I’m not sure it’s possible to answer this one. Unfortunately, we don’t know the extent of Lincoln’s sense of humor because we have no video or audio of him and there wasn’t a White House Correspondents Dinner or anything in the 1860s. We can guess about it since we know he enjoyed jokes and to tell his funny stories to folks (sometimes over-and-over-and-over again!), but it’s not like there is some sort of instrument to measure and compare the senses of humor of two people.
Plus — and we don’t know this for sure, either, so it’s just a wild guess — I think Lincoln and Obama are probably funny in different ways. Lincoln seemed to have a story for everything, loved to hear a good joke and was always ready to tell one of his own, was self-deprecating about his height and his looks, and enjoyed reading many of the comedic writers of his day. Obama’s humor is probably not as goofy or silly as Lincoln supposedly could be, but President Obama has great comedic timing. Those White House Correspondents Dinners can be awkward with Presidents who might have funny speeches written for them but lose a little on the presentation because they aren’t used to the rhythm of comedy (I’m looking at you, President Clinton!). Obama has a great delivery when he’s trying to be funny.
Let’s not forget that Reagan was a pretty funny guy, too. He and JFK had really quick wits and funny little quips. They also had good comedic timing and delivery, especially Reagan, although I guess being a professional actor helped with that. George W. Bush could be funny at times, too, but didn’t have too many opportunities to let loose during his Administration since the world happened to go to hell for eight years.
On November 8, 1960, millions of Americans went to the polls in what would become one of the closest Presidential elections in American History: John Fitzgerald Kennedy versus Richard Milhous Nixon.
That morning, Kennedy voted in Boston and Nixon voted in Whittier, California. The candidates had spent months canvassing the nation, working to get every last vote — and every last vote was needed. For the past several weeks, Kennedy and Nixon had criss-crossed the country, debated one another, and been working non-stop to be elected the 35th President of the United States.
After they voted that day, there were results to monitor, precincts to watch, election day problems to take care of, and many other things to worry about. Imagine being on the cusp of the Presidency — with a 50/50 chance of being elected the next President of a superpower in the grip of the Cold War, with the threat of Communism and nuclear weapons hanging over your head, and the hopes of hundreds of millions of people pinned on either your victory or defeat. Imagine being in the position of John F. Kennedy or Richard Nixon on November 8, 1960. What would you do?
John F. Kennedy put the control of his campaign in the hands of his younger brother, Bobby, and then took a nap.
And Richard Nixon took a road trip to Mexico.
Once Nixon voted that morning at a private home in a quiet Whittier neighborhood, he had been scheduled to head to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (where Bobby Kennedy would be assassinated eight years later) for the Election Day vigil and the long wait for the returns which would indicate whether he would be moving into the White House or facing an early retirement.
Nixon was finished voting by 8:00 AM and hopped into his black Cadillac limousine to be driven to the Ambassador. Several blocks away from the polling place, Nixon ordered the limousine to stop. Along with a military aide and a Secret Service agent, Nixon jumped out of the limo and into a white convertible follow-up car driven by an officer from the Los Angeles Police Department. Nixon took the LAPD officer’s place, got behind the wheel and ditched the press which had been following him.
Driving to La Habra, California, Nixon made a quick visit with his mother, making sure she had voted for her son in the Presidential election. Nixon drove south along the Pacific Coast Highway, with no specific destination. He stopped for gasoline in Oceanside and told a gas station attendant — startled to see the Vice President of the United States on a joyride on the very day that he stood for election as President — “I’m just out for a little ride.” Nixon confided that it was his only source of relaxation.
As the group of four men, with Nixon in the driver’s seat, reached San Diego — over two hours away from Nixon’s campaign headquarters at L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel — Nixon pointed out that he hadn’t been to Tijuana in at least 25 years.
As David Pietrusza wrote in his recap of Nixon’s road trip, “Richard Nixon — the ultimate control freak — was winging it on the most important day of his life.” Not only that, but the sitting Vice President of the United States and the man who many Americans were choosing to become the next President, impulsively decided to leave the entire country while those voters were still at the polls.
