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  • The Making of the President. Again
  • John M. Murphy (bio)
1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies. By David Pietrusza. New York: Union Square Press, 2008; pp. 523. $24.95 cloth; $17.95 paper.
Kennedy v. Nixon: The Presidential Election of 1960. By Edmund F. Kallina, Jr. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2010; pp. 289. $29.95 paper.
The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960. By Shaun A. Casey. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009; pp. 261. $27.95 cloth.
A New World To Be Won: John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and the Tumultuous Year of 1960. By G. Scott Thomas. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2011; pp. 407. $58.00 cloth.
The Real Making of the President: Kennedy, Nixon, and the 1960 Election. By W. J. Rorabaugh. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2009; pp. 250. $34.95 cloth. [End Page 525]

A spectre is haunting these books—the spectre of Theodore H. White. In 1961, he published The Making of the President 1960, a book that created a genre and forever changed media coverage of presidential elections. Timothy Crouse nicely caught the essence of White’s achievement: “The book struck most readers as a total revelation—it was as if they had never read anything, anywhere, that told them what a political campaign was about. They had some idea that a campaign consisted of a series of arcane deals and dull speeches, and suddenly White came along with a book that laid out the campaign as a wide-screen thriller with full-blooded heroes and white-knuckle suspense on every page.”1 Not only are these authors following that act into the same genre, they are also covering the identical election. Given that, most of them deny or diminish their illustrious predecessor. The desire to kill the father is often obvious; Rorabaugh, for instance, writes that “White’s closeness to the Kennedy campaign” biased his reporting, and that he misread the election by treating it as a “horse race” (5). Ironically, however, these books follow in White’s footsteps. The authors variously dispute his characterizations of Nixon and Kennedy, disagree with his view of religion and/or other issues, and discard his artistic standards for political success, substituting instead the power of rational calculation. Yet, with the partial exceptions of Thomas and Casey, they follow White’s lead in function and form.2 They clearly believe campaign histories should teach and titillate readers with unknown details and analysis that provide the “real” story, and that they should do so through a chronological account narrating the development of the campaign. Equally important, the books portray candidates making important decisions, controlling the action, and revealing skill in the heat of battle. Campaign books cover people and reify their agency in the election. The focus, then, is on the decisions that make for victory and defeat. I first discuss each of the books and assess their strengths and weaknesses, given these assumptions. I turn then to broader issues that the genre tends to ignore. What happens to history when even historians seek to beat Theodore H. White at his own game?

I begin with Rorabaugh, because his title summarizes not only his interpretive strategy, but also that of Kallina: The Real Making of the President. The dust jacket highlights the “real.” This highlight extends to the arguments of the two books. They deploy “the basic elements of a realist style, which places politics outside of the grasp of political texts and promotes [End Page 526] strategic thinking as the pure form of political intelligence.” A realist text, Robert Hariman continues, establishes its status “by marking all other discourses with the sign of the text. . . .[it] devalues other political actors because they are too discursive, too caught up in their textual designs to engage in rational calculation.”3 The two professional historians offer textbook examples of such status claims. Kallina marks White’s tale as a “myth,” and notes how “literary needs” shaped plot and character, resulting in a “paean of praise” for JFK. In short, the “combination of a novelistic conception of history and the author’s ingratiation with the Kennedy campaign produced what amounted...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5238
Print ISSN
1094-8392
Pages
pp. 525-538
Launched on MUSE
2012-08-28
Open Access
No
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