Why Al Gore Is No Richard Nixon

Article excerpt

The embarrassments of the 2000 presidential election share several uncanny similarities with the 1960 election, except Nixon conceded to JFK for the good of the nation.

Remember when former presidents were regarded as elder statesmen? In 1960, President Herbert Hoover stepped in to help settle the hotly contested presidential election between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. It was Hoover who brought the two men together to avoid a constitutional crisis as Republicans prepared to file lawsuits in 11 too-close-to-call states.

But the roller coaster onto which the race between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore has placed the nation goes on and on.

The comparisons with the 1960 crisis are uncanny -- right down to Gore playing touch football as Kennedy did while he awaited returns or the Daleys tinkering with the elections. The ride is even likely to end in Florida, the state where Kennedy and Nixon finally agreed to an armistice.

Yet there is that big difference: No former president is attempting to stop the roller coaster for the good of the nation. Ironically, all the living presidents -- except Ronald Reagan, who is too ill to weigh in on the controversy -- met with President Clinton at the White House during the election dilemma to celebrate the bicentennial of the presidential mansion. What presidential advice did Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter or George Bush offer to break the stalemate? Nothing publicly at the time. They merely toasted honesty and integrity in the high office.

Privately it may be otherwise. Carter has hinted he may step into the fray to try to broker a conclusion, but if so he has been very quiet about it. This is quite a contrast to 1960 when sitting president Dwight Eisenhower initially urged Nixon to file a lawsuit and then changed his mind after considering the potential disruption for the country and national security. But it was Hoover, the Republican, whose character was widely admired among both Democrats and Republicans, who got both sides together.

"Even Kennedy's dad, Joe, loved Hoover," says Boston University historian Thomas Whalen, author of Kennedy Versus Lodge: The 1952 Massachusetts Senate Race, noting that the senior Kennedy was not fond of many Republicans.

Kennedy had a razor-thin popular vote victory of about 113,000 votes, less than two-thirds of 1 percent of the popular vote and the closest since Harrison-Cleveland in 1888 -- although the anticipated Electoral College vote was not nearly as close as Bush and Gore. Kennedy apparently had won 303 electoral votes to Nixon's 219, with 15 Dixiecrats ignoring the election results and casting their votes for Sen. Harry Byrd of Virginia out of concern for what Kennedy might do with civil-rights legislation. Many are concerned that there also might be so-called "faithless" electors again this year when the Electoral College votes on Dec. 18.

Several states remained so close in 1960 that Thruston B. Morton, a Kentucky senator and the Republican Party's national chairman, instigated investigations and prepared for recounts in Illinois, Texas, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

Illinois and Texas were especially troubling. Republicans remain convinced to this day that there was rampant voter fraud in Cook County, Ill., where Mayor Richard J. Daley (father of Gore's campaign manager, William Daley) ran the political machine. Similar allegations surfaced in Texas, where Kennedy's running mate, Lyndon B. Johnson, controlled his home state and was notorious for delivering fraudulent votes when needed.

Setting aside the uninvestigated 1960 presidential election, the 1948 Senate race in Texas confirms the principle, observes Whalen. "That's when the magical ballot box appeared out of nowhere in the end that gave the victory to LBJ over Coke Stevenson," he says. …