This morning I finished the drawings for a new story, about the 1960 presidential election between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.
I’ve always thought of that election as the beginning of a new era in America. It was the first presidential election in which both candidates were born in the Twentieth Century, something Kennedy noted in his inaugural address.
Although they were only four years apart in age, Kennedy appeared to embody the emerging youthful spirit of the times, while Nixon seemed somehow to be tied to the past. One could envision the energetic Kennedy rocking out to Elvis, something unimaginable for the staid Nixon.
The first-ever televised presidential debates were pivotal. Kennedy understood the growing power of television, preparing extensively and hiring a professional makeup crew. Nixon, who was recovering from a serious infection, relied on cheap pancake makeup, which melted under the heat of the television lights, revealing his dark beard shadow. Interestingly, those who listened to the debate on the radio gave Nixon the edge; those who watched on TV thought Kennedy won.
I was enthralled by the handsome and assured Kennedy, and took a visceral dislike to Nixon. Alas, fourteen year-olds weren’t allowed to vote, and even though both Kennedy and Nixon had served with distinction during the war, veterans like my father trusted Eisenhower and were leery of the inexperienced newcomer from Massachusetts.
The election was a nail-biter, only 112,827 votes out of more than 68 million separating the candidates. To this day, many people believe that the election was stolen, that Richard Daley in Illinois and Lyndon Johnson’s allies in Texas were able to rig the results sufficiently to give Kennedy narrow victories in both states. Had Nixon carried Illinois and Texas, he would have had enough electoral votes to win.
Nixon graciously conceded, against the advice of some of his advisors, who wanted an investigation of voting improprieties. I’ve always wondered what effect that heartbreaking defeat had on Nixon’s psyche. How much was that crushing disappointment responsible for creating the weirdly paranoid and deeply troubled Nixon who was forced to resign his own presidency in disgrace?
We’ll never know, but I have my suspicions.