Thursday, November 23, 2006

Warren, Nixon, McWilliams

You can learn a lot about American political history by studying three Californians who hit the national scene at about the same time: Earl Warren, Richard Nixon, and Carey McWilliams. I was reminded of this yesterday when I saw Jim Newton's new bio of Warren, Justice for All.

There was no love lost between Nixon and the other two men, but the Warren-McWilliams relationship was more complicated. McWilliams saw Warren as a right-wing, anti-labor opportunist beholden to the state's major business leaders, especially the owners of the Los Angeles Times and Oakland Tribune. He continued to regard Governor Warren as "the personification of Smart Reaction"--even after Warren fought for a variety of progressive programs and followed McWilliams's suggestion to investigate the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles.

Why the continued animosity? Well, he certainly didn't respect Attorney General Warren's role in the Japanese-American evacuation and internment. Also, Warren told Central Valley audiences in 1942 that his first official act as governor would be to fire McWilliams as head of the Division of Immigration and Housing. (Much to the annoyance of growers, McWilliams had held hearings to raise wages and improve housing for farm workers.)

Is that why McWilliams had difficulty explaining the record of Chief Justice Warren, perhaps the most important progressive jurist of the twentieth century? In the end, McWilliams subscribed to the "he-grew-in-office" school of thought, but Warren was one of the few figures that McWilliams didn't read clearly from the get-go. It appears that, for once, McWilliams may have let his personal feelings cloud his political judgment.

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