Kennedy v. Nixon: The Presidential Election of 1960.

Author:Kaiser, David
Position:Book review

Kennedy v. Nixon: The Presidential Election of 1960. By Edmund E Kallina, Jr. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2010. 192 pp.

In 1988, political scientist Edmund Kallina published an extraordinary monograph, Court House over White House: Chicago and the Presidential Election of 1960 (University Press of Florida, 1988), in which he used careful research and statistical analysis to demolish the myth that John Kennedy's victory in Illinois had been stolen in Chicago by some combination of the Democratic political machine and the Mafia. Sadly, in the twenty years since the book appeared, I have met only one other person who had read it, and that myth remains as popular as ever. Now, Kallina has decided to be more evenhanded in a very well-researched and wide-ranging study of the entire 1960 campaign. The book is filled with interesting information, but I am sorry to say that I was not persuaded by his purported even-handedness. The book seems calculatedly written to diminish Kennedy's reputation while enhancing Richard Nixon's, and I frequently felt that it pursued that agenda at the expense of important facts.

On one point, I thoroughly agree with Kallina: 1960 was one of the most exciting and critical campaigns in American history, and its candidates were the most extraordinary politicians of their generation. Yet writing about either one requires hard choices, because both Kennedy and Nixon have already been the subject of so many waves of revisionism. And Kallina's choices were clear: he sides with the pro-Nixon revisionists and the anti-Kennedy ones. Regarding Nixon, he eagerly seizes upon work suggesting that Nixon's original campaigns for the House in 1946 and the Senate in 1950, in which he associated his liberal Democratic opponents shamelessly with communism, were not so bad, at least in the context of the times. (While I would agree that they were anything but unique, they were certainly among the worst.) Regarding Kennedy, in the most regrettable choice of all, he relies uncritically on perhaps the worst single book about him, The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersh (Little Brown and Company, 1997), a man whose books vary inversely in quality with his historical distance to the subject. Citing Hersh, Kallina says that we "know that [Joseph P.] Kennedy intervened with his acquaintances in organized crime to secure their support for his son in 1960" (p.100). I read thousands of pages of Federal Bureau of Investigation...

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