Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Later that night ...

Yesterday's post was the start of the first chapter of Theodore White's great account of the Kennedy election. That chapter concludes with the tight conclusion of election night. Whereas the earlier extract was White's purplest prose, this is more narrative and factual, more journalistic:
... about one A.M., the monitored wire in the [Hyannis' National Guard] Armory [which was being used as the Kennedy press center] clacked -- a message of congratulation from President Eisenhower to President-Elect Kennedy! Press Secretary Salinger immediately double-checked by telephone to Washington and James Hagerty, Eisenhower's press secretary, before releasing it. Hagerty, desperate, asked that the wire not be released -- he had had two messages in his pocket, one of victory, one of defeat, and had inadvertently let one get away from him too early. Salinger, in the brotherhood of press agentry, understood and held back the news from the press; but for a moment the jubilation at the cottage had boiled; then faded; and now it was tense again.)

Now and then, as the telephones rang from across the country, the candidate would take a call himself; more often he declined. Lyndon Johnson telephoned from Texas; the candidate went upstairs to answer this one. He came down in a few minutes, saw the faces watching him and reported that Lyndon had said, "I hear you're losing Ohio, but we're doing fine in Pennsylvania." He stressed the you of defeat in Ohio and the we of victory in Pennsylvania just enough to make everyone laugh. But it was laughter without rancor, for they knew that Johnson, in Texas, was sweating it out as much as they were here. From New York, the State Democratic Committee (Tammany controlled), telephoned urging that the candidate send them a telegram of congratulations on their landslide in New York -- but the candidate dodged it, knowing this was no moment to enter into the Byzantine Democratic politics of New York State and decide which of the many forces there had truly won the victory.

More generally Bobby Kennedy took or made the calls, and Bobby's calls now reflected the narrowing center of attention: calls to Dick Daley in Chicago (who said not to worry -- Daley knew which of his precincts were out and which of theirs were out, and it was going to be all right); calls to Sid Woolner in Michigan, who claimed nothing yet in Michigan nor conceded anything; calls to Jesse Unruh in Southern California, who could not say which precincts were out, which in -- a bad sign.

There was, then, as the hours wore on to three in the morning a general shape to the election. Four states held center stage: Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, California -- three in the Midwest, one in the Far West. And in each, the same pattern of voting rose from the same style of life and the same prejudices -- city against countryside, old stock against new. Los Angeles and San Francisco had voted Republican in 1956; now they were giving Kennedy a lead. But in the Central Valley, where Stevenson had led Eisenhower in 1956, Kennedy was barely abreast -- the Central Valley is inhabited by Oklahomans and transplants from the Southern Bible Belt. In Los Angeles' suburbs Kennedy was being overwhelmed. In the three Midwestern states, the big cities had all given him the expected plurality; but in the farms and in the suburbs and the small towns it was going abruptly against him.

Two of these four states -- any two -- would give the candidate the election with certainty. But if he won only one of these four, then the Presidency of the United States would depend on the ballots of fourteen or fifteen unpledged and unbranded segregationist Electors from the Deep South; the election would, by the Constitution, be thrown to the House of Representatives, for the second time in 170 years of American history. Only if Kennedy lost all four, which was unlikely, could Richard Nixon win. So that, though Nixon had almost certainly lost, Kennedy had not yet definitely won.

Shortly after three, as the TV screen showed him hanging at 261 or 262 electoral votes, as it had shown him so hanging for hours, there came a commotion over the video screen; a bustle and turbulence was shown in the clamor of the press room at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where, said the announcer, Nixon would soon be arriving to make a statement to the nation. Kennedy looked at the scene for a minute and then said to his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, who had been urging him to soothe the press mob in the Hyannis Armory by just such a personal appearance as this: "And you want me to go down into that?"

The candidate stood there, a sandwich in one hand, trailing on the floor his jacket, its yellow silk lining turned out, showing its goldprinted horses.

"Is there any milk in the house?" asked the candidate, munching his sandwich. But his staff was too busy watching the TV screen for the appearance of Nixon. Their faces softened now, with the melancholy of men purchasing victory too dearly, yet sympathizing with the effort of the man who was about to acknowledge defeat, thinking, as one of them remembers now, how close all this had been and there, but for the Grace of God, go we.

They waited silently, intent on the screen; and the candidate had left the room and now returned from the kitchen icebox before Nixon had reached the TV camera. "There wasn't any milk," he remarked irritably, "only beer."

He said nothing as Nixon spoke, watching closely, his expression showing faint distaste. He himself, elegant and correct in all public appearances, had never permitted his wife to be exposed to this sort of thing; the heroic effort to smile by Nixon, the twisted, barely controlled sorrow of Mrs. Nixon, twinged him, almost as if he were embarrassed. It was not, could not be, the sort of thing he himself might do, for Kennedy likes matters clean-cut, correct. Yet when Nixon had finished and the Kennedy staff around the table had swept in an instant from sympathy to a growling anger at the man who would not concede when the stage was set for concession, the candidate calmed their combat anger.

