By Richard Mammana
The 1960 election was one of the closest in American history, with John F. Kennedy’s winning percentage of the popular vote at 49.72 percent against Richard M. 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 are by Peter Morton Day (1914-84, editor 1952-64). Day was a layman 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. We carried the pre-election editorial last week (“TBT: Candidates and issues”). Here is the post-election editorial, from The Living Church, Nov. 20, 1960, p. 16.
The election of Senator John F. Kennedy to the Presidency in an amazingly close contest does not, in our opinion, represent a balance of strongly differing approaches to national problems, but rather the determination of both candidates to take a middle-of-the-road position acceptable to the public as a whole. We shall leave to more appropriate commentators any further interpretations of the voting trends, except to record our satisfaction with the fact that Roman Catholicism can no longer be regarded as an insurmountable political liability for a presidential candidate.
The foremost item of unfinished national business before the President-elect and the United States, as we see it, is the task of regaining the initiative for democracy in international affairs. This initiative was not lost during the Eisenhower administration, nor during the Truman administration. Democracy has been on the defensive in the world since the rise of Mussolini and Hitler. In the 1930s and early 1940s the enemy was Fascism. In the 1950s the enemy was world Communism.
In Asia, Africa, Latin America, and in the Pacific Islands, the pressing issues on people’s minds are not democracy vs. Communism, but national self-determination and economic development vs. colonialism and poverty. To these countries, the forces of Communism hold out a plausible platform for a short cut to national power and prosperity. In recent years, the United States has taken belated notice of the fact that Communism was in danger of gaining the upper hand in one underdeveloped area after another, and has come forward with 11th-hour proposals of assistance. So it was in the Middle East during the Iraq crises. So it was in Africa when the Congo crisis came up. So it is in Latin America in the wake of the Cuban revolution.
The United States has never been a colonial power, and yet it has been maneuvered into the position of appearing to be the chief defender of colonialism. It is spending enormous sums overseas, and yet to many new nations the hard-headed trade deals of the Soviet Union seem more attractive. New, imaginative approaches are needed for the development of a foreign policy not based upon opposition to one political philosophy but based upon an affirmative philosophy of our own.
In many — perhaps a majority — of underdeveloped countries, the typical American pattern of economic development by private industry does not provide a satisfactory answer to national needs. These countries are not willing to wait until the 21st century to come into the standard of living which others are enjoying in the 20th century. Our task is not to try to make them duplicate the American pattern, but to assist them in the development of a pattern of their own under conditions of freedom and dignity.
Oppression, hunger, disease, illiteracy, poverty, fear — these are the foremost enemies of mankind. If they did not exist on a wide scale, Communism would have no more attraction to the citizens of other countries than it has to the average American workman. America and democracy will regain the initiative in world affairs only when it takes away from Communism the initiative in attacking these age-old enemies.
It is our hope that John Kennedy, the youngest man to be elected President in the history of our country, will stand for this kind of approach to world affairs. If so, the wisdom of the voters in choosing him will be vindicated.
When one considers the popular vote totals, however, the wisdom of the voters seems to have been a less important factor than the luck of the distribution of the votes in various states. Richard Nixon has received an expression of public confidence and support comparable to that of the President-elect. We hope that in the critical days ahead the nation will find some way to make full use of his experience and ability.
Richard Mammana is Archivist of the Living Church Foundation.