Campaigning and election "cycles" now seem to be eternal. And since (most) people only vote once in these cycles, I've noticed a strong tendency in all the hoopla, and endless emails that I receive: no one is actually asking for my vote, or how I might be able to influence just one more person to vote for them; instead, it is this endless drumbeat of "send me money." And all the people asking already have far more money than I. Millionaire beggars. So, I wanted to reflect: Has it always been this way? And I decided to re-read this classic account of the 1960 election, a book I first read almost 50 years ago. (Note: I've also read his accounts of the '64, '68 and '72 elections, but I had remembered this one as being his best.)
The election ended up being extremely close. As White concludes his account, he notes that if only 4,500 voters in Illinois, and 28,000 voters in Texas had changed their minds, Richard Nixon would have been President in 1960. On the re-read, I felt that White, simply as a political analyst, who can explain to the reader the complex political forces that are operative, is brilliant. Nothing is diminished after 50 years, though the English language has changed a bit, with different connotations today for "gay" and "girl."
White starts his account at the Kennedy "compound" of houses at Hyannisport, MA. awaiting the electoral results. White deftly draws succinctly portraits of the character of the principals involved in the campaign, certainly one of White's strengths throughout the book. Then he goes back in time, starting in '56, when Kennedy essentially made the decision to run in '60, and to marshal a team of "the best and the brightest" to achieve victory. The author has alternating chapters on the Kennedy and Nixon campaigns. Kennedy had to fight off challenges from Humphrey and Symington, and used the primary electoral process effectively to that end. As White says, all the professional politicians hated the primaries since they stir up internecine feuds, and provide material that can be used by the opposition in the main election. Nixon, being Eisenhower's Vice President, was in a much stronger position within his own party, but still had to fight off Rockefeller. White relates how Nixon essentially "caved" to Rockefeller's demands on "defense." Another key insight was how Nixon equivocated on whether he was targeting the white Southern vote, or the black, big city, northern vote, to his detriment in both categories. Kennedy had the "brilliant team," and a brilliantly executed strategy; Nixon was very much the "loner," with a bumbling strategy, and yet the election was decided by razor-thin margins.
White commences the book underscoring the uniqueness, and, despite its flaws, how effective is this process is in enabling a transfer of political power without bloodshed, the latter being the "norm" in human history. The chapter at the beginning of Part II, "Retrospect on Yesterday's Future" is an incisive portrait of America at the end of the `50's. A couple of startling "factoids" from that chapter: one in four homes that Americans lived in were built between 1950 and 1960 (and I was in one of the four at that time), and the homes having TV's went from 11% at the beginning of the decade, to 88% at the end. Despite the very large cloud of possible nuclear war with the Soviet Union, it was a time of improving economics for most Americans.
Ironies? There were a few. How strange today to read White's phrase "the menace of Laos" (p. 450), whose border I would be hard up against for much longer than I cared, within eight years. And White was very much a political "insider" of a reporter, with "access" and all, so after the election he is in the Oval Office, and comments on the thickness of the glass in the French doors, strong enough to "stop an assassin's bullet." Oh, as to the money grubbing during the campaign, White said that the candidates were doing it 50% of the time (the relatively low percentage is another reason to be nostalgic to for the `50's), and he even touchingly portrays Hubert Horatio Humphrey writing a $750 check out of his "grocery money" to a TV station in West Virginia, for air time. A very worthwhile re-read. 5-stars.
"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.
on November 28, 2013
I was a Junior in High School when Kennedy was killed. I saw him campaign for President and witnessed his speaking. Political Science fascinates me. So I thought it was a great read because I could relate, remembered many of the names in the book and looking back on 50 years of politics in America am fascinated by what it has become. Anyone who likes political campaigns will enjoy this book.
on September 4, 2015
The presidential campaign book that started it all. A classic must-read. Writing about presidential campaigns and the forces behind them has never been the same since Teddy White wrote 'The Making of the President 1960.'
on May 29, 2014
Although originally published in 1961, Theodore White's "The Making of the President 1960" is still relevant for today's readers. Even though White's account is a "real time" account of the 1960 presidential election, his analysis of the political issues and political personalities of the day make this still a fascinating read.