In Tijuana, Nixon and his party headed to a restaurant called Old Heidelberg. Despite the fact it was owned by a German, Border Patrol agents told Nixon that it was the best place in Tijuana for Mexican food. Joined at the last moment by Tijuana’s Mayor, Xicotencati Leyva Aleman, Nixon, his military aide, a Secret Service agent, and an average LAPD officer ate enchiladas in Mexico while John F. Kennedy took a nap in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
When Nixon’s press secretary Herb Klein was asked about the missing candidate, he had to tell reporters that Nixon often took some private moments on hectic days such as Election Day. Really, though, Klein had no clue where Nixon was, eventually admitting that the Vice President was “driving around without any destination”.
After lunch in Tijuana, Nixon and his companions headed back north towards the United States border crossing. The LAPD officer took over driving duties as Nixon sat in the convertible’s passenger seat. A shocked Border Patrol guard shook hands with the Vice President and asked the man who was currently on the ballot for the Presidency, “Are you all citizens of the United States?”.
Nixon and company drove to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano, which Nixon called “one of my favorite Catholic places” on the day he faced the only successful Catholic candidate for the Presidency in American History. Nixon took his three companions on a quick, informal tour of the Mission. “For a few minutes, we sat in the empty pews for an interlude of complete escape,” Nixon later recalled.
The missing candidate and his three road trip buddies arrived back in Los Angeles before the election results started rolling in. Nixon had to explain his trip to reporters who had been searching for him all day. “It wasn’t planned. We just started driving and that’s where we wound up.”
In his Memoirs, Nixon didn’t go too far into explaining why he escaped on Election Day, but a paragraph about that day is pretty illuminating:
”After one last frenetic week, it was over. Since the convention in August I had traveled over 65,000 miles and visited all fifty states. I had made 180 scheduled speeches and delivered scores of impromptu talks and informal press conferences. There was nothing more I could have done.”
Except escape to Mexico while JFK slept.
I think Goldwater would have had a better chance in 1968 than 2012, but I don’t know if I can envision a scenario where Goldwater could ever win 270 electoral votes. McGovern, I believe, would have an easier time today because what he was in 1972 was really a sneak peek at what the Democratic Party would become in the 1990’s until now.
I will say this about Barry Goldwater — while he certainly scared the crap out of a lot of people in 1964, there were a lot of other factors that played a big role in LBJ’s landslide victory. When people went to the polls in November 1964, they did so less than a year after JFK’s assassination. With everything going on in the world, there was a hunger for political stability and LBJ offered that. Americans didn’t want to have three different Presidents in a span of less than 15 months. Even Goldwater knew that. He went into that 1964 campaign knowing that JFK’s assassination had all but guaranteed that Goldwater was fighting a losing battle.
Don’t get me wrong. LBJ’s effective assumption of the Presidency and his efficiency in working with Congress to get things accomplished from November 22, 1963 until November 3, 1964 also had a lot to do with the landslide. And Goldwater was too extreme for a lot of Americans. But the 1964 election would have been far closer had John F. Kennedy been seeking a second term against Barry Goldwater. Kennedy would have won, but there’s no way he would have won 61% of the popular vote like LBJ did in 1964.
He died because a bullet from a high-powered rifle tore through his brain causing massive and fatal trauma and then his heart stopped beating. I know that a lot of things around the assassination are controversial or have been questioned, but I thought that part of it was pretty cut-and-dried.
As for Presidential motorcades, for the most part, the Secret Service has advance teams which plot the safest and quickest ways for a President to reach his destination. However, the White House political office often seeks to give the President exposure, particularly in political visits, which that entire trip to Texas was. In a lot of ways, that Texas trip was the kick-off to what would have been Kennedy’s 1964 re-election campaign, so the White House definitely wanted as many voters as possible to see JFK. Kennedy was just as adamant about the political considerations — the President wanted the bubble-top which could cover the Presidential limousine and protect the occupants of the vehicle from the elements removed; JFK didn’t want Secret Service agents on the handrails of his limousine because it blocked the crowd from seeing the people who they came out to see; and, even in the minutes directly before he was shot, JFK reminded Jackie to take off her sunglasses because it looked better in photographs and the crowds would feel more connected to her if they saw her eyes. JFK also reminded Jackie to keep her head turned to wave to her side of the limo instead of turning her head back-and-forth because there would be people on both sides and he didn’t want them to feel let down if both the President and the First Lady were looking in a different direction. Whatever dangers there might have been in that particular motorcade route, you can be sure that JFK was most interested in maximizing the political benefits of driving slowly through an area where a lot of people would be gathered.
