Tags: Presidential History

'President and the Apprentice' Sheds New Light on Ike, Nixon

'President and the Apprentice' Sheds New Light on Ike, Nixon
Nixon in Egypt, 1980 (AP) 

Friday, 13 November 2015 01:31 PM Current | Bio | Archive

More than 20 years after his death and four months before what would have been his 103rd birthday, Richard M. Nixon continues to fascinate historians as well as the American public.

No less than three new biographical works on the controversial California politician who became America’s 37th president hit the bookshelves last month. Inarguably, the book that is sure to generate the most heated discussion is “The President and the Apprentice,” Irwin Gellman’s second volume in a series on Nixon’s life that he has tirelessly researched for two decades.

As in “The Contender,” which covered Nixon’s rise from U.S. House to Senate to Republican vice presidential nominee by the age of 39, Gellman’s new work introduces the reader to a Nixon few knew about.

“The President and the Apprentice” refers to Dwight Eisenhower and his young vice president during throughout his eight years as president. Many readers accept the conclusion of the late Stephen Ambrose and other biographers of Eisenhower and Nixon, that the two were not close; that Ike distrusted and distanced himself from his vice president, and that he even wanted Nixon off the GOP ticket in 1952 (when news of a “secret” expense fund from Nixon’s supporters threatened his standing as the vice presidential nominee).

Gellman demolishes all of this quite effectively. He demonstrates that, much like Joe Biden with Barack Obama today, Nixon as vice president had frequent breakfasts and lunches with Eisenhower and was told by the president to come into the Oval Office even without a scheduled appointment.

Most importantly, Gellman carefully illustrates how Eisenhower’s willingness to entrust his vice president with overseas missions and meetings with world leaders was pivotal in molding Nixon into the master of foreign policy he would become as president and as private citizen.

In fact, the roots of many key foreign policy advances of Nixon’s presidency and even of today in the 21st century the author traces to the vice president’s world travels in the 1950’s.

“Scholars point to Nixon’s 1967 ‘Foreign Affairs’ article as the prelude of his presidential diplomacy toward China,” writes Gellman, “[T]hey should go back further to the secret discussions on the Far East during Eisenhower’s first term. They need to search beyond the obvious and sensational and examine the private mountainous NSC records.”

On an official trip to Japan in 1953, Nixon made headlines worldwide when he said “the United States had made a mistake in 1946 in having Japan include in its Constitution an article forbidding rearmament.”

His subsequent call for Japan to increase military spending “left many Japanese, including [Prime Minister Shigeru] Yoshida, unpersuaded.”

True at the time, but it is precisely that policy present Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is successfully pursuing today.

From his tours of Latin America, Nixon privately concluded, “Tyrants like Trujillo [Dominican Republic] and Somoza [Nicaragua] had allied themselves with the United States against international communism while butchering their own citizenry.”

Decades before democracy-building organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy were born, Nixon concluded the U.S. “needed to enact new policies that favored democracies over totalitarian regimes . . . It should recognize the authoritarian heritage [from Spanish colonial days] but must encourage democratic reforms.”

Gellman also sheds fresh light on such well-known sagas of Nixon’s vice presidency as the coolness he and wife Pat showed when their motorcade was attacked by a vicious Communist-inspired mob in Caracas, Venezuela (“Don’t shoot!” he ordered his Secret Service detail as they drew guns) and Nixon’s spirited jousting with Nikita Khrushchev in a replica of a U.S. kitchen in Moscow.

Did Ike want his running mate replaced in 1952 following exposure of a “secret” fund of supporters in California to help defray Nixon’s expenses as a senator? Not at all. Gellman noted that the fund was anything but secret.

Nixon himself confirmed its existence during an appearance on “Meet the Press” and freely directed reporters to fund trustee Dana Smith.

When Nixon made his celebrated “Checkers” speech on national television and explained the fund (which totaled about $17,000), columnist Joseph Alsop in 1960 and historian Jeffrey Fink in 1953 both describe Eisenhower watching the broadcast and growing so disgusted with Nixon’s performance that he angrily jabbed a pencil and tore his yellow pad.

Gellman’s response demonstrates the kind of research that he applied to his book. He obtained the actual yellow pages Eisenhower was writing. Allen J. Lowe, manager of the Hotel Carter in Cleveland where Ike stayed that evening, was presented with the notes by the retired general as a souvenir.

Four years later, he sent them to then-Vice President Nixon and Gellman uncovered the foolscap and its scribbles in the Nixon Library He found them entirely positive with lines such as “I’ve . . . seen brave men in tough situations — none came through better.”

“The seven pages are undamaged,” observed the author, “without any tear from a pencil jab.”

Such research of truths buried sixty years ago and subsequently misstated makes “The President and the Apprentice” a truly unique work of history. As Gellman concludes, “Ike trained Nixon as an energetic pupil.”

His education in world affairs makes an unforgettable read.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.


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More than 20 years after his death and four months before what would have been his 103rd birthday, Richard M. Nixon continues to fascinate historians as well as the American public.
Presidential History
Friday, 13 November 2015 01:31 PM
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