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In this engaging book, Gary A. Donaldson tells the story of Kennedy versus Nixon with a sharp eye for the salient political developments and a keen sense of the drama of an election that was unlike any other the nation had experienced. The election of 1960 was also an orchestrated political drama, organized as a sweeping campaign from coast to coast and staged for a national television audience. This made it the first modern campaign in which the television media changed the dynamics of presidential politics and in which photographs, charisma, and direct appeals to voters counted as they had never done before. It was also an election of intense personal rivalry made all the more spirited by the prejudice against Kennedy's Catholicism and his intention to widen the American political arena.
Ideological shifts within the parties as they combined with innovations in campaigning would mark a clear divide in politics as it was practiced and politics as it would have to be practiced in the future. Yet not since Theodore White's journalistic account, The Making of the President, has attention been paid to the full 1960 campaign as it played out in the early primaries and then culminated in the November election. Donaldson shows why the whole political season is critical to understanding American politics today.
The First Modern Campaign is essential and engaging reading for anyone interested in contemporary politics in the United States.
There will be no serious dispute about this book's basic, and frequently repeated, argument-that the 1960 election was the first modern presidential election, principally because of the centrality of the nation's very first televised debates. Nor will any of the details about which the author writes be new to knowledgeable readers. But what Donaldson (Liberalism's Last Hurrah: The Presidential Campaign of 1964) does achieve is to gather everything about that pivotal election season in a fast-paced, comprehensive tale. He brings the day's leading historical characters alive in all their complexity, diversity and skills. Sympathetic to them yet objective about their strengths and weaknesses, he lets contemporaries do the criticizing in their own words while he observes them from above the fray-all, save John Kennedy, making their way through the usual political thickets to defeat. Donaldson is particularly good at analyzing the divisions within the two major parties, especially those of the Republicans, and in assessing the role of religion in the campaign. One comes away with a heightened appreciation of Nixon's clarity of understanding, Kennedy's distinctive energy and the origins of the right's grievances, which eventually led to its takeover of the Republican Party. (July)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information