President Richard M. Nixon: the House Un-American Activities Committee

About future President Richard M. Nixon's time on the House Un-American Activities Committee as he pushed the anti-Communist agenda.

In the 80th Congress, Nixon was naturally assigned to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and he was soon leading a crusade for tough new "antisubversive" legislation. His major proposal--introduced as the Mundt-Nixon bill--was so repressive that even Nixon's fellow Republican Thomas Dewey condemned it as an attempt "to beat down ideas with clubs." Though Congress refused to pass this legislation, the well-publicized debate helped to establish Nixon--still in his freshman term--as the nation's leading Red-baiter. He solidified this reputation with his leadership in the celebrated Hiss case. When a former communist (and probable psychotic) named Whittaker Chambers appeared before the Un-American Activities Committee to accuse former State Department official Alger Hiss of communist involvement, Nixon was at 1st the only one to believe the charges. In the months that followed, he pursued the case with such energy, persistence, and clever manipulation of the evidence and the press that Hiss was publicly discredited and Nixon's name became a household word. (Eventually, enough evidence was gathered to send Hiss to prison, though the facts of his case continue to be the subject of heated controversy.) By 1948, as he faced reelection back in Whittier, Nixon had emerged as a local hero and was nominated by both the Republicans and the Democrats in the primaries. In 1950, this popular young congressman was ready to move on to better things, and he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. His opponent was Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, a liberal and a former Hollywood actress, who was immediately dubbed "The Pink Lady" by Nixon. One piece of "hard-hitting" Nixon campaign literature was addressed directly to Mrs. Douglas: "You, and you can't deny it, have earned the praise of communist and pro-communist newspapers for opposing the very things Nixon has stood for." The most widely circulated leaflet of the campaign was the infamous "Pink Sheet," printed on pink paper and distributed to over 500,000 California voters. The leaflet stated that on 354 separate occasions Nixon's opponent had voted the same way as a "notorious communist-line congressman" from New York. The sheet failed to report that on hundreds of other issues, Mrs. Douglas had disagreed with the congressman in question, or that even Nixon himself, on 112 different occasions, had voted with this same "notorious" left-winger. It was in honor of his campaign tactics in this election that a small Southern California paper, the Independent Review, 1st used the label "Tricky Dick" above Nixon's picture. The nickname seemed so appropriate that it was soon widely used. Nevertheless, Nixon won a handsome victory over his Democratic opponent--crushing Helen Douglas by a margin of nearly 700,000 votes.

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