Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Easy Answers to Stupid Questions: Nixonland

Historian-plagiarist Stephen Ambrose was puzzled. He asked, in his biography of Richard Nixon:

[T]he central question in discussing the problem of the response to Nixon remains, Why did so many people hate him so much? No definitive answer is possible...

Well, one answer is provided by Henry Kissinger, last week in the New York Times:

Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War - By Robert L. Beisner - Books - Review - New York Times: Nixon had made essentially unforgivable attacks on [Truman's Secretary of State Dean] Acheson during his 1952 campaign for vice president...

If Henry Kissinger says that Nixon's attacks were "essentially unforgivable," you can believe that they were.

A second answer is provided by Ambrose himself:

[Nixon's] basic message never changed. It was that a Democratic victory would lead to socialism at home and surrender to Communism abroad.... His exaggerations on the campaign trail cost him dearly.... His politics were the politics of division.... [H]e never really believed that the Democrats were leading the United States to socialism and surrender...

And Ambrose almost gets to--but fumbles--a third answer: yet another reason to hate Nixon is that he regarded his fiercest supporters as rubes to be conned, and brought out their worst selves through his lies:

[Nixon's] supporters' response was equally extreme. To the vast majority of conservative Republicans, he was a natural leader, born to command, a man of integrity, intelligence, and virtue, who was full of common sense and could be trusted and should be President. In their view, he always put the interest of his country first... and thank God he stands up to the Democrats...

Ambrose's big problem--one of his big problems--is that he treats the perceptions of those of Nixon's deluded followers who believed that the Democrats in the 1950s were the partisans of socialism and surrender as equally valid as the perceptions of those reality-based enough to know what Nixon's lies were. As Adlai Stevenson said in 1952 of that place called Nixonland:

a land of slander and scare, the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call, and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash-and-grab and anything-to-win... no standard of truth but convenience and no standard of morality except what will serve his interest in an election...

And, of course, Ambrose's big problem is the problem of journalistic hacks today.

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