It was 59 years ago that Richard Nixon made his first speech before the House of Representatives:
I think that every Member of the House is in substantial agreement with the Attorney General in his recent statements on the necessity of rooting out Communist sympathizers from our American institutions.
“Meanwhile in Look magazine, Eleanor Roosevelt observed The Russians Are Tough,” says David Ehrenstein, who will doubtless appreciate Nelson Algren’s remarks, also from that golden age of snoops and dupes when the late, great novelist’s life was turned inside out and upside down by the FBI and other Red hunters.
“Say I’m standing knee-deep, and sinking, in the muddy waters of the Little Calumet, ” Algren wrote.
Some anxious-looking patriot paddles up, identifying himself as the Washington correspondent of The New Yorker bringing tidings of comfort and joy: namely, that if the Little Calumet were the Volga I’d be up to my ears. And paddles away as contentedly as if he’d really done something for me.
He hasn’t done a thing, this roving mercenary with the shaky gerund. Not even when he warns me that I better stop saying Ouch when McCarthy gives the screw another turn — lest the Kremlin overhear my yip and tape record it for rebroadcasting to Europe. Who’s paying him for God’s sake?
The insistence of these long-remaindered intellectuals on short leashes that, compared to the drive for conformity in the USSR, we don’t have any notion as yet of what the real thing can be like, reveals loyalty to nobody save Henry Luce. Whose dangerous dictum it is that it is now America’s part “to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.” …
When we can make a half-hero out of a subaqueous growth like Whittaker Chambers, and a half-heroine out of a broomstick crackpot like Hester McCullough, and then place a government employee under charges because unidentified informants alleged that “his convictions on the question of civil rights extended slightly beyond that of the average individual,” it is time to call a halt.
Prescient words from “Nonconformity,” a booklength essay Algren wrote between 1950 and 1953. It was published for the first time in 1996 by Seven Stories Press, with an afterword by Daniel Simon, who rescued the mansucript from oblivion.
Some presidents don’t deserve to be honored, not on President’s Day or ever. Nixon is one. The Bullshitter-in-Chief is another.