The Daily Beast is offering an exclusive excerpt from The Pink Lady: The Many Lives of Helen Gahagan Douglas — a new book by Sally Denton about the 1950 California Senate race.
Richard Nixon —the just-post-Hiss-case young 12th District congressman— ran against Helen Gahagan Douglas — the Broadway-and-movie-star-turned 14th District congresswoman. The result was a shellacking —59.23% to 40.76%— that has ever since been the source of many misunderstandings — many of them fueled by still-lingering animosities.
And, at least on the basis of this Beastly excerpt, few of these misunderstandings will be illuminated, much less put to rest, by this new book.
That said, excerpts are purposely chosen to pique interest and create controversy, so I will withhold judgment until I’m able to check out the book itself. But, because many readers won’t get beyond the excerpts, at least a few words may be in order at this early point.
Ms. Denton’s tone is tendentious and perfervid — perhaps reflecting her time as an investigative reporter for Jack Anderson. She writes that “In a carefully orchestrated whispering campaign of smear, fear, and innuendo that would go down in American history as the dirtiest ever—while also becoming the model for the next half-century and beyond—Nixon exploited America’s xenophobic suspicions and reflexive chauvinism with devastating consequences.” Douglas, on the other hand, was “the Democratic Party’s bright and shining hope—rich, smart, and charismatic—who, as one of the first women in the U.S. Senate, would be a powerful voice for an enlightened social policy.”
I can’t help thinking that 256 pages of this is going to be very hard going. It appears to be history of the Brodie-Morris-Perlstein school — over written and under researched. And, indeed, it turns out that Roger Morris was Ms. Denton’s collaborator on her earlier history of Las Vegas.