Peggy Noonan makes a great point in her op-ed on The Wall Street Journal web site on March 31. The 1960 Presidential election was among the closest in history, far closer than the ones in 2016 and 2020 and more like 2000. The candidates were separated by about 100,000 votes out of over 60 million cast. Many think, as she points out, that it was ballot mischief in Chicago and Texas that gave JFK the electoral victory the morning after.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Most of my parent’s friends were deathly afraid of the old Commie hunter Nixon who had his own checkered election shenanigans past in California. Nixon was perceived to be then and proved to be later a flagrant anti-Semite on the Watergate tapes. The Jewish community of Long Island was scared silly of what would happen if Nixon should win. This was only 15 years after the end of the Second World War and we were deep into the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis had yet to occur, but the fear of the Soviets plus the fear of new Nazis made Kennedy look like the better choice despite his father being a Nazi sympathizer.
Many in Nixon’s camp wanted him to challenge the Kennedy win, but Nixon, to his everlasting credit, thought the country could not withstand a controversial outcome (see 2000) and declined the protest. He sat as the President of the Senate when the electoral votes were counted in JFK’s favor (as did Al Gore in 2001).
Say what you will about what Tricky Dick did later, that night, in November of 1960, he did what was bad for him, but good for the country. Are there any politicians like that any more? None that I can think of. Certainly not Mitch McConnell or Chuck Schumer let alone Donald Trump, Bernie or AOC. Trump is the worst still claiming he won a race he lost by 7 million votes and many electoral votes.
Of course, Nixon got his revenge in 1968 by winning the Presidency and then blew it all up with Watergate. His innate pettiness undid him in 1972, but in 1960, he showed great patriotism. He was a very curious man.
Where now do we see leadership willing to sacrifice for the greater good? Rarely.
The greatest example of the exact opposite, of course, is Donald Trump who never did anything that didn’t benefit him and certainly made no sacrifices for his country either during the Vietnam draft or after.
What I fear is that this selfish form of self-aggrandizement has become the norm in leadership everywhere. Now people quit leadership positions only under great pressure and duress—in corporations, in government, in academics. I’m not sure any MD Anderson president really left willingly.
There may be a better example than Trump. That’s Putin. He is virtually burying his own people in order to fulfill his hysterical dream of a Greater Russia even thinking the history of the Soviet Union was too lenient with the lands that were the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. Putin wants to control everything, but his reach has surely exceeded his grasp in Ukraine and he will lose even if he gains a little territory. He’s, like Trump, a bully and a self-serving autocrat. That is doomed to failure.
I am surely no one to sing the praises of Richard Nixon who was so ignominious, but even he was cured of mural dyslexia, read the handwriting on the wall and resigned. I don’t think the current presidents of all sorts are as willing to sacrifice which is too bad.
We would all be better off with new leadership in so many places especially if regime change was voluntary or tenures term-limited.