The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960

The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960

The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960

The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960

Synopsis

The 1960 presidential election, won ultimately by John F. Kennedy, was one of the closest and most contentious in American history. The country had never elected a Roman Catholic president, and the last time a Catholic had been nominated--New York Governor Al Smith in 1928--he was routed in the general election. From the outset, Kennedy saw the religion issue as the single most important obstacle on his road to the White House. He was acutely aware of, and deeply frustrated by, the possibility that his personal religious beliefs could keep him out of the White House.
In The Making of a Catholic President, Shaun Casey tells the fascinating story of how the Kennedy campaign transformed the "religion question" from a liability into an asset, making him the first (and still only) Catholic president. Drawing on extensive archival research, including many never-before-seen documents, Casey takes us inside the campaign to show Kennedy's chief advisors--Ted Sorensen, John Kenneth Galbraith, Archibald Cox--grappling with the staunch opposition to the candidate's Catholicism. Casey also reveals, for the first time, many of the Nixon campaign's efforts to tap in to anti-Catholic sentiment, with the aid of Billy Graham and the National Association of Evangelicals, among others. The alliance between conservative Protestants and the Nixon campaign, he shows, laid the groundwork for the rise of the Religious Right. This book will shed light on one of the most talked-about elections in American history, as well as on the vexed relationship between religion and politics more generally.
With clear relevance to our own political situation--where politicians' religious beliefs seem more important and more volatile than ever--The Making of a Catholic Presidentoffers rare insights into one of the most extraordinary presidential campaigns in American history.

Excerpt

Sargent Shriver was in a tough spot. It was the middle of July 1956, just days before the Democratic National Convention, and Shriver was on a mission on behalf of his father-in-law, Joseph P. Kennedy. Shriver had the unenviable task of convincing a recalcitrant Adlai Stevenson that John F. Kennedy should be his running mate in the upcoming presidential election. Shriver had hoped to have the full three-hour flight from Boston to Chicago to work on Stevenson, but Stevenson was making him wait in the back of the plane. Now, he had 10 minutes to make his pitch. He made the most of it.

His assignment was to take Stevenson’s temperature on JFK’s potential candidacy. Kennedy had launched a public relations campaign to be named as Stevenson’s running mate. But Stevenson was also in a difficult position. He was not eager to be beholden to Joseph Kennedy, yet could not risk alienating him and losing his financial support. Joseph Kennedy was a man no one wanted to offend. Indeed, immediately after the flight, Shriver wrote a long letter, not to John Kennedy, but to his father. It was clear who was in charge.

Shriver made his case, and Stevenson expressed three concerns: rumors of John’s poor health, Joseph Kennedy’s public objections to his son’s candidacy, and Kennedy’s Catholicism. Shriver assured Stevenson that Kennedy had been cleared by his doctors and that he had the support of his entire family. The religion issue was much more difficult. This cycle of politicking had been set off by a small but telling encounter between Kennedy aide Ted Sorensen and journalist Theodore White, who would . . .

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