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Robert G. Nixon Oral History Interview, October 30, 1970

Oral History Interview with
Robert G. Nixon

News correspondent with the International News Service, 1930-58; served as editor of the service for a time. He first came to Washington, D.C., in 1938 where he served as their State Department and foreign relations correspondent. He was a war correspondent, attached to the British army in France and Belgium, 1940, during invasion of the low countries; evacuated from Dunkirk but later returned to France; evacuated with remnants of the British army from Brest, June 20, 1940; covered London Blitz, 1940-41; war correspondent, attached to United States forces in European theater of operations, 1942-1943; correspondent in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, and Mediterranean theater, participating in North African invasion and campaign. Covered Casablanca conference, 1943; Quebec conference, 1944; and Potsdam, 1945. Washington correspondent covering the White House beginning in 1944.

Bethesda, Maryland
October 30, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nixon Oral History Transcripts]


Notice
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened December, 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nixon Oral History Transcripts]

 



Oral History Interview with
Robert G. Nixon

Bethesda, Maryland
October 30, 1970
By Jerry N. Hess

[635]

NIXON: We had been talking at some considerable length about how political judgments are formed. The most knowledgeable people could be badly wrong.

Sometimes the expectable norms were completely upset. The norm in our history has been that after a war there is a change in administration. This happened at the end of the First World War with Wilson's administration coming to an end. The 1946 bi-election, just a few months after the end of the Second World War, brought in a Republican Congress. The Korean war, a much smaller conflict, was the final blow that turned the Democrats out of office in 1952. The Vietnam war turned Lyndon Johnson out of office.

There had been sixteen years with the

[636]

Democrats in power.

Look what happened to Churchill in the British election after the German surrender in the mid-summer of 1945. Certainly, one of the greatest statesmen in all of Britain's history, was turned out of office. At the end of a war, all of the dissatisfaction comes to the surface.

The labor movement, because of wartime controls, had not been able to get wage increases throughout the war. They wanted a change. The farmer who had price controls on his produce wanted a change. Industry had the prices of its products held down, but more than that, it was not able to turn out any civilian products for the entire period of the war. Industry had been converted to producing weapons to fight a war. So, there was dissatisfactions there. With all of these things, it was expected that the Democrats would

[637]

be turned out of office, and a Republican administration, regardless of who was the candidate, would come in.

All of these things were in my mind in 1948. All these things that I've enumerated certainly gave great weight to the preponderant knowledgeable opinion in the country that it was an open and shut case. Come election day, it didn't seem to matter who the candidates were. The Democrats would go out, and in would come the Republicans.

People said it did not matter what kind of a campaign Dewey conducted because he would win. Dewey conducted a very prissy sort of campaign, because he was sort of a prissy man. His appearance was against him. The very fact that he represented, in the public mind, that implacable financial area, Wall Street, and not the common man.

[638]

Truman made a lot of errors. We've already gone over the fact that his reputation was not very high. His public image was so bad that his own party was trying to turn him out. It was no wonder that there was widespread acceptance that this was going to happen.

When we made that first cross-country whistlestop swing in June, Truman fought and won his party's nomination against great odds. I accepted this as the normal course of events. This continued through the summer. There was nothing to change my mind or anybody else's mind.

The change in my mind was a gradual one. It was based entirely on the reaction to the manner in which Truman conducted his campaign, and the things he told the people where he spoke. As the farmer in Dexter, Iowa, at the National Plowing Contest said to me, "This man makes

[639]

sense." I've already pointed out how that meant to me that Truman was going to get the farm vote.

There are only three or four major groups of votes in this country. One was the farm vote; another was the labor vote. There was the white collar vote of the city and suburbs, and the minority groups. Most of the minority vote was mixed up in these other major groups. Then there were the other unknown factors of the swing vote, which in itself could be decisive. The change in my opinion was a very gradual one. It was based upon the public turnout, which day after day, week after week during the campaign, snowballed. Though the crowds started out small during the June trip, they became enormous as the campaign continued. The beginning was Labor Day at Cadillac Square in Detroit.

[640]

It was not only the size of the crowds, it was their attentiveness. They gave an enthusiastic response, and you could tell it was genuine. If it's a puffed up balloon from an organized turnout that is palpable. There was a vast difference between that sort of reaction, and people who have come out to listen to a man because they are genuinely interested in issues.

HESS: Even though you were on the Truman train all the time, did you hear from people who were on the Dewey train about how the crowds were reacting to Governor Dewey's appearances and speeches?

NIXON: Of course, I heard, but I've never been one to seek second-hand information. It's too loaded with partisanships and lack of objectivity.

[641]

HESS: You don't believe that newsmen should sit around and interview each other?

NIXON: No, I most certainly don't.

HESS: I believe that that was a comment that was made after the '48 campaign. That that's what the newsmen spent too much of their time doing.

NIXON: Yes. Yes, that was I think, certainly true, but I liked to see things firsthand and photograph them in my own mind.

HESS: You mentioned the incident in Dexter, Iowa, where you spoke to the farmer that was there. You said you had it in mind to go out and find someone who you could interview. Were there times at other stops when you purposefully got off the train to interview people to try to find out what the mood was in that particular area?

[642]

NIXON: Oh, yes, that naturally followed. In the cities we would go in, I would talk to taxi cab drivers. I would talk to waitresses in the hotel dining rooms. I talked to politicians. Of course, what I got from politicians had to be weighed very, very carefully. Their point of view carried with it the partisanship of the party. They wanted to see their man win. Unless things were really dreadful for him, it was very unusual for them to come clean and say, "Sorry, you haven't got a chance."

HESS: What kind of an impression did you come away with after speaking with the average citizen?

NIXON: Oh, they were all for Truman, almost uniformly. Their remarks about Dewey were usually critical. They didn't like little things about his personality. They would tell

[643]

me that he represented the wealthy classes.

HESS: The Wall Street classes.

NIXON: Yes. That was his image. I had no criticism of Tom Dewey. I knew him well in earlier years when he was Attorney General of New York and later Governor. But I'm trying to report factually, and this was his image.

The farm vote seemed to be going for Truman. There was also the labor vote. Despite the difficulties that Truman had had with labor immediately after the war, particularly with the leaders of the Railroad Brotherhood.

HESS: A. F. Whitney at that time said he would spend every penny in their treasury to defeat Mr. Truman, but, in 1948, he was one of Mr. Truman's main supporters.

NIXON: Yes. Alvanley Johnson.

[644]

HESS: That's right.

NIXON: As you pointed out so concisely, these troubles were behind him. Labor, which had supported the Roosevelt administration, was now solidly behind Truman.

He had the farm vote, and he had the labor vote. Certainly he had the vote of the preponderance of the people who turned out for these whistlestops. It seemed to me that he had the rural vote as such. Now, the city vote and the suburban vote, were a more difficult factor to determine.

HESS: One of the factors there was Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party.

NIXON: Yes, that is true. There was this third candidate.

HESS: Also a fourth candidate, who we need to

[645]

discuss pretty soon, Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats.

NIXON: Yes, that was certainly true. This was a quite mixed up election.

HESS: Wallace pulling the liberal vote away, and Thurmond pulling the southern vote away.

NIXON: Yes. I really should have remembered to mention that as one of the unusual factors that determined this widespread opinion.

HESS: The Democrats usually relied both on the South and on the liberals.

NIXON: Yes. The southern vote, for generations after the Civil War had