One down… 51 to go.
The first book of the Libro 52 challenge is Kennedy & Nixon: The Rivalry that Shaped Postwar America by Chris Matthews. Matthews is the guy behind Hardball With Chris Matthews and unsurprisingly, The Chris Matthews Show.
I’ve always been fascinated with Dick Nixon. He’s such a tragic figure and the reason every sleazy domestic scandal now has a “gate” slapped on the end of it.
After reading All The President’s Men (ATPM) and watching the movie by the same title, you certainly see a portrait of Nixon being drawn. If you watch the movie Frost/Nixon, much of the ATPM portrait is confirmed, but you witness more of the man. You see more of Nixon’s subtle personality traits. His oversized ambition, ego, and competitiveness are in full focus as well.
After reading Kennedy & Nixon, I realized my ATPM + Frost/Nixon introduction merely represented the tail end of the car crash. It was like seeing a guy in a bar drinking and then watching him get in a car wreck.
Sure, you saw enough to know he made a series of poor choices, but what led him to start drinking in the first place? What caused him to act like that?
Matthews’ book culminates with Nixon’s Watergate debacle, but the story begins around the parallel lines drawn by Nixon and Kennedy. Prior to Kennedy & Nixon, I never conceptually linked the career arcs of these 2 men. In my mind, Kennedy ascended to the presidency, was shot, and then some time later Nixon made his run.
Kennedy and Nixon both arrived in Congress the same year and initially struck a strong bond, despite their differing political affiliations. Their offices were across the hall from one another for many years and they spoke frequently. Kennedy even gave Nixon money (it was Kennedy’s daddy’s money, but green nonetheless) for one of Nixon’s Congress re-election races.
Despite some obvious differences in the conclusion of the stories, Disney’s The Fox and the Hound could have ripped off the Kennedy & Nixon narrative.
Nixon achieved his success earlier than Kennedy when he served two VP terms under Eisenhower. But the combination of Kennedy’s money, good looks and the new medium of TV coincided to land Kennedy in the White House as President, not Nixon.
Upon losing the presidential race, I didn’t know Nixon returned to California to run for Governor. It was said he ran for Governor to wait out the inevitable 8 years of the JFK presidency; that he couldn’t bear to lose again to a popular and incumbent Kennedy.
Nixon nonetheless, rose from the ashes and returned to national politics where his every move was challenged by a Kennedy: Jack, Bobby, and Teddy. The decade-long volleys in this 3-against-1 political tennis match (a mud wrestling match would be more apropos) would establish the context for Nixon’s Watergate.
Bottom line: Kennedy & Nixon is a fascinating read with great pace and a nice blend of humor and history. If you are interested in the topic – read it.
Bradley Hartmann is El Presidente at Red Angle (www.redanglespanish.com). He plans on reading 52 books this year and will report back on his progress with posts similar to these.
Categories: Libro 52 Challenge