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On Mr. Nixon

In The Mail


To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

Mr. Schwartz's comments on Richard Nixon in the Nov. 13 CRIMSON were, of course, in bad taste. But we have come to expect as much of the CRIMSON and its angry, sophomore, doctrinaire liberalism. It is easy indeed to kick a man when he is down, to say that because he last election for the governorship of California is (a predominantly Democratic state), and lost election to the Presidency of the United States by 113,000 votes out of a total 68,339,000, that he never did anything right in his life. But it easier still to point out that Mr. Nixon has done quite a few things right down through the years, and that he deserves more appreciation than he has received.

To be specific, let us take the example which the CRIMSON itself notes: the Alger Hiss Case. Mr. Schwarts refers to Hiss as a "victim" of Mr. Nixon. Well, so he was, in the sense that any criminal is the victim of the men who apprehend and prosecute him. But one gets the impression that something more than this was intended in the choice of that word "victim," one gets the impression that one is to feel sympathy for Hiss, that he was guilty only of providing a stepping stone for the career of an ambitious man. Lest it be forgotten, let me remind you that Alger Hiss was granted all due process of law and was proved a perjurer, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, proved by evidence that cannot be refuted despite the frantic clutching at the straw of the Hiss typewriter. In large measure Mr. Nixon was responsible for that proof. Way we should condemn him for acting as an effective agent of the rule of law is beyond my poor perceptions.

It may be that Mr. Nixon's remarks to the press were ill-advised; certainly they were out politically sagacious, although under the circumstances I think they were more than understandable. However, what are these but minor objections compared to the ABC "Political Obituary of Richard Nixon," which saw Alger Hiss himself displaying the unbelievable presumption of sitting in judgment of Mr. Nixon. As Senator Thomas Dedd of Connecticut, a liberal Democrat, commented in a protest telegram to ABC and the FCC, "It seems to me incredible that millions of viewers who tuned in to see a Veterans Day program about our armed forces should have been treated to the spectacle of a distinguished American public servant being vilified by a convicted perjurer." Yet Mr. Schwarts can find no fault with the Hiss broadcast; only with Mr. Nixon.

There is a great liberal tradition in this country from the days of Thomas Jefferson; but when that tradition becomes so warped that there is room in it for sympathy for Alger Hiss, but only disgust for Richard Nixon, then, indeed, it is a very sick tradition, and there is no place for it in this nation, nor at Harvard University. Eric A. Ven Salzen '65

MR. SCHWARTZ REPLIES: My intention in discussing Mr. Nixon's political demise was not at all to "kick him when he was down," but to explain as best I could how he got down there. The very fact that a man could lose the national election in 1960 and then be unable two years later to win the governorship in his own battiwick seemed to me a phenomenon worth explaining. Moreover, I considered it unfortunate that meet commentaries on Nixon's defeat were either disguised gloating or the kind of wrong-headed on comium Mr. Von Salzen has written.

For the facts of Nixon's failure point to what I thought an obvious conclusion: he simply wasn't good enough for high American politics. One could stop short of this judgment and damn him as an opportunist, I noted; or one could deny the judgment, as Mr. Von Salzen does, and speak vaguely of Nixon's having done "a few things right," and being "deserving of appreciation." Both views are superficial, I think.

Perhaps I ought to have made my feelings on Mr. Hiss's statement more explicit; perhaps if I had done so, and if Mr. Von Salzen had read them, he would not be able to take refuge in the easy opposition between Nixon and a "proved perjurer." To begin with, I do not understand why Mr. Von Salzen should be so upset at the fact that Hiss was asked for an opinion on Nixon: even at the height of the Hiss case, no one denied the man's intelligence. Thus his opinion is, in fact, doubly worth having, as that not only of a man involved in Nixon's career, but as the view of a gifted, sensitive man. (Besides, I found his statement extraordinarily generous; didn't Mr. Salzen?) By comparison, I might ask, did Murray Chotiner really have anything to say?

Secondly, in calling Hiss Nixon's "victim," I was implying two things, one obvious, the other perhaps not so obvious. First, there is no doubt that, to put it mildly, the rise of Nixon's stock was intimately bound up with the fall of Hiss's. Second, I was implicitly questioning the political wisdom of the Congressional investigation of Hiss. This may sound like heresy to Mr. Von Salzen, but consider: assuming Hiss's guilt (and some reasonably intelligent people have their doubts about this), was it really in the best interests of this country to investigate him, provoking the libel and perjury suits? A government doesn't have to investigate or prosecute men who have committed sets against it which circumstances have proved were of little significance. In the years between Hiss's actions and the investigations, this country fought a major "hot" war, and began a cold war of similar proportions. Through all these years and vicissitudes, the papers Hiss was accused of passing seemed to have no effect at all. The Republic had survived and prospered even though these allegedly "vital" secrets were floating around loose. (By the way, it should go without saying, though I seriously think some people don't realize it, that these papers had nothing to do with the Yalta Conference.)

In the unhealthy political climate of the post-War period, which the Hiss case so disastrously encouraged, was Congress right in exacerbating dangerous tensions by such an investigation? I think not. And I am sure Mr. Von Salzen would say the same thing today about, say, the concerted, unremitting attempt to secure full civil rights for this country's Negro population. He would no doubt argue, "You've got to be careful about this; sure they deserve their rights, but think of the dangerous tensions such an attempt would exacerbate." I submit that any sound politician would have at least considered a similar argument in the late forties as this country appeared on the verge of going politically mad.

I apologize to Mr. Von Salzen for not making these points clear in my piece; but, as is unfortunately clear here, they would have swelled it to an unconscionable length, and were, as I thought, implicit.

Mr. Nixon was, then, guilty of bad judgment in 1948; and the fact that many other people were as well doesn't mitigate the fact that he began as a not-very-outstanding personality. Note: I stress not his viciousness, but his mediocrity. The thing that distinguishes him from his mediocre fellows is that, a man of defective judgment and inferior ability, he went on to seek higher and higher political office. Why should we be surprised if he failed?

And oh yes: Mr. Von Salzen, speaking as an angry, sophomoric, doctrinaire liberal, I might add that I certainly do not consider Mr. Dodd a "liberal Democrat.

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