The second best of the series. The best, of course, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Making of the President 1960, the groundbreaking start of what is part journalism and part history of election coverage. Although the 1968 election was more interesting than 1972 (as an election), as the books go, the Making of the President 1972 is a better written story, and hits it out of the park. Theodore H. White really pulls you in on how the underdog McGovern workied his way up the primary ladder to capture the nomination (as surprise to everyone, including McGovern himself). On the Republican side, we see Nixon at his Presidential peak, executing foreign policy moves that amaze the country, and creating a “new majority” for America moving forward. The stunning Nixon landslide comes with a curious lack of coattails, and then the foreboding portend of Watergate begins to cause the much anticipated 2nd term to unravel. Written in 1973, this book was released too early to be considered a complete account about Watergate; however, Watergate and its immediate aftermath shows its evolution and impact on the 1972 election.
Here is the fourth and final installment of Theodore White's The Making of the President series of books covering the 1972 presidential election.
In 1972, Richard Nixon was the incumbent President of the United States. His re-nomination was never in doubt. Most of the early part of the book instead covers the Democratic side of the election. The 1972 election was marked by new rules in the Democratic Party creating more primary elections and thus a more contested battle for the nomination. The Democrats had several major candidates vying for the nomination this cycle. Hubert Humphrey, Democratic nominee in 1968, ran again for President, although he was unable to find enough support. Edmund Muskie was considered the front-runner for a while, but his campaign would collapse. Although there was some doubt as to who the nominee would be, when the Democrats convened their convention, George McGovern, Senator from South Dakota, would be nominated.
The book goes into detail about the missteps of McGovern's campaign. The biggest one would be that of his running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton. Not too shortly after he was nominated for Vice President, it was revealed that Eagleton had a history of mental illness and had gone through electroshock therapy. Although he considered himself cured of it, the public questioned his place on the ticket. McGovern famously said he was behind Eagleton "1000 percent" but the issue did not go away. His place on the ticket would eventually be replaced with Sargent Shriver.
The book also looks at several issues of the election. One of the biggest was the Vietnam War. McGovern was staunchly anti-war. While Nixon worked with the idea of "peace with honor," McGovern wanted the United States out of Vietnam as soon as possible, even if it meant admitting defeat. Another issue was that of busing. Busing meant moving children around to different schools in order to achieve a more appropriate racial balance. Nixon was not a fan of this idea.
During the election, while the Democrats battled over the nomination and McGovern's missteps during his campaign, Nixon played the part of statesman with his famous visits to China and the Soviet Union.
Although the book was published before everything was known, White also delves into the early events of the Watergate scandal. He writes it off as a supremely stupid operation. White, attempting to write history as it happened, obviously was not aware of the full extent of what was going on.
When the United States voted in November, Nixon won re-election in a landslide. He got about 61% of the popular vote. McGovern only carried Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. It was noted how important ticket-splitting effected this election. For example, despite the Nixon landslide, Republicans only gained twelve seats in the House of Representatives and actually lost two seats in the Senate.
I found this book to be an enjoyable and interesting contemporary look at the 1972 presidential election. I would recommend this to those interested in American history or political junkies.
While attending the 1972 Democratic Convention, New York City Mayor John Lindsay watched the comedy of errors around him and stated, "This party seems to have an instinct for suicide." Theodore White clearly shows how the Nixon and McGovern operations were leagues apart in preparation and effectiveness. President Nixon's team was an organized, multipronged attack machine. Senator McGovern's campaign staff was the gang that couldn't shoot straight. A very accurate statement by Mr. White describes the situation going into the presidential campaign, "Mr. McGovern persisted in the Lincolnian tradition of hoping to the better angels of people's nature might summon them to new visions; Mr. Nixon proposed to deal with Americans as they are." This philosophy pretty much in a nutshell set up President Nixon for a near-record-breaking win.
The two issues I have with the late Mr. White's book is he gives scant time to the effects of Governor Wallace's campaign as well as the assassination attempt on the little, Georgian bigot's life and the author's coverage of Watergate is incomplete due to the publishing deadline for the book. The work does, however, cover some interesting ground such as the implosion of Senator Muskie's campaign; the 1970 U.S. Census; race; Baby Boomers; the proliferation of shopping malls; the Thomas Eagleton debacle and frantic search for a VP replacement; and President Nixon's and the liberal presses' mutual, destructive animosity.
It was somewhat freaky that while I was in the middle of reading Mr. White's fourth and last book in his "The Making of the President" series, Senator McGovern died at the age of 90. I know it isn't kosher to speak ill of the dead, but the late Senator ran an extremely terrible campaign; staffed by mostly young zealots who wouldn't have noticed a good idea if it came up and bit them in the backside. The enigma known as the late President Nixon is treated much too kindly considering what came to light after the book was published. Overall, "The Making of the President 1972" has less vim and vigor than the three previous installments. Mr. White, as usual, still displays a mastery of language but the book I found quite depressing and incomplete.
I read this book in 2012. This is how a political book should be written. Ted White does not go on some lengthy, agenda-driven political diatribe. Instead, he gives a rather candid insight into the turmoil that fueled the 1972 election. Obviously, after this book came out, the whole Watergate affair exploded, leaving a revisionist history of how the Dems came to nominate McGovern and how Nixon managed his landslide. White is no Nixon slappy (read his book on the 1968 election, or his book he wrote after this one - Breach of Faith -if you do not believe me). Instead, White gives an unbiased, fair and balanced (!) view of how the 1972 Election shaped up; why McGovern was the Dem nominee; why the country was burned out on 1960s big gov't liberalism; and why Nixon trounced him. His respect for Nixon comes from the fact that, by 1972, Nixon was on the cusp of being a "transformative" President.
This is a good size book, and it is often times dry reading. White packs a lot of information into every sentence. It took me quite some time to finish reading this book. Reading this book now, you can understand how the Dems lost their majority status, how the country moved towards the right, how a conservative Dem like Carter (yes, Fox News people, Jimmy Carter was a conservative Democrat), and a true conservative like Reagan, were able to ride an anti-government wave into power. The seeds of this were brewing by 1970-71, and Nixon sang the tune people wanted to hear in 1972; McGovern did not.
If you want a book that sticks to the facts, without laying on the "commentary" and built-in bias (right or left) that plagues our media these days, then this is the book for you. This is not a character study of Nixon. This is a stick to the facts explanation of how the 1972 Election came to be.
It's too bad we don't have the deference for politicians that we once did. Have politicians changed or have we? I'm always amazed that White was able to write history contemporaneously while writing about current events. I appreciate him now more than I did the first time I read his writings nearly 50 years ago.
Many years ago I got Kennedy's case. It was a revelation. Now this. I do not know anything better to present political campaings at its best. I've been working with this for many years and have such "manual" is a privilege.
The mix between history, methods, journalism, political and marketing knowledge makes these books a seminal work to everybody connected with politics.
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.