Mrs. Kennedy and Me
Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin
Hardcover. 343 pp.
April 3, 2012. Gallery Books.
For the President of the United States and his family, the United States Secret Service must seem, at times, like a dominant, suffocating presence. There are few places in the world where the President, the First Lady, and their children, are not shadowed by agents from their respective protective details. As the world has become more dangerous and threats have intensified over the years, that protective cocoon has become tighter. The only place that the First Family is not closely followed by their Secret Service agents is in the Residence of the White House. But, even then, there are agents just outside the doors of the private family quarters, agents throughout the White House building, agents stationed around the grounds of the Executive Mansion, and even agents and anti-missile batteries on the roof of the White House. The protective detail of the Secret Service is required to protect the President and his family at all costs, often to the chagrin of those enveloped within that protective bubble.
On November 22, 1963, we saw why the Secret Service has to work so hard at that protection as President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed while riding in his motorcade in Dallas. The images of that day are haunting and unforgettable, even for those of us who weren’t alive when it happened. The grainy color images from Abraham Zapruder’s camera continues to demonstrate the need for heavy security when it comes to protecting our leaders and their family. What’s amazing, however, is that in looking at most photographs of Presidents or their families, the Secret Service agents charged with their protection almost always blend in. There are dozens of photographs of Jacqueline Kennedy in Mrs. Kennedy and Me (2012, Gallery Books) by Clint Hill (with Lisa McCubbin). Many of them are famous photographs that I have seen many times before, yet only now, when it is pointed out in captions in the book, do I notice Jackie Kennedy’s lead Secret Service agent, Clint Hill, at her side or right behind her throughout her time as First Lady.
In Mrs. Kennedy and Me, Clint Hill has finally told the story that he had never before wanted to share — his time on Jacqueline Kennedy’s Secret Service detail, where he loyally served one of the youngest and most popular First Ladies in American History. With the help of Lisa McCubbin, who co-authored The Kennedy Detail with the lead agents on President Kennedy’s protective detail, Hill shares his experiences traveling the world and shadowing history with Jackie Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy and Me is a benefit to the historical record, but it is also a deeply personal story. Perhaps nobody spent as much time in as close of proximity to Jackie Kennedy as Clint Hill from the time of JFK’s election in November 1960 until after the 1964 Presidential election, about one year after President Kennedy’s assassination. Hill accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy on her trips overseas — both official and unofficial — and was at her side throughout the triumphs and tragedies of the much-too-brief Kennedy Administration.
After serving on President Eisenhower’s protective detail, Hill originally felt that being assigned the protection of the First Lady was a bit of a demotion. While Hill was understanding of the necessity of the First Lady’s protection and accepted his assignment without question, he wondered if he would be missing out on the feeling that came along with protecting the President himself. In Mrs. Kennedy and Me, Hill shows that he quickly realized the importance of providing safety for the First Lady and her young children so that the President would feel secure in focusing on his job. Through their travels together, Hill and Jackie, who always refer to each other as “Mrs. Kennedy” and “Mr. Hill” seem to become as close to friends as their professional relationship allows. The First Lady, always concerned with privacy for her and her children, implicitly trusts the Secret Service agent and rarely disagrees with his recommendations or suggestions. Hill does whatever he can to help Mrs. Kennedy enjoy a somewhat normal life despite the burdens of the Presidency on her family and the constant glare of the world’s spotlight on her.
