Friday, January 11, 2013

Richard Nixon would have...

...turned 100 on Wednesday and a lot has been written about him this week, much of it favorable.

Whenever I think of the 37th President of the United States, however, I can't get past Nixon's early career as a shameless red-baiter. 

In his first campaign for Congress, in 1946, Nixon implied that his Democratic opponent, Jerry Voorhis, was "soft" on Communism. From Wikipedia (my emphasis):

Nixon's defeat of Voorhis has been cited as the start of a number of red-baiting campaigns by the future president that later elevated him to the Senate and the Vice-Presidency and eventually put him in position to run for president. Voorhis later deemed himself "the first victim of the Nixon-Chotiner formula for political success." In 1958, Voorhis alleged that voters had received anonymous phone calls alleging that he was a Communist, that newspapers had stated that he was a fellow traveler, and that when Nixon got angry, he would "do anything."

Later, in Nixon's campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1948, he used the same tactics on his opponent, Helen Gahagan Douglas. Again, from Wikipedia:

In the race against Nixon, Gahagan Douglas was seen by her supporters as the victim of a smear campaign. Alluding to her alleged "Red" sympathies, Nixon hinted that she was a fellow traveler, citing as evidence the correlation of her votes with those of a far-left member of Congress. [Manchester] Boddy [the owner and publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News] had referred to her as "the Pink Lady" and said that she was "pink right down to her underwear." Nixon reprised this line of attack during the general election. His campaign manager, Murray Chotiner, even had flyers printed up on sheets of pink paper, to underline the point.

And this is where I think Nixon's problems with the press (and others) began (and never ended). While he could fool someone like my mother (who will go to her grave as a huge Nixon apologist), he couldn't fool the cognoscenti; they knew a scoundrel when they saw one. Nixon, as a result, was forever on the defensive and his relationship with the press (and the rest of the establishment) spiraled downward. (I even read recently that President Eisenhower quietly supported Ronald Reagan in his campaign for the Republican nomination in 1968.)

So no matter what good things Nixon went on to accomplish in his career, I can't help remembering who he really was: an ethically-challenged guy who would do anything and say anything to get ahead.

I think Adlai Stevenson said it best:

Nixonland is a land of slander and scare, of lay innuendo, of a poison pen and the anonymous telephone call, and hustling, pushing, and shoving -- the land of smash and grab and anything to win.

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