Most congenial: Good friend and Whittier classmate Hubert Perry says that RN might have not been the most talented player on the college football team, but he was the most popular.
In recent times, Neal Gabler’s penchant for originality has seemed to atrophy.
His latest article in the Los Angeles Times – in which he asserts that Sarah Palin has inherited the “politics of resentment” from RN– appears to have been ripped out of the pages of Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland:
In contemporary times, no one mastered it as well as Richard Nixon, who came by his anger honestly as a poor boy growing up in Southern California, where he felt ostracized by the local “in” crowd. He spent a lifetime trying to get even. Nixon was able to turn his entire existence, much less his political career, into a battle between them and us, the Brahmins and ordinary folk, which made his loss to John F. Kennedy more than a personal political loss. To him, it was a galling defeat of the common man by his presumed social betters.
Gabler goes on to rant bitterly about how RN would subsequently tap into the social resentments of the “silent majority” and would ride those resentments all the way to the White House in 1969.
Hubert Perry, a 96 year-old life long resident of Whittier, California, and a boyhood and college friend of RN, says Gabler’s statements indicate bad research at best, or at worst an outright lie.
Perry, who attended both Whittier High School and College with RN, remembers an affable and hardworking young man, who was very much part of his local community.
“At night he went out for football,” Perry explained. “he wasn’t the best player, but he gave the team a shot-in the arm.”
RN was also a skilled debater and tried out for several plays in college.
In his junior year, RN was elected student body president (far from being a resentful wound licker, he was elected as an officer — usually president — of every class between high school and college).
A fellow Quaker, Perry’s father Herman L. Perry was the branch manager at the Bank of America in Whittier. “He knew everyone in town,” Perry explained, and would later help RN join a Whittier law firm, following his graduation from Duke University law school and his acceptance to the California state bar.
If it matters much, he was very in with the local “in” crowd. So much so, that he was approached to run for office early on. The President in his own words:
I joined the Kiwanis club of La Habra and the 20-30 Club, a group for young business and professional men between those ages. By 1941, I had pretty well established myself in the community. I had been elected president of the 20-30 Club, and was the president of the Whittier College Alumni Association., president of the Duke University Alumni of California, president of the Orange County Association of Cities, and the youngest member ever chosen for the Whittier College board of trustees. I was approached by several of the town’s Republican leaders about running for the state assembly. I was flattered and interested in this suggestion, but the war intervened.
After his service in World War II, RN was encouraged by Herman Perry to run for California’s 12th district against Democratic incumbent Jerry Voorhis:
I am writing you this short note to ask if you would like to be a candidate for Congress on the Republican ticket in 1946.
Jerry Voorhis expects to run – registration is about 50-50. The Republicans are gaining.
Please airmail me your reply if you are interested.
Yours very truly,
P.S. Are you a registered voter in California?
Gabler also apparently fails to grasp some key historical trends.
In a series of debates, RN successfully challenged Voorhis on the issues. But his eventual surge to victory reflected the national mood of the 1946 midterm elections. President Harry Truman became increasingly unpopular for his handling of the economy, and was hampered by a dreadful approval rating of 32 percent.
The Republicans would pick up 55 seats nationwide and take control of the House of Representatives.
It’s no wonder that Gabler’s Times piece (which talks about resentment, but positively seethes with it) reflects a failure to understand what RN and his times were really like.
Community man: RN with PN and daughter Tricia at their house in Whittier in 1946.