The book shares the excitement of some of Jacqueline Kennedy’s travels as First Lady. There are official visits, such as Jackie’s trips to India and Pakistan, as well as luxurious vacations in Italy and Greece. Mrs. Kennedy and Me also recounts intimate celebrations by the President’s youthful wife and children for weekends and holidays in rural Virginia, Camp David, and Palm Beach, as well as relaxing days with the President’s massive extended family at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts and in perhaps the favorite destination for the Kennedys — the ocean. Through it all, we see how devoted Clint Hill becomes to the woman he is charged to protect and we see a fascinating portrayal of John F. Kennedy, who is down-to-earth, unfailingly complimentary and polite, and always happy for any time that he could spend with his two young children.
Sadly, there’s also tragedy in Mrs. Kennedy and Me. While Mrs. Kennedy is supportive of her husband and his work, the harsh glare of the Presidential spotlight is a difficult place to raise two very young children. When her husband is inaugurated in 1961, Jacqueline Kennedy is just 31 years old and still hopeful about seeing the world and experiencing life on her own terms. As the wife of the President of the United States, especially in troubled times for a world that went to the brink of nuclear war during JFK’s term, it becomes clear to Jackie that there are many things that she can no longer do. The press hounds her and her family, wherever they go, and while Mrs. Kennedy handles everything with grace and dignity, it never becomes easier for her.
In 1963, the First Family find out that they are expecting their third child and Jackie waits as long as possible before sharing the news with the country and, with the help of Clint Hill, attempts to spend as much of the pregnancy as possible out of the public eye. The baby would be the first child born to an incumbent First Family since Esther Cleveland in 1893, but JFK and Jackie had lost two babies previously and Mrs. Kennedy worried about the pregnancy. Tragically, in August 1963, Mrs. Kennedy went into labor several weeks prematurely and little Patrick Bouvier Kennedy died with the President at his side just two days later. Mrs. Kennedy and Me describes the anguish of not just the President and the First Lady, but also of the Secret Service agents assigned to protect them and the White House staff. After working together so closely, everyone seemed to have genuine personal feelings for each other, no matter what their station. Hill notes that despite her strength, Patrick’s death understandably seemed to rob Mrs. Kennedy of the light that she often had in her eyes. It took a few months, according to Hill, before he saw her smile regularly, and the death of their baby seemed to bring the President and the First Lady closer together than they had previously been.
As I mentioned earlier, whether it is because they are masters at blending into the scenery, or because the center of attention is so prominent, we rarely see Secret Service agents in photographs of President Kennedy or Jacqueline Kennedy. Yet, while flipping through Mrs. Kennedy and Me I see Clint Hill in photo-after-photo, as if someone had plugged him into the image since the last time I saw it. It’s incredible to realize how close Secret Service agents like Hill always are to incredibly important events throughout history. They are unseen, but always present, and always, always serving and protecting our leaders so that they can do the work of the nation.
There is one image where Clint Hill’s presence is unquestionably obvious, and it’s an image that almost every American recognizes. Even if you do not know Clint Hill’s name, you know the image, and it demonstrates that Hill wasn’t merely close to history, but part of it. It’s also why Clint Hill took so long to tell his story. On that tragic day in Dallas on November 22, 1963, two Secret Service agents reacted immediately when the first shot was fired from the Texas School Book Depository building. One — Rufus Youngblood — was riding with Vice President Lyndon Johnson several vehicles behind President Kennedy’s limousine. When Youngblood heard the first shot, he jumped into the back of his vehicle, shoved the 6’3 1⁄2” Johnson to the floor of the car and shielded him with his body.
The other agent who reacted immediately was Clint Hill. Hill was in the Secret Service follow-up car, Halfback, directly behind the Presidential limousine. When the first shot was fired, Hill leapt from Halfback and ran as fast as he could to catch up with the limousine carrying President Kennedy, the First Lady, Texas Governor John Connally, and the Governor’s wife. Before Hill could reach the Presidential limousine, however, the fatal shot struck President Kennedy in the head. For those wondering why it took nearly 50 years for Clint Hill to tell his story, perhaps the haunting details of those seconds as he tried to catch up to the Presidential limousine will help you understand: “The impact was like the sound of something hard hitting something hollow — like the sound of a melon shattering onto cement. In the same instant, blood, brain matter, and bone fragments exploded from the back of the President’s head. The President’s blood, parts of his skull, bits of his brain were splattered all over me — on my face, my clothes, in my hair.”