White's account is more than a chronological narrative of the events of the 1960 election, but also an analysis of the political issues of the day such as race, economics, national security, religion, etc. For instance, it is interesting to read White's account of how both political parties were facing the race issue of the day. The Democrats were having to decide whether to support racial equality and end segregation and gain northern blacks vote(a growing voter base in 1960) or lose the southern white vote. The Republicans were facing the same difficult question of whether to support northern blacks on racial issues or try to break the Democratic Party's hold on the south by standing against racial equality.
White also looks at the candidates in detail(Kennedy, Nixon, Humphrey, Rockefeller, etc.), White is often criticized by modern readers of being too "pro Kennedy" or even being "anti Nixon". But I feel this isn't fair to White, Kennedy allowed complete access for White, while Nixon didn't. Even so, White gave Nixon a fair shake in my opinion.
This book should be read by anyone interested in political science, post world war II history, or an interest in Kennedy and Nixon.
on April 1, 2014
This book takes you right there to the daily grind of the two campaigns - Kennedy's and Nixon's and paints an incredible portrait of both men and why one is loved and revered beyond the terms of his own reality, and why the other is appropriately vilified.
on September 3, 2013
I wish White was writing about the presidential elections today. His style and insight is captivating, educating and interesting. A page turner that holds your interest even though you already know how it ends.
on November 28, 2010
Journalist Theodore H. White (1915-86) wrote this superbly exciting look at the 1960 Presidential Campaign. White educates readers on the process of running for President, from pre-primary planning, to conventions and the fall campaign. Readers get an inside look at Senator John F. Kennedy (43) and Vice President Richard Nixon (47). We learn about also-rans Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Stuart Symington, Adlai Stevenson, and Nelson Rockefeller. We also get a strong look at such issues as Soviet Communism, Nikita Khrushchev, civil rights, economic progress, demographic trends, etc.
Readers should note that this campaign played out in a different political era. Nominating conventions still mattered in 1960, as did the unit rule, favorite sons, political machines, campaigning by train, and Kennedy's being Catholic. The south still leaned Democratic in 1960, while internal polling and slick TV image-making was far less advanced.
I particularly liked the author's re-creation of the exciting fall campaign. Both candidates stumped coast-to-coast before an audience of millions, while the vital TV debates showed Kennedy more favorably than the over-tired Nixon. Then came the final sprint, both men campaigning furiously on very little sleep. Finally the voters spoke, but their razor-thin (Kennedy) verdict wasn't in until the following day. The author concludes with a post-election analysis of the campaign, voting, and the challenges of governing.
This book was a trend-setter; today readers can choose from several campaign biograpies but not then. Also, the author wrote similar follow-up books after the campaigns of 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1980. This book has a pro-Kennedy bias (and avoids his womanizing), but remains a superbly exciting read.
on January 20, 2014
Theodore White does an INCREDIBLE job of giving you an inside look at the 1960 Presidential election. For a reader in the 21st century you can see how the road to the White House has evolved. White brings you behind the scenes information that historians & political junkies will enjoy. The campaign strategy that plays out is fascinating. The book is slanted more toward the Kennedy campaign, but I think that is in part because the brain trusts of the two campaigns each had their own agenda and Nixon's camp was much more guarded and did not allow access. While the Kennedy camp was more forthcoming. But I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend it highly to anyone who has an interest in Presidential elections. You will not be disappointed.
on January 12, 2008
Nowadays, when a campaign book is written it amounts to little more than a collection of Newsweek articles. Theodore White's Making of the Presidency 1960 on the other hand gets into the nuts and bolts of presidential campaigns, party machinery, and voter demographics in a way not really seen anymore. It's about the big ideas that shape national elections and the individual people that make it all operate.
Given the current political process, some of the 1960 action seems quite distant. First, several candidates were aiming for a convention strategy, completely ignoring the primaries that were then far less important. Second, at one point the book mentions eight minute statements given by Kennedy and Nixon during one of their debates. Nowadays, we are lucky if a debate statement on the most important national issue lasts for more than two minutes.
The book's publication in 1961 also makes it interesting, as it leaves the reader at the threshold of the Kennedy presidency but is completely unaware of the events to follow. Not only does this include the assassination of two Kennedy brothers, but also the election of Richard Nixon to the presidency in 1968.
I have also read the Making of the Presidency 1964, but not the two successive volumes. I highly recommend this and the follow-up.