The Making Of The President: The 1960’s

| July 5, 2011

The 1960’s was perhaps the most tumultuous decade of the 20th century. College students, women, and non-white Americans suffered for their freedoms as citizens of the United States. There was a military action in Vietnam that divided a nation. In the middle of all of this social upheaval were three landmark presidential elections, each with its own sense of change. The Making Of The President , a made-for-television documentary series, takes an inside look at each of these three elections, including the dramatic effect that one family in particular would have not only on these elections, but many more in future years.
Disc 1 takes a look at the lead up to the 1960 election. The first third focuses on the Democratic candidates. John Fitzgerald Kennedy of Massachusetts became the early frontrunner, winning the Wisconsin and West Virginia primaries, thus eliminating his first challenger, Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota. At the Democratic National Convention held in Los Angeles in July, Kennedy’s remaining competitors (Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, and Stuart Symington of Missouri) all fell by the wayside. Kennedy’s youth, charm, and charisma had won over the majority of the Democrats, with the exception of one prominent liberal. Former president Harry S. Truman questioned whether someone of such youth (Kennedy was 43) and inexperience was the right choice. Lyndon Johnson believed in Kennedy, so much so that he became JFK’s vice presidential candidate.
The second third of Disc 1 looks at the relative ease of the Republican nomination for president. Richard Milhouse Nixon, Vice President under out-going president Dwight Eisenhower, was the runaway choice. Only one candidate attempted to challenge Nixon (Nelson Rockefeller of New York), but it turned out to be no challenge at all. Nixon won his party’s nomination unanimously at the Republican National Convention held in Chicago in July.
The final third of Disc 1 gives the audience the main event of the year: John F. Kennedy vs. Richard M. Nixon for President of the United States. The last two men standing set up what was to be a historic televised debate for the evening of September 26, 1960. Kennedy chose to speak directly to the nation, Nixon to his opponent. The nation felt closer and more at ease with this charismatic young candidate. The following three debates were viewed as stalemates. One event that really cemented Kennedy’s push was the night Martin Luther King was arrested. Kennedy made a personal phone call to King’s wife. When the story hit, voters swung in Kennedy’s favor. Even a last ditch effort to save Nixon by President Eisenhower was not enough. On November 8, 1960, the nation elected John F. Kennedy president of the United States. His official inauguration took place on January 20, 1961.
Disc 2 is a review of the 1964 election. It is presented in two parts, the first of which is entitled “The Battle for The Nomination”. Before the Republican side of the race is addressed, a brief review of the Kennedy assassination in November of 1963 is presented. Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy’s Vice President, would take over as leader of the free world. The Republicans had three candidates at the start of the proceedings: Nelson Rockefeller of New York, Barry Goldwater of Arizona, and Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts. Each man won a state primary election, with Goldwater winning California and thus all but sows up his nomination. Goldwater’s vote against the Civil Rights bill frightens Republican leaders, fearing there will be a voting backlash later in the presidential race. On July 14 in San Francisco, Goldwater wins the Republican nomination in a landslide.
Part two of Disc 2 is entitled “The Battle for The Presidency”. There really isn’t a whole lot mentioned about the Democratic race, because there was none. Johnson was the only candidate. To whit, there really was no battle for the presidency. Johnson won 44 of 50 states. The popular vote was different, especially in the black communities. Johnson won their vote by a margin of 9 to 1. The Republicans were right. Goldwater’s vote against the Civil Rights bill did come back to haunt him.
Disc 3 takes a look at the 1968 election. The Democrats are thrown of guard when Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota upsets incumbent Lyndon Johnson at the New Hampshire primary. This defeat would lead Johnson to not seek re-election. This also opened the door for Robert Kennedy to run. Also entering the race would be Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert H. Humphrey. The war in Vietnam and increasing racial tension are key issues for all three men. Early on, the black communities pledge their support for Kennedy. In April, the assassination of Martin Luther King leads to rioting in cities across the nation. Kennedy’s call for peace helps him to win the June 4th California primary. Later that same day, in a fatal twist of irony, Robert Kennedy is shot and killed. Two months later, with the country still reeling over Kennedy’s untimely death, the Republican National Convention is held in Miami. Familiar foe Nelson Rockefeller and newcomer Ronald Reagan try to upstage Nixon. It does not work. Nixon wins the nomination with relative ease. Now it is down to the final two men…or is it? A new candidate, George Wallace, enters the race along side Nixon and Humphrey. Somehow Wallace’s racist views strike a chord in Southern states. Wallace steals votes from both of his opponents, making the election much closer than anyone anticipated. In the end, Richard Nixon narrowly wins the presidency.
This 3 DVD set, brought to us by Acorn Media, is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of a Presidential campaign. The three documentaries featured were based on best selling books from author Theodore H. White. White even won a Pulitzer Prize for his book on the 1960 campaign. The series was produced by David L. Wolpe, who also produced such epic television mini-series as Roots and North and South. The series won 4 Emmy awards, including program of the year.
The set includes two bonus featurettes. The first is A Thousand Days: A Tribute To John F. Kennedy, a short film originally shown at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The second bonus featurette is a personal look at Lyndon Johnson entitled The March of Time: Seven Days in the Life of the President.
For those who believe politics to be bland, boring, or even obnoxious, give The Making of The President: The 1960’s a chance. This fascinating set should change your mind.

About the Author:

Steve graduated from Southwestern Michigan College with an Associate's Degree in communications. He currently resides in Niles, MI
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