It’s the Zapruder film that captures the familiar image of Clint Hill. With her husband mortally wounded, Jacqueline Kennedy is seen climbing out of the backseat of the limousine and towards the trunk as Hill catches up to the car. For decades, people have wondered what the First Lady was doing. Some thought that she was trying to escape the vehicle, some thought that she was trying to help Hill gain his footing. Jacqueline Kennedy herself later had no recollection of climbing out of the limousine. Clint Hill saw what she was doing — gathering pieces of the President’s skull and brains from the trunk as he climbed on to the car. Hill shoved her into the backseat, covered the First Lady and the President with his body, and when he saw that President Kennedy’s eyes were in a fixed stare, saw the amount of blood and devastation in the car, and saw the inside of the back of the President’s head because of the gaping wound in his skull, he was the first to recognize that JFK was dead.
The harrowing details of the assassination make it clear why Clint Hill was haunted so long by the memories of what happened in Dallas, and why it’s taken him so long to tell his story. We are better off now that he has. Mrs. Kennedy and Me is a tremendous book that doesn’t dance around the darker aspects of history, and that gives it an honesty and an attention to detail that is hard to find elsewhere because, quite literally, nobody else experienced this history as closely as Clint Hill. While there is tragedy, there is also a personal story of a remarkable woman who, despite her youth and despite her misgivings, handled her duties as First Lady with dignity and grace and, when her young family was torn apart before her eyes by an assassin’s bullet, she became a symbol of strength for a shattered nation. You can’t help but admire Jacqueline Kennedy, and while he tells the story as an observer, it’s obvious that Clint Hill was also a participant in history and we’re fortunate that, with the help of Lisa McCubbin, he’s finally shared his extraordinary story with all of us.
Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill, with Lisa McCubbin, is available now from Gallery Books. You can order the book from Amazon, or download it instantly for your Kindle. Mr. Hill served five Presidents as a member of the United States Secret Service and later served as assistant director of Secret Service, responsible for all protective details, before retiring in 1975. Ms. McCubbin co-authored The Kennedy Detail with former JFK Secret Service agent Gerald Blaine and her website is www.lisamccubbin.com. For more information, check out www.mrskennedyandme.com and Clint Hill’s Twitter @MrsKennedyandMe.
I’m curious and have a question for anyone who has read Mrs. Kennedy and Me (BOOK•KINDLE) by Clint Hill (with Lisa McCubbin). Clint Hill, of course, is the Secret Service agent best-known for running and jumping on to the back of JFK’s limousine in the seconds after the President was shot in Dallas and pushing Jacqueline Kennedy back into the car. Mrs. Kennedy and Me is a memoir of his time on the First Lady’s Secret Service detail.
Anyway, my question, for those who have read the book, is: Am I crazy or was he totally in love with Jackie? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book and I’m certain Mr. Hill was completely professional in his dealings with Jackie Kennedy, but the way he writes about her and the odd little things that he details definitely makes me think that he was madly in love with the woman. Did anyone else get the same feeling?
JOHN F. KENNEDY
35th President of the United States (1961-1963)
Full Name: John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Born: May 29, 1917, 83 Beals Street, Brookline, Massachusetts
Term: January 20, 1961-November 22, 1963 (Assassinated)
Political Party: Democratic
Vice President: Lyndon B. Johnson
Died: November 22, 1963, Trauma Room 1, Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas, Texas
Buried: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia
I rank JFK much in the same way that I rank Ronald Reagan. I’ve written before that I believe John F. Kennedy is often overrated, and that is not out of any disrespect for his legacy, but from looking at what he actually accomplished (and had time to see through) during his brief Presidency. Kennedy was a cautious politician. His strength was in the soaring speeches and inspirational vision that was carried through by his successors in his memory following his tragic assassination. There will always be questions about “What if?” with JFK. Would he have fought for Civil Rights like LBJ? Could he have done it? Would the difficult mission to put a man on the moon have been completed without his legacy to fuel it? Those are questions we cannot answer. His vision, however, set these things into motion; his memory drove them across the finish line. One thing can never be doubted: JFK’s leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis — tough, reassuring, and handled brilliantly through back-channel negotiations with the Soviets at the same time that we took steps that led us close to turning the Cold War hot than anything else in history — was remarkable and he should be recognized for what he did in October 1962.
