Both John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were elected to Congress in 46, a year inwhich the New Deal took a serious beating as the Republicans regained control ofCongress on the slogan “Had Enough?” Nixon of course, had campaignedagainst incumbent Jerry Voorhis on an anti-New Deal platform, but it’s oftenforgotten that when JFK first ran for the House in 1946, he differentiatedhimself from his Democratic primary opposition by describing himself as a”fighting conservative.
” In private, Kennedy’s antipathy to thetraditional FDR New Deal was even more extensive. When Kennedy and Nixon weresworn in on the same day, both were already outspoken on the subject of theemerging Cold War. While running for office in 1946, Kennedy proudly told aradio audience of how he had lashed out against a left-wing group of YoungDemocrats for being naive on the subject of the Soviet Union, and how he hadalso attacked the emerging radical faction headed by Henry Wallace. Thus, whenKennedy entered the House, he was anything but “progressive” in hisviews of either domestic or foreign policy. It didn’t take long for these two toform a friendship.
Both were Navy men who had served in the South Pacific, andboth saw themselves as occupying the vital center of their parties. Just as JFKlashed out against the New Deal and the radical wing of the Democratic party, sotoo did Richard Nixon distance himself from the right-wing of the Republicanparty. Nixon’s support of Harry Truman’s creation of NATO and the aid packagesto Greece and Turkey meant rejecting the old guard isolationist bent of theconservative wing that had been embodied in “Mr. Republican” SenatorRobert Taft. Indeed, when it came time for Nixon to back a nominee in 1948, hissupport went to the more centrist Thomas E.
Dewey, and not to the conservativeTaft. Kennedy decided to go into politics mainly because of the influence of hisfather. Joe Kennedy, Jr. had been killed in the European arena of World War IIand so the political ambitions of the family got placed on the shoulders ofJohn. Nixon, however, got involved in politics by chance.
While celebrating theend of the war in New York, he received a telegram from an old family friendindicating that they needed someone to run against the Democrat Jerry Voorhis. Nixon was excited by the proposition and so began his political career. Oneaspect of this book that really impressed me was the detail that Matthews putinto describing the campaign strategies of each man. Kennedy was a man whowanted to practically buy his position.
Relying almost solely upon his father’sinfluence and money, he achieved any goal that was put forth. By donating massamounts of money and even pinning twenty-dollar bills to the jackets ofcitizens, he bought his votes by any means necessary. Also, Kennedy made gooduse of his sex appeal. Knowing that he was handsome, he won over thousands offemale voters by having “tea-parties.
” On the contrary, Nixon did nothave an unlimited supply of money, influence or good looks. He had to rely ongood campaigning and smear tactics. Nixon too tried to use war stories and theself-made image of a war vet trying to build a life for himself. This did notwork as well as his other ideas, though. Nixon hired people to dig up all of thepolitical dirt on Voorhis that was out there. Once material was found thatclaimed that the NC PAC endorsed Voorhis, he resented it at a clutch momentduring a live debate.
This shocked both the crowd and Voorhis and gave the seatin Congress to Nixon. (pgs. 36-38) The careers of Nixon and Kennedy becameintertwined. Both were young congressmen who had been in the war and both hadhad no previous political experience. When they were both elected to theCongress in 1946 they were placed on the Board of Education and Labor together. When Nixon was elected Vice-president in 1952, Kennedy was elected a Senator andthe two were assigned offices directly across from each other.
Matthews does anexemplary job of showing how the two politicians were often grouped together. Hefocuses on the fact that they were from the same “class. ” He alsoshows how they were elected for the same positions and assigned to the sameprojects and became friendly with each other. Having offices adjacent to oneanother makes a relationship grow. All this helped to build the drama thatsurrounded the election of 1960 for President.
The two men that came to theCapitol together all of the sudden were running against each other for thecountry’s highest position. The election became the classic battle of thepopular kid versus the nerd. Kennedy portrayed the all-American high school boy. He was handsome, charming, and had love for his country. Nixon, however, was thetypical outcast. He was not as charming or handsome as Kennedy was.
He hadrelied on hard work and making his opponent look bad as means of getting ahead. In this case, popularity won and Kennedy became the President. America made wayfor the administration that would be known as “Camelot. ” EveryAmerican learns about the myth of Kennedy and Nixon. John F. Kennedy isportrayed as one who was one of the greatest people that this nation everproduced.
He was loved by all and was a president who only made good choices forhis country. He stood up to Nikita Khrushchev and Cuba and saved the world fromnuclear destruction. He tried to save the Cuban people from Communism and triedto help the South Vietnamese from the same fate. Richard M. Nixon, however,remains a man that the United States hates to admit that existed . He isremembered as the man who appeared ghastly next to Kennedy in the Great Debateof 1960.
His presidential administration is one that stole and deceived to getahead. Nixon was a leader that lied to his citizens, the ones that voted himinto office twice. Matthews makes sure that all of these myths are disposed andthat no biases are shown. He reminds the world of the Kennedy tactic of relyingsolely on money and looks to win campaigns.
He tells of the ill-fated and hardlythought-out Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Kennedy was trying to give the Cubanpeople help that they obviously did not want. No one remembers this though. Kennedy was the man who okayed the United States sponsored assassination ofSouth Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. This led the way for a complete coupand the eventual weak political position that forced the country to succumb tocommunism.
The author shows that Nixon was not the horrible man that he isalways remembered as being. He lets it be known that Nixon was a hard worker wholoved his country and it democratic tradition. Matthews remembers Nixon’s fightagainst communism and his attempts to rid the government of its few communistsympathizers such as Alger Hiss. He suffered the coldness of a president whothoughtlessly gave his vice-president no respect or credit for any decisions. With the common bonds of age, and mutual sentiments on the New Deal, the ColdWar, and their centrist positions within their parties, the two enjoyed afriendship that would endure until the 1960 presidential campaign destroyed it.
If Matthews puts any bias at all, he makes Kennedy look worse and Nixon lookbetter. He makes Kennedy look as someone who never really had any politicaltalent. He looks as someone who was just relying on money from his father. Onethe contrary, Matthews shows Nixon as one who has gotten a bad rap. He shows himas one who overcame adversity to help his country and who took a few downfallsalong the way. He was one who became tired of constantly battling Kennedy afterKennedy and the thought of fighting another Kennedy drove him to do things heotherwise would have not done.
This book did a tremendous job portraying andinter-weaving two very important figures of the century. Matthews put all theinformation into a format that was easy to read and enjoyable. In my opinionthis is a very relevant and intresting story that needed to be told. TheAmerican people deserve to know that the man they hold with such a high regardwas not that great. Also, they should know that the man they all hate was notthat bad a guy.
This book gives the american people a good idea of what went on,and it may have been to the suprise of many americans.