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The United States presidential election of 1960 marked the end of the eight years of Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidency. It pitted Republican Richard M. Nixon, who had transformed the office of Vice President into a national political base simply by giving a speech about a his kids' dog, against Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts whose nomination was most certainly not the result of his father pulling strings within the Democratic party.
The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon, who had served as Vice President for eight years under Dwight D. Eisenhower. He faced little opposition; the only other person suggested was Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, and he was so far to the right that not even Barry Goldwater would trust him with the presidency.
The Democrats nominated John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a Senator from Massachusetts whose rise to power was in part thanks to the vast connections his father, Joseph P. Kennedy had forged within the Democratic party. There was much concern over Kennedy's status as a practicing Roman Catholic, because as everyone knows, all Catholics fanatically and unquestioningly follow the Pope's proclamations down to the tiniest detail. Many believed that if Kennedy were elected, America would become a puppet state of the Vatican, which meant that the Pope could then order that all the Protestants in the world be subsequently nuked.
The big issue for many voters was the War on Communism. Kennedy claimed that the U.S. was losing the Cold War, because the Soviet Union's economy appeared to be growing by leaps and bounds. This was summed up in the famous campaign slogan, "Communism Sucks." He also reached out to the African-American community with his "Equal Rights for the Negroes (No, Really, We Mean It This Time)" campaign. He countered claims that he was "too damn liberal" to really be anti-communist by pointing out that he and Joseph McCarthy had publicly pinky-sworn to be "best friends forever."
Nixon, on the other hand, argued that the U.S. could easily win the War on Communism by getting its military-industrial complex on, and that Kennedy's scare tactics were comprised of bovine fecal matter. Furthermore, Nixon pointed while Kennedy was hanging out with McCarthy in a desperate attempt to get anti-Commie credibility, he was busy making Alger Hiss his bitch. These ideas were conveniently summed up in his campaign slogan, "Communism Blows." On the issue of race relations, Nixon had no comment, as he had never met any black people due to the fact that he was a Republican.
The presidential debates held that year were simulcast on both radio and television, and the results said a great deal about how politicians would use each medium in the future. For the debates, Kennedy allowed himself to be made up for the telecast, while Nixon refused to do so, saying that Kennedy looked like "a gay clown." Also, he believed that the makeup wouldn't draw enough attention to his dignified jowls.
The opinions about who won the debates were divided. Those who saw the televised debates saw John F. Kennedy looking healthy and dynamic and oh-so-presidential, while Nixon, on the other hand, looked pale, sickly and nervous as he lost about 10% of his body weight in sweat under the klieg lights that had been set up for the television cameras; as a result, most who saw the debates on television believed Kennedy to be the clear victor. Those who heard the debates on the radio, on the other hand, were forced to weigh the arguments that each candidate brought to the table in a logical manner to decide which one had the best policy ideas for the country; these persons believed that Nixon won. This had major ramifications for the future of presidential debates: namely, American politicians unanimously agreed that debates would only be carried on television in the future.
JFK won the popular vote by only 112,827, or 0.2% of the total votes. But that doesn't really matter, because when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they kept several important ideas in mind, particularly that the greatest weakness of majority rule is that the majority has a tendency to be made up of stupid people. That's why they created the electoral college — so that the election of the world's most powerful ruler could be done in an orderly, civilized manner.
Unfortunately for the Founding Fathers' good intentions, the electoral college in 1960 was, to put it simply, totally fucked up. The 1960 electoral college was so dysfunctional that it makes the 2000 electoral college look like nothing more than an attention-seeking drama queen by comparison.
Many Democrats in the South weren't very happy with Kennedy's controversial "Black people are human beings who should be allowed to keep their dignity" platform. As a result, Mississippi's Democratic electors decided to cast their vote for Senator Henry Flood Byrd of Virginia, who was presumably racist like sensible politicians were supposed to be. Alabama, in turn allowed 6 of its Democratic electors to vote for Byrd as well, presumably because they wanted Mississippi to think they were cool. And for some reason a Republican elector in Oklahoma cast his vote for Byrd, too — scholars have no clue what he was thinking.
Thanks in part to the Southern states behaving like spoiled children, it became clear that whoever won the state of Illinois would win the electoral vote, and thus, the presidency. The vote in Illinois was particularly close, and both parties scrambled to do some eleventh-hour cheating for their respective candidates. But in the end, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's skill at corruption prevailed as he managed to scrounge up 450,000 votes from his city from... somewhere. The Republicans were forced to admit defeat. In his concession speech, Nixon congratulated his opponent: "There's really nothing much to say. Both I and Senator Kennedy cheated as best we could, and on this day, he was the better cheater. However, I solemnly vow to the American people that I will learn from my mistakes and do a much better job of cheating next time."
The 1960 election exposed a plethora of problems with the electoral college, and in subsequent years there were many talks of abolishing it in favor of having the President election be decided based solely on the popular vote. Eventually, however, these calls for reform quieted down. After all, what were the chances that an election between a popular second-term president's vice president who had a tendency to make bad decisions regarding makeup during presidential debates and an up-and-coming politician whose successes to that point were widely attributed to be due almost entirely to his father's connections would ever be this closely contended again? The scholarly opinion was unanimous: "not a chance."
- ↑ Nope. Not at all.
- ↑ That, and Joe Kennedy had also secured photos which depicted someone who may or may not have been Adlai Stevenson enjoying "the company of men," if you catch my drift.
- ↑ In retrospect, these views appear to have been slightly exaggerated.
- ↑ The organizers of Nixon's campaign initially hoped to repeat the overwhelming success of Eisenhower's famous "I Like Ike" campaign, but for some reason, focus groups did not respond well to "I Lick Dick."
- ↑ Because that whole "logical argument" thing was just too hard, and it's way easier to make somebody look pretty.
- ↑ For example, in 2004, George W. Bush won the majority of the total votes, becoming the first candidate in more than a decade to do so.