Even Then, a Son of a Bitch

New bio fails to remake Nixons early years

But it's Gellman's attempts to whitewash Nixon's campaign strategies that do the most damage. This, of course, is the most important part of the book: the Watergate break-in occurred during the 1972 presidential campaign. If Gellman is to prove his thesis that the 1972 Nixon was vastly different from the simpler, honest 1946 Nixon, he must show Nixon's earliest campaigns were benign.

In fact, his early campaigns were far more furious and bombastic than his presidential races. Nixon played to win, and he did so by creating the impression that opponents like Jerry Voorhis and Helen Gahagan Douglas were, if not communists, then certainly commie-symps.

In his discussion of Nixon's first campaign, against incumbent New Dealer Voorhis in the 12th Congressional District, Gellman parrots Nixon's insistence that the national Congress of Industrial Organizations-Political Action Committee (which Nixon said included communist members) had endorsed Voorhis—a critical tactic in Nixon's predictable strategy of aligning his opponent with communists. In fact, as Voorhis tried to point out, the national PAC recommended—and then rejected—endorsing him. But that doesn't stop Gellman—like Nixon—from calling the PAC's "Recommendation" paper an "endorsement." Gellman also apparently felt no compunction about ignoring a newspaper ad put out by the Nixon camp a week later, which contained the double lie "Voorhis Admits PAC Endorsement."

Gellman's discussion of the 1950 Senate race is even worse. He completely ignores Nixon's favorite campaign statement, that Douglas was "pink right down to her underwear"—a characterization that not only calls her patriotism into question but also reminds chauvinistic voters of her femininity. Gellman then legitimizes Nixon's spurious tactic of linking Douglas' votes with radical New York Congressman Vito Marcantonio. Nixon's pink paper decrying a "Douglas/Marcantonio Axis" that spans 354 House votes wasn't related to any "issue," as Gellman attempts to show; it was simple character assassination, reminiscent of the brutal Soviet denunciations in the 1930s. Note to Gellman: Why not explain the 112 Nixon votes that coincided with this so-called "axis"?

What's so ironic about Gellman's "innocent," young Nixon is that Nixon substantially moderated his campaign rhetoric after his congressional years. Nixon never questioned the patriotism of John F. Kennedy, Pat Brown, Hubert Humphrey or even George McGovern. It's too bad Gellman was so quick to dispense with Nixon's apology for the 1950 race—it explains a great deal.

The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952 by Irwin F. Gellman; Free Press. 590 pages. $30 hardcover.

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