A Majestic Chronicle of A Majestic Election,
This review is from: The Making of the President 1960 (Harper Perennial Political Classics) (Paperback)
"The Making of the President 1960" is initial volume in Theodore H. White's classic series of histories of presidential campaigns. Everything makes this book a classic, the personalities, the issues, the campaign and the artful writing of a superb journalist. Whether you are looking for history, a stroll down memory lane or just entertaining reading, this book is the place to look.
As readers of my Amazon reviews know, I have read extensively in history. I also have childhood memories of seeing John F. Kennedy in a motorcade down State Street in East St. Louis in October 1960. Even with that background I learned much about this campaign from this tome.
White begins the narrative on election night in the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport with a reflection on the path that brought the candidate and his team to that night and their rendezvous with history. The reader is made privy to the family exchanges as the nation made its decision and the precinct by precinct analysis as the returns poured in. With victory secured and claimed, White then takes us back to the beginning.
This book lays out the contenders: Hubert Humphrey, his record too liberal and his base too limited to win, but a useful stalking horse for those counting on a deadlock; Lyndon Johnson, Senate majority leader and Stuart Symington, a respected senator, both of whom distained the primary route; Adlai Stevenson, who made men proud to be Democrats and, because of that, may have deserved a chance to run against someone other than the General; and John F. Kennedy, who, after failing to secure the 1956 vice-presidential nomination, was determined not to fail again.
Each candidate had his own path to the White House. Humphrey had to win primaries to establish himself as the people's choice. Kennedy had to go the primary route in order to prove, to the party leaders and the country, that a Catholic could win and then use his popular support to win over the favorite sons and the party bosses. Johnson, Symington and Stevenson needed Humphrey to bloody Kennedy enough to cause a deadlocked convention that might give each of them a chance. Surprisingly, the one with the best chance in such a circumstance might have been Symington.
White takes the reader on a ride through the snows of Wisconsin and the hills of West Virginia. Kennedy had to take the Humphrey bait in Hubert's neighboring state in order to try to finish HHH off. The narrow victory, in which Humphrey won in heavily Protestant areas bordering on Minnesota and Kennedy won in Catholic areas farther from Minnesota, forced a rematch in heavily Protestant West Virginia. Gyrating polls and a whirlwind campaign produced a lopsided Kennedy win that established him as the front runner and enabled his team to pry enough votes from the leaders to get a first ballot victory in Los Angeles. The choice of Lyndon Johnson for vice-president is another drama skillfully recorded by the author.
The Republican choice was much simpler. The favorite was Vice-President Nixon who's only obstacle was Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York. A series of meetings and commitments made for an unchallenged, but bumpy, march to the nomination.
The tickets set, the book races into the momentous campaign. We travel along as Kennedy addresses the religious issue before the Houston Ministerial Alliance, the two candidates deal with the imprisonment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and negotiate over the question of the first Presidential debates. Ironically it was Nixon, after agreeing to the debates confident that his debating skill would score a knock-out blow, who was harmed by the face to face encounters. White does an exceptional job of taking the race down to the wire with Nixon's illness, adherence to his 50 state pledge and campaign disorganization comparing unfavorably to the Kennedy machine. In the end, the outcome was so close that any advantage, and slip-up or any public whim can be said to have made the difference.
The election itself was majestic. Majestic in its personalities, involving four consecutive presidents: Eisenhower who chafed as Nixon kept his distance; Kennedy, the handsome winner; Johnson, the runner up who would succeed to the office; and Nixon who, eight years later, would return to power in the aftermath of a violence ridden and war torn Johnson administration. It was majestic in its transitional scope. This race passed the torch to a new generation of Americans- "born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed." It was this election that got the country "moving again", moving from an era relative peace and complacency to a period of social progress and upheaval, inspiring exploration of space and demoralizing lawlessness, protest and rioting. It was an election that cried for a majestic chronicle. Theodore H. White has written it and we should all read it.