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine: Not Ranked
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine: Not Ranked
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine: 14 of 38 (tied with John Adams)
1990: Siena Institute: 10 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine: 12 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 8 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll: 12 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership: 15 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 6 of 42
2010: Siena Institute: 11 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre: 15 of 40
Anonymous asked: Would George W. Bush be flipping burgers if he didn’t have a wealthy background? (Meaning, do you think he could have had success on his own merits [Not neccesarily become president, just general success?] rather than have everything handed to him on a silver platter like in real life?) Same goes for JFK and both Roosevelts.
I think all of our Presidents have been ambitious men. While some of them have had advantages and opportunities that certainly helped their cause, I don’t think anyone has had the Presidency handed to them on a silver platter.
I’m no fan of George W. Bush, but the man worked hard to get where he was. He truly was the black sheep of his family, and his decision to run for Governor of Texas in 1994 while his brother, Jeb, was running for Governor of Florida was not a popular decision within his family. They thought that Jeb was the best bet and better prepared, but W. ran anyway. George W. Bush won and Jeb lost. I’m one of those people who will always be haunted by what happened in the 2000 election, but the election was as close as it was because George W. Bush was a better campaigner than Al Gore. Bush worked hard for what he accomplished, and after watching George W. Bush for almost two decades now, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to get in the way of something he’s determined to achieve.
JFK had money, but growing up in the Kennedy family wasn’t an easy thing to do. All JFK wanted to do in life was write some books and maybe become a journalist. He had no interest in being a politician, but the dreams that Joe Sr. had for the oldest Kennedy son, Joe Jr., were transferred on to JFK when Joe Jr. was killed. JFK worked to become a good politician. It wasn’t natural for him. His early speeches and and initial campaign was brutal, but he trained himself to be better. Running for President as a Catholic was difficult and Kennedy fought through terrible, chronic pain every single day of his life. JFK had a bad back BEFORE he fought in World War II. The Army rejected him because of his back and he was able to talk his father into using his connections to get him into the Navy. Then his PT boat was rammed by a Japanese ship and Kennedy swam for several hours while pulling a wounded member of his crew by his life jacket with his teeth. Nobody handed JFK a Purple Heart and war hero status; he earned it.
Theodore Roosevelt? Sure, he had money. But his dad died when he was 19 and his mother and wife died in the same house on the same day in 1884. TR was elected to the New York State Assembly at 23 years old. After the tragedy with his wife and mother, he moved to the Dakota Territory to clear his head. He looked ridiculous with his fancy New Yorker clothes and odd mannerisms, but he kicked the shit out of anyone who gave him trouble. He was a cattle rancher and a Sheriff in what was truly the wild west. TR ran for Mayor of New York City before he turned 30. Two Presidents from different parties (Harrison and Cleveland) appointed him to the U.S. Civil Service Commission from ages 31-37. By the time he turned 40, he had added president of the New York City Police Board, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, war hero in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, and Governor of New York to his resume. At 42, he was elected Vice President. Before he turned 43 he was President. On top of all that, he wrote dozens of books with expert ability on a multitude of subjects. Again, nothing was given to him that he didn’t earn.
FDR? Yes, he had money. He was also a New York State Senator before he turned 30. Like his distant cousin, he became Assistant Secretary of the Navy, but he earned that position nearly 10 years earlier than TR did and served 7 years in the position (including World War I). At the age of 37, FDR was the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate. A year later, he was paralyzed by polio, and he literally willed himself back into the public eye despite everyone telling him his career was finished. He was never fully able to walk again, but he worked so hard at trying to that he fooled millions of people. Before he turned 51 he had served a term as Governor of New York and been inaugurated as President. Through 12 of the most difficult years in the world’s history, FDR was President and kept fighting for what he felt was right even as it was clear that the job was killing him.
I think these men would have been successful at whatever they attempted to do if they focused their ambition and passion into whatever that goal might be.
1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon - The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies
By David Pietrusza
Hardcover. 523 pp.
2008. Union Square Press
After the last of four historic Presidential debates in 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon shook hands with his opponent, Senator John F. Kennedy, and said, “It sure goes by fast, doesn’t it?”.
As I was reading David Pietrusza’s 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon - The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies (2008, Union Square Press) I found myself thinking the same thing: It sure goes by fast.
David Pietrusza writes history the way that novelists strive to write fiction. Pietrusza takes a seminal event, introduces us to a broad, fascinating cast of characters, and ties together numerous stories filled with drama and even humor to create an exciting, addictive tale. The most rewarding thing about it is that Pietrusza is writing about something that actually happened and that makes the story even more interesting. He writes about something that is real and, in the case of 1960, Pietrusza is writing about an election featuring three of the most dominant politicians and leaders of the 20th Century — an election which shaped the last half of the American Century and changed Presidential politics forever.
I flew through this book — partly because I couldn’t put it down and partly because it is supremely readable. Pietrusza’s research brings us amazing quotes, and the book features complex characters who are full of enough stories that it’s easy to get lost in a book about each of them individually. In 1960, these individuals are playing a part in the same drama and there is never a moment where you wish the author would switch back to something more interesting. Every story he tells is interesting.
Among the bold-faced names which give 1960 an all-star cast are Nixon, Kennedy, Kennedy’s running mate Lyndon Johnson, current President Dwight Eisenhower, Nixon’s running mate Henry Cabot Lodge, Hubert Humphrey, Nelson Rockefeller, Bobby Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., mobster Sam Giancana, Barry Goldwater, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Martin Luther King Jr., Tip O’Neill, Harry Truman, Stuart Symington, Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, Jackie Robinson, and more. These are big names with big stories, and during the 1960 Presidential campaign they all played major roles.
One of the most interesting aspects of 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon is the ambition of the Kennedy family as a whole, which is matched by the ambition of Richard Nixon as an individual. Kennedy family patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy is focused on getting his son, Jack, elected President in 1960 and he’s willing to pay any price to do so. Nixon is similarly focused on the Presidency, but he doesn’t have wealth to back him up, charm to open doors, or the support of his mentor President Eisenhower to give him strength. Nixon attempts to do it all on his own, and what is so shocking, even in retrospect, is how very close Nixon came to beating JFK in 1960.
Beginning with the battle between JFK and Hubert Humphrey in several state primary contests, the Democratic Presidential nomination comes down to a last-second challenge to JFK from Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson of Texas. When JFK triumphs in Los Angeles and wins the nomination he astonishes everyone by offering the Vice Presidency to LBJ. From there the campaign — and the book — takes off.
1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon is strongest when Pietrusza shares little-known backroom facts and inside secrets, as well as when he disputes myths that have surrounded the 1960 campaign, JFK, LBJ and Nixon. We learn more details about JFK’s unsavory connections with Frank Sinatra and, through Sinatra, Sam Giancana and the Chicago Mafia. LBJ’s insecurities as a leader and as a candidate are exposed. The tenacity and abrasiveness of Bobby Kennedy are spotlighted. Richard Nixon’s strengths and weaknesses — a foreshadowing of what would eventually finally get him elected President and then eventually topple his career in disgrace — are obvious as he isolates himself and obsesses over campaign details while overlooking big-picture items.
All great historians are able to translate stories about events and facts into stories about people. All history is personal, and David Pietrusza’s 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon is a wonderful book about a transcendent event populated by extraordinary human beings who faced achievements and adversity, triumphs and tragedies. We know what happened to John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon once they moved into the White House, but this is how they got to that point. It’s a story about America and Americans, and about how 1960 was a turning point for politics and politicians in this country — the beginning of a New Frontier, a Great Society, and a Silent Majority, and the end of American innocence.
As I first learned with his previous book (1920: The Year of the Six Presidents) I love the way David Pietrusza writes history and this is a book about three of the Presidents who fascinate me most. I highly recommend 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon - The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies. Get it at your local bookstore, Amazon, or through the Sterling Publishing website.