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The Making of the President 1960 (Harper Perennial Political Classics) Paperback – November 3, 2009
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Students of politics and political reporting should cheer: This too- long-out-of-print classic is coming back. The book and the campaign it covered are throwbacks to an era more and more citizens, increasingly mired in sound-bites and tabloidism, are at least subconsciously desperate to resuscitate. You'll be amazed at how knowledgeable (and sometimes even wise) both White and the candidates he covers--Kennedy and Nixon--seem. Yes, it was too good to be true, but what a nice idea. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“A notable achievement. White has written a fascinating story of a fascinating campaign.” (Time magazine)
“No book that I know of has caught the heartbeat of a campaign as strikingly as Theodore White has done in The Making of the President 1960.” (New York Times)
“A masterpiece . . . full of deep insights into political power in America and how our democracy works in choosing the President. It gripped me from beginning to end as very few books have.” (William L. Shirer)
“More than a fascinating account of how one man succeeded in reaching the White House, while other failed; it is a graduate lesson in the rough, relentless, subtle and devious workings of American politics. It is a magnificent job of reporting, but it is also history.” (Saturday Review)
“[White] revolutionized the art of political reporting.” (William F. Buckley)
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Top customer reviews
This is Jack Kennedy seen before we found out about all those women and before we heard that Sam Giancana said to Judith Campbell Exner, the girlfriend he shard with the President, "Your boyfriend wouldn't have been elected without me." It's Nixon years before Watergate.
The personal details are not as juicy as those we get now. Teddy White mentions on more than one occasion Jack Kennedy's deep need for soup, but when he talks about Kennedy's witty remarks about his fellow politicians, he leaves it there. He doesn't give us any idea of what Kennedy actually said. The candidate's actual remarks to him are rarely if ever quoted.
Then there are other assertions made that no longer hold true We're told that Nelson Rockefeller needs to run for the presidency is 1960 because if another man is elected and wins two terms, he will need to wait until he is 60 to run again which White judges is "too old." Women as candiates aren't even thought of. White observes: "If the conventions do their job well, and they usually, two men of exceptional ability will be chosen."
Though White explains that he was denied a chance to speak to Nixon directly, his portrait is somehow more vivid than that of Kennedy. Kennedy handled White very well and White, in turn, is filled with admiration of Kennedy. White understands when other reporters are being flattered but it's not as clear that he realizes when he's being charmed.
On crowd size, White makes one observation that perhaps Bernie Sanders could learn from: "Bu a big crowd, however huge or enthusiastic, means nothing at all--no greater demonstrations occurred than for Kennedy in Ohio. or for Nixon in Georgia; yet both of them lost those roaring states stunningly.
=== The Good Stuff ===
* We like to think that Barrack Obama harnessed a new force, the internet, in his campaigns of 2008. No doubt he was the first candidate to truly have an online presence, but as this book shows, he was mere following in the footsteps of men before him. JFK and even to some extent Richard Nixon put the new medium of television to work for them in 1960. In many cases they learned by doing, and looking back, it seems that JFK's men learned faster. But if you substitute "website" and "email" for "TV ads" and "directed phone campaigns", the election technology of 2008 and 1960 is remarkably similar.
* We also see many of the same issues showing up as in modern elections. The choice of an ideal running mate, what states to campaign in, how to allocate scarce resources...really the game hasn't changed all that much.
* White does a nice job of relating the tale. Even though the text is over 50 years old, it still reads like a contemporary work, and could easily have been a more modern work. It was very interesting to read of Nixon while he was still considered somewhat of a "good guy", without all the baggage that would clog up the story if it had been written after 1973.
* White seemed to have good access to the Kennedy campaign, including details of some rather confidential meetings on strategy and decisions on when, where and even if he was going to run. The Nixon folks, as expected, were someone more secretive, but even parts of that tale come through in the book.
=== The Not-So-Good Stuff===
* The book screams for an "Afterword" describing the net results of the 1960 election-not so much from a political history viewpoint, but its effect on campaigns in general. For certain it was the first election that showed the need and benefits of "big money" in campaign chests, but also the ability for a relative unknown (JFK) to bypass, or at least influence the choice of a party for their candidate. Certainly Reagan, Carter, Clinton and Obama took note.
=== Summary ===
Anyone who is a fan of politics, and especially of the strategies and tactics of political campaigns will enjoy the book. it is a bit outdated on details, but the underlying concepts of communication and use of technology in elections are as relevant today as 1961. I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest.