Note: The following post originally appeared eight years ago, in April 2012, as that year's elections were moving forward, under the same title except for one word — the year…
In some ways the most dangerous kind of politician is a man who is good at PR and nothing elsewrites Paul Johnson in his monumental History of the American People.
No, he was not talking about the current occupant [Barack Obama] of the White House (his book was written in 1999, after all — before Obama had even published his (first) autobiography), but about John F Kennedy, and I am speaking as a former Kennedy devotee and Camelot maniac. (Yes, even if the book was written before 911 and even the George W Bush presidency, it is a must-read — as you will see below.)
I was coaxed into pulling Paul Johnson's masterpiece from my shelves again, as I read Instapundit's review of the PJMedia piece on what the Wikileaks memos say about the 2008 election, getting increasingly angry as I read through the J Christian Adams original.
What we do know is this: First, that people in the McCain campaign thought they had evidence of election tampering that cost McCain the election. Second, that McCain thought it best for the country to do nothing about it, in part because of fears of mob violence.Interestingly, Glenn Reynolds calls his link to J Christian Adams' article "Bad Call." That turns out to be entirely appropriate, in view of the fact that Bernie Marcus recently pointed out (video) that
the Republicans play the rules of … golf. In golf, if you miss a putt or you touch the ball, you call a shot on yourself. We're playing the game of golf. The Democrats are playing ice hockey. It's a killer game. And that's the difference in politics.This brings to mind uncounted parallels with the 1960 election, rarely if ever disclosed in mainstream history books, and which I only learned through Paul Johnson's History of the American People, the reading of which sometimes made my eyes pop out as previously-undisclosed facts (of the unpalatable sort) were revealed.
As I re-read part of the book this morning, it turns out that there are many more parallels than you would at first assume.
By all historical standards, Nixon should have been an American media hero. He was a natural candidate for laurels in the grand old tradition of self-help, of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. He came from nowhere.Think of John McCain, who should have been — and who was! — an American hero for other reasons, linked to dramatic combat, horrific jail conditions (with — very — violent wardens, of a decidedly racist bent), and the ever-present risk of death in a foreign country. (In France, while both of Obama's autobiographies became best-sellers, McCain's autobiography, with its full life (written past the age of 60) and with all the drama of its war "adventures", was not even translated.)
Yet, from start to finish, the media, especially the 'quality' press, distrusted [Nixon], consistently denigrated him, and sought to destroy him, indeed in a sense did destroy him. At every crisis in his career — except the last — he had to appeal above the heads of the media to the great mass of the ordinary American people, the 'silent majority' as he called them.
When I first read Paul Johnson's book, incidentally, I remember thinking, But of course! What has always been described as an unsavory character trait in Richard Mulhouse Nixon — his alleged paranoia — turns out perhaps not to have been so paranoid at all and to have been provoked by those who claimed to be innocent bystanders, if not the actual entirely-innocent victims of "Tricky Dick"… (If only for Paul Johnson's description of Watergate — which he likens, persuasively, to a witch hunt — you must read A History of the American People.)
[2020 update: and cannot similar lines be written about Donald Trump?]
By contrast, the media did everything in its power to build up and sustain the beatific myth of John F. Kennedy, throughout his life and long after his death, until it finally collapsed in ruins under the weight of incontrovertible evidence. The media protected him, suppressed what it knew to be the truth about him, and if necessary lied about him, on a scale which it had never done even for Franklin Roosevelt.C'mon. Don't tell me that I really need to point out the parallels here with Barack Hussein Obama, the anointed One come to save America and Americans from their own demons.
And this was all the more surprising because Kennedy had most of the characteristics of an American anti-hero. … the running theme of the Kennedy family [was] how to turn money into political power … Maximum use was made of Jack's war career in all his campaigns. … Old Joe set about making Kennedy first a congressman, then a senator, then president. This train of events is worth studying because it shows the extent to which money paved the way to political power in mid-20th-century America …Again: need I really point out the parallels with Obama, and his war-chest(s), along with his billion-dollar campaigns and his spending sprees? At this point of the book, Paul Johnson brings an interesting aside:
As Tip O'Neill put it: …
'I'd have to say that [Jack] was only nominally a Democrat. He was a Kennedy, which more than family affiliation. It quickly developed into an entire political party, with its own people, its own approach and its own strategies.'The man who got it right at the time was the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. He grasped the important point that electing a Kennedy was not so much giving office to an individual as handing over power to a family business, a clan, almost a milieu, with a set of attitudes about how office was to be acquired and used which at no point coincided with the American ethic. Having paid his first visit after Kennedy's election as President, Macmillan was asked on his return what it was like in Kennedy's Washington.
'Oh,' said he, 'it's rather like watching the Borgia brothers take over a respectable North Italian city.'
But let's get back to the election of 1960 (as you read the few next parts, remember all the nasty things you have heard through the years about Tricky Dick).
Nixon had deliberately decided to keep Catholicism out of the campaign, and succeeded in doing so. The day after the result, he said to his aide Pete Flanigan:Think of McCain opining that the election of a black man was good for America — which it undoubtedly was. But regarding America's alleged nightmarish racism, note that it was precisely Barack Obama's race that won him, or that helped win him, the election — as much among minorities as among liberal whites pining to demonstrate their status as "good" whites.
'Pete, here's one thing we can be satisfied about. The campaign has laid to rest for ever the issue of a candidate's religion in presidential politics. Bad for me, perhaps, but good for America.'In fact, Kennedy's catholicism won him the election … In the Northern industrial states, where the margins were very close, the swing of the Catholic vote to a Catholic candidate made all the difference.
Unfortunately, there is a more ominous parallel between 1960 and 2008 (although not necessarily in the states specifically mentioned), which should overshadow Nixon's (and McCain's) satisfaction with the (respective) result(s), along with pride in his (in their) countrymen. Indeed, why be satisfied with a result (and why be proud of your country) if the result was the product of cheating?
This was a crooked election, especially in Texas and Illinois, two states notorious for fraud, and both of which Kennedy won. In Texas, which gave its twenty-four college votes to Kennedy, by a margin of 46,000 votes (out of 2.3 million), one expert made the calculation thatThen again, perhaps there does turn out to be a parallel between 1960 and 2008 in regards to one of the states mentioned: …
'a minimum of 100,000 votes for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket simply were non-existent.'… (in one polling station, where only 4,895 voters were registered, 6,138 votes were counted as cast)
In Illinois, Nixon carried 93 of the state's 102 counties, yet lost the state by 8,858 votes. This was entirely due to an enormous Democratic turnout in Chicago, under the control of the notorious Democratic city boss and mayor, Richard Daley. Daley gave Kennedy the Windy City by the astonishing margin of 450,000 votes, and the evidence was overwhelming that fraud was committed on a large scale in Kennedy's favor.An interesting side-note:
The mafia played an important part in this fraud. Afterwards, its boss Giancana often boasted to Judith Campbell, the mistress he shared with the President, 'Listen, honey, if it wasn't for me your boyfriend wouldn't even be in the White House.'I don't suppose the mafia helped Obama in 2008; however — No, I wouldn't want to call into question the honesty and the civility of members of ACORN and of the Black Panthers (for fear of being labeled a racist, natch).
While reading History of the American People the first time, I remember thinking: it can't be possible that the MSM history books wouldn't mention this, so probably the fraud was tiny, and/or hard to prove, and not worth mentioning, so perhaps Paul Johnson is exaggerating, if ever so slightly. Then I came to this part:
If Nixon, instead of Kennedy, had carried Texas and Illinois, the shift in electoral votes would have given him the presidency, and the evidence of electoral fraud makes it clear that Kennedy's overall 112,803 vote plurality was a myth: Nixon probably won overall by about 250,000 votes. Evidence of fraud in the two states was so blatant that a number of senior figures, including Eisenhower, urged Nixon to make a formal legal challenge to the result. But Nixon declined. … A legal challenge … would have produced a 'constitutional nightmare' and worked heavily against the national interest.Doesn't this sound like the Wikileaks memo stating that "McCain felt the crowds assembled in support of Obama and such would be detrimental to our country and it would do our nation no good for this to drag out like last go around" — Bernie Marcus's dependable, mature golf player acting responsibly to prevent the ice hockey players from going berserk?
Just as interesting is the passage preceding the story of the 1960 election, which explains the downplaying of the Republican candidate while the extolling of the Democrat's alleged virtues. As you read the following passage, think also of all the ways that Rupert Murdoch has been demonized over the years, as has his Fox News network.
We come now to an important structural change in America. America had always been, from the earliest time, a democratic society, in that men (and indeed women) paid little attention to formal rank, even where it existed. Every man felt he had the right to shake hands with every other man, even the President … But this democratic spirit was balanced by the tribute of respect to those who, for one reason or another — experience, learning, position, wealth, office, or personality — had earned the title of 'boss.' The balance struck between egalitarianism and deference was one of the most remarkable characteristics of America, and one of its great strengths.The final word?
The Sixties brought a change. In the space of a decade, the word 'boss' passed almost out of the language, certainly out of universal usage. Deference itself deferred to a new spirit of hostility to authority. It became the fashion to challenge long-established hierarchies, to revolt against them or to ignore them. Nowhere was this spirit more manifest than in the media …
The gradual but cumulatively almost complete transfer of opinion-forming power from the owners and commercial managers of TV stations to the program-makers and presenters was one of the great new facts of life, unheard of before the 1950s, axiomatic by the end of the 1960s. And it was gradually paralleled by a similar shift in the newspaper world, especially on the great dailies and magazines of the East Coast, where political power, with few exceptions, passed from proprietors and major stockholders to editors and writers. Owners like Hearst and McCormick (of the Chicago Tribune), Pulitzer and Henry Luce (of Time-Life), who had once decided the political line of their publications in considerable detail, moved out of the picture and their places were taken by the working journalists. Since the latter tended to be overwhelmingly liberal in their views, this was not just a political but a cultural change of considerable importance. Indeed it is likely that nothing did more to cut America loose from its traditional moorings.
… The change could be seen in 1960, in the way the East Coast media (the New York Times and Washington Post, Time and Newsweek), handled the contest between Nixon and Kennedy.
There is a sense in which Kennedy, who loved to use words like 'bearing,' 'results,' and 'in,' was a professional sportsman, a political huckster, and a propagandist rather than a serious statesmanRelated: From November 2008: Stealing the Election: The 1960 and the 2008 Contests Compared
• I knew Richard Nixon, Richard Nixon was a friend of mine, and you, Barack are no Richard Nixon (thanks to Instapundit)
• The Watergate Cover-Up Trial: Justice Denied? (thanks to Instapundit)
There were real crimes and real criminals. But newly found documents suggest a denial of due process of law to the defendants, a move that did the Constitution no favors.