Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady: Richard Nixon vs. Helen Gahagan Douglas--Sexual Politics and the Red Scare, 1950

Greg Mitchell, Author Random House (NY) $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-679-41621-0
The author charges that the attempted media rehabilitation of Richard Nixon just before and after his death tended to soft-pedal the story of his election to the U.S. Senate in 1950, and Nixon himself downplayed his campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas. The reason is apparent in Mitchell's (The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair's Race for Governor of California) thoroughgoing account of what he describes as one of the dirtiest political elections ever, not only in California. Using primary sources such as letters and memos never before published, the author writes with controlled indignation, documenting each stage of his story. He tells how the young congressman charged his Democratic opponent with being a ""coddler of Communism."" The tactic worked in the atmosphere of Red baiting after the war. The 1950 Nixon campaign pioneered practices still deplored: large contributions by corporate interests to finance attack ads, dirty tricks sponsored by anonymous supporters, selective examples of an opponent's record, biased coverage in the Hearst newspapers and the Los Angeles Times. Douglas, married to film star Melvyn Douglas, had her own weaknesses, as pointed out by the author. She could be shrill and long-winded on the stump. Her defeat by 59%-40% was a setback to progressive Democrats, and Nixon's victory helped propel him to national prominence. Moreover, the author shows that since Douglas's overwhelming defeat, no other woman rose to similar prominence in U.S. politics for more than a generation. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
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