The Real Making Of The President

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Overview

When John Kennedy won the presidency in 1960, he also won the right to put his own spin on the victory-whether as an underdog's heroic triumph or a liberal crusader's overcoming special interests. Now W. J. Rorabaugh cuts through the mythology of this famous election to explain the nuts-and-bolts operations of the campaign and offer a corrective to Theodore White's flawed classic, The Making of the President.

War hero, champion of labor, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, JFK was long on charisma. Despite a less than liberal record, he assumed the image of liberal hero-thanks to White and other journalists who were shamelessly manipulated by the Kennedy campaign. Rorabaugh instead paints JFK as the ideological twin of Nixon and his equal as a bare-knuckled politician, showing that Kennedy's hard-won, razor-thin victory was attributable less to charisma than to an enormous amount of money, an effective campaign organization, and television image-making.

The 1960 election, Rorabaugh argues, reflects the transition from the dominance of old-style boss and convention politics to the growing significance of primaries, race, and especially TV-without which Kennedy would have been neither nominated nor elected. He recounts how JFK cultivated delegates to the 1960 Democratic convention; quietly wooed the still-important party bosses; and used a large personal organization, polls, and TV advertising to win primaries. JFK's master stroke, however, was choosing as a running mate Lyndon Johnson, whose campaigning in the South carried enough southern states to win the election.

On the other side, Rorabaugh draws on Nixon's often-ignored files to take a close look at his dysfunctional campaign, which reflected the oddities of a dark and brooding candidate trapped into defending the Eisenhower administration. Yet the widely detested Nixon won almost as many votes as the charismatic Kennedy, even though Democrats outnumberd Republicans by three to two. This leads Rorabaugh to reexamine the darker side of the election: the Republicans' charges of vote fraud in Illinois and Texas, the use of money to prod or intimidate, manipulation of the media, and the bulldozing of opponents.

White and others helped shape persisting impressions of both candidates, influencing the way Nixon conducted subsequent campaigns and the Democrats nurtured the Kennedy legacy. The Real Making of the President gives us a more sobering look at all of that, fundamentally reshaping our understanding of one of the nation's most memorable elections.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

This unvarnished account of the 1960 presidential election, which skewers Theodore White's The Making of the President 1960, with its adoring portrayal of John F. Kennedy, reveals JFK as a skilled politician who defeated Hubert Humphrey in the Democratic primary and Richard Nixon in the general election because of the Kennedy wealth, a talented campaign staff, his mastery of television, his skill at appealing to all Democratic factions, a few well-placed dirty tricks, and fraudulent vote counts in Chicago and Texas. Rorabaugh (Kennedy and the Promise of the Sixties) covers all phases of Kennedy's and Nixon's campaigns, from the primaries through the general election. He shares some of the conclusions reached by David Pietrusza in 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies, including that Kennedy's charm was a decided advantage and that both JFK and Nixon were moderates with similar views on civil rights and defense. The author reflects that Kennedy would have lost if the public felt more comfortable with Nixon and if JFK's vp candidate, Lyndon Johnson, were not a skilled politician who was able to keep many of his fellow Southerners from bolting the party. Although this book is not the page-turner that Pietrusza's is, like the other volumes in the "American Presidential Elections" series, it is a concise, informative, accessible choice for public and academic collections.
—Karl Helicher

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700616398
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 3/1/2009
  • Series: American Presidential Elections
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 262
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

W. J. Rorabaugh is professor of history at the University of Washington and author of four previous books, most recently Kennedy and the Promise of the Sixties.

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