, I’ll use as my starting-point something that Black says on page 246. The context is the controversy about Richard Nixon’s fund during the 1952 Presidential election. Nixon was the Republican candidate for Vice-President at the time, and a fund that he had from the donations of businessmen was controversial, to the point that there were many who were urging Republican Presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower to drop Nixon from the ticket. For some time in 1952, neither Dwight Eisenhower nor Thomas Dewey—-an eastern Republican who helped advance Nixon’s political career—-would vigorously step forward to defend Richard Nixon, whereas more conservative Republicans such as Robert Taft and Joseph McCarthy did. What follows is something that Black says about how Nixon would narrate an interaction that he had with Dewey about the fund controversy:
“In his mid-career memoir, Six Crises, Nixon wrote that he discerned that Dewey ‘did not have his heart in what he told me.’ In his memoirs fifteen years later, written after Dewey had died, he omitted any reduction of implicit criticism of Dewey’s role.”
According to Black, in Six Crises, which Nixon wrote while Dewey was still alive, Nixon was toning down any criticism that he had of Dewey’s advice about what Nixon should do in light of the fund controversy (namely, for Nixon to offer his resignation to Eisenhower in the Fund speech that he was about to give). Nixon said that he could tell that Dewey’s heart was not in what he was saying. But Nixon in his memoirs, which he wrote after Dewey had died, and even after the Nixon Presidency itself had ended, omitted that little part about Dewey’s heart not being in what Dewey had told him. As I look at the passages—-on page 110 of Six Crises and pages 125-129 of volume 1 of Richard Nixon’s memoirs—-I can see Black’s point. In Six Crises, Nixon talks about his anger at what Dewey was telling him, but Nixon mitigates any implied criticism of Dewey by saying that he could tell that Dewey’s heart wasn’t in what Dewey was telling him. In Nixon’s memoirs, however, Nixon simply narrates that he was angry at what Dewey was telling him.
I’d like to make two points:
1. In my post here, I talked about Stephen Ambrose’s discussion of what type of President Nixon might have been had he won in 1960, and how that would have compared with the type of President that he was in 1969-1974. Ambrose is not particularly dogmatic in this discussion, for he considers different scenarios. But one scenario that he considers is that, had Nixon won in 1960, Nixon would have surrounded himself with Establishment types such as Dwight Eisenhower and Thomas Dewey, rather than “us vs. them” types like Haldeman, Colson, Agnew, etc. Black says that the Fund controversy in 1952 alienated Nixon from the Eastern Establishment Republican types, since Thomas Dewey did not go to bat for him, whereas right-wing Republicans did. Would a President Nixon who had won in 1960 have drawn from the wisdom of Eisenhower and Dewey, if Nixon was arguably bitter about their failure to vigorously support him during the fund crisis?
I can see it going both ways, but what I think would have likely happened is that Nixon would have continued to draw from the insights of Dewey and Eisenhower. Whatever his disappointments with them may have been, Nixon owed them for his political advancement, and he probably would have still needed them on account of their influence within the Republican Party. After all, Nixon still felt compelled in Six Crises to mitigate any criticism of Dewey. Moreover, Nixon himself speculated that, had he won in 1960, the “establishment types” would have remained in power and Nixon wouldn’t have been able to do what was necessary for the country. Nixon knew himself better than anybody, and he could envision himself keeping the establishment types in power. At the same time, I can envision a President Nixon who had won in 1960 feeling free to stray from advice that Eisenhower would give him. Nixon was for beefing up the U.S. military and cutting taxes, whereas Eisenhower was not for these things at the same level. But my impression is that Nixon in 1960 ran on his own ideas rather than those of Eisenhower, and he probably would have been committed to his own ideas as President.
2. Nixon probably felt that he could be more honest in his memoirs than in Six Crises. When he wrote his memoirs, he was no longer pursuing political office, for he had just been President, and thus he didn’t need to be as worried about appeasing the right people. Plus, Nixon could be more honest about his thoughts regarding Dewey and Eisenhower, for both men had died. That reminds me of how hard it is for one to be completely honest in writing, for people out there can take offense at what one wrote. I am not completely honest in my own writing, to be candid with you. Honest writing is better writing, but it’s not always feasible—-unless one wants to take risks and alienate people.