By Richard Mammana
The 1960 election was one of the closest in American history, with Kennedy’s winning 49.72 percent of the popular vote against Nixon’s 49.55 percent. (Nixon carried 26 states, four more than Kennedy’s 22; the electoral map gave Kennedy 303 votes to Nixon’s 219.)
These editorials about the 1960 American presidential election come from Peter Morton Day (1914-84, editor 1952-64). Day was a layperson and journalist who became the first designated ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Church after his tenure as editor of The Living Church. Day’s reflections touch on domestic and international concerns for his Cold War audience, along with a mention of the importance of independent voters, the significance of the electoral college in deciding the election, and the falling of Roman Catholicism as a social bar to the presidential office.
“Candidates and Issues”
From The Living Church, Sept. 4, 1960, p. 17
In the current presidential campaign, the demand is often heard that the candidates make definite pronouncements and commitments about the issues facing the country. On the face of it, this [is] a reasonable demand; yet the nature of the problems facing the United States is such that it may be impossible and certainly would be unwise for the candidates to comply.
What Mr. Kennedy or Mr. Nixon would do about the Berlin situation, or the China straits situation, or Cuba, or some other tense area of international relations, would be one of a series of moves in a complex and dangerous chess game. And in such a game, it would be sheer suicide for this country to announce its intentions in such a way as to limit its ability to maneuver.
In the field of domestic affairs, although the situation is not so explosive, it is still true that governmental policies must be fluid enough to cope with unexpected changes. Policies designed to halt inflation might have to be changed to forestall a depression, and even to say that Policy A will be used in the one case and Policy B will be used in the other would quite possibly be an unrealistic oversimplification.
It seems that the choice of the next president must be based upon the belief of the public in the candidate’s ability to frame new policies to fit new situations within the context of the broad generalities upon which agreement is so complete that one must listen closely to detect the differences in emphasis. The “issues” of civil rights, of economic growth and prosperity, of a more effective farm policy, of military strength (magically combined with the quest for disarmament), of the control of inflation, of reduced international tensions, of resistance to Communist advances, of the encouragement of democracy and national self-determination, of the space race and the development of nuclear energy—these are not “issues” at all between the parties of the candidates.
The differences in emphasis are genuine enough, no doubt. They certainly are highly important to the voter who identifies himself as a Republican or a Democrat. For him his party represents certain principles or the aspirations and interests of certain groups. But to the independent voters who will decide the election, these partisan nuances are of less significance than the candidate’s ability to guide the country toward the goals of peace, prosperity, freedom, and international security upon which all parties and candidates agree.
In the simpler setting of America’s earlier years, a candidate could spell out just what he intended to do if elected. Such an effort today would be unrealistic and might even be harmful.
Richard Mammana is Archivist of the Living Church Foundation.