"Why should he concede? I wouldn't," he said curtly.

Salinger, under pressure from the press and the TV cameramen, urged again that Kennedy go down to the Armory and make an appearance before the Eastern cameras to match the one that Nixon had just given in the West. The candidate refused. He would have nothing to say until Nixon spoke again. He was going home to bed. They should all go home to bed.

The candidate left the house of his brother by the parlor, passing through the door to the front porch and then to his own home.

It was in this same room, with these same people, that a year before he had reviewed the entire country, state by state, approved the final plans and set in motion the machinery that was to bring him to this election night. No press had been aware then of that meeting; no TV cameras had stalked him as did the TV cameras now, their blinding light making the velvet autumnal grass on which he walked a pale, luminous spring green.

He and his men had planned then a campaign that seemed utterly preposterous -- to take the youngest Democratic candidate to offer himself in this century, of the minority Catholic faith, a man burdened by wealth and controversial family, relying on lieutenants scarcely more than boys, and make him President. They had planned shrewdly and skillfully in this room on that long-ago October day of 1959 to direct a campaign that would sweep out of the decade of the sixties America's past prejudices, the sediment of yesterday's politics, and make a new politics of the future.

Now, at this hour of twenty minutes to four in the morning, as he crossed the lawn to his own home, he could not tell whether he had won or lost -- and, if he won or lost, whether this election spoke America's past or its future.

It had been a long road since that early October meeting, 229,000 miles or more, back and forth across the country, in a disturbed year. Where the road had finally brought him he could not yet tell. But along the road, over the past year and to this point, he had somehow stirred every nerve end of the American political system, and that system would never be the same.

This much, at least, he had accomplished.
Next morning:

Three hundred and twenty pages and thirteen chapters later, White picks up the story of Wednesday, 9th November, 1960:
There is no ceremony more splendid than the inauguration of an American President. Yet Inauguration is a ceremony of state, of the visible majesty of power. And though the powers of the office are unique, even more spectacular and novel in the sight of history is the method of transfer of those powers-the free choice by a free people, one by one, in secrecy, of a single national leader.

Whether Americans have chosen this leader well or badly is of the most immense importance not only to them but to the destiny of the human race. Yet, well or badly done, no bells ring at any given hour across the nation when the voting is over, nor do any purple-robed priests wait that night to annoint the man who will soon be the most powerful individual in the free world. The power passes invisibly in the night as election day ends; the national vigil includes all citizens; and when consensus is reached, the successful candidate must accept the decision in'the same rough, ragged, and turbulent fashion in which he has conducted the campaign that has brought him to power. He is still half-man, half-President, not yet separated from the companions of campaign who have helped make him great, nor walled off from the throngs he has caused to crowd and touch him over the many months. So there were no ceremonies on the night of November 8th-9th of 1960,

The candidate had gone to sleep at four o'clock on election night, after waking his wife to tell her that it seemed all right, it looked as if it would be all right. But he did not know. Across the lawn, the operators of the control room in Bobby Kennedy's cottage packed their brief cases; they, too, must sleep, and so they filed into the bus that waited to carry them to the hotel, the same parade of men who had been with him all the way from the year before in this same house: Kenny O'Donnell and his wife, Larry O'Brien and his wife, Dick Donahue and his wife, Lou Harris, several others; grimfaced, somber, half-sullen they were driven to their hotel, silent. Alone in the now empty command post, until dawn, there remained only Bobby Kennedy. ("We had too much going for us to be worried, something must break our way," said Bobby a few hours later, when asked how he had spent the dawn watch and whether he had been worried.) California, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota were all still out and uncertain when the candidate had left his brother to go to bed, and even though there was no further action to be powered by the motor of Bobby Kennedy, Bobby kept telephoning, calling, checking around the nation. (The long-distance telephone bill at the command post for the single election night was estimated at $10,000.)

Now in the night, as Bobby alone stayed awake, with no precision of hour or minute, the power was passing.

Across the land, in California, where Richard Nixon slept, his command half-heartedly waited for reprieve from what seemed obvious; they waited on two states -- Pennsylvania and Michigan. Well before the Republican candidate woke (at 6:30 in the morning, Pacific Coast Time; 9:30 in the morning, Eastern Standard Time) they had been informed, first, by Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, that the Kennedy lead in that state was now too powerful for any last-minute surge of the farms and suburbs to overtake; next, a telephone call from Michigan reported that the best Republican judgment in Michigan was that, however slim the margin might be in the automobile state (67,000 votes), it was a Kennedy margin and solid; so now Richard Nixon could not be elected, no matter how Illinois or California went.

It was Michigan, in fact, that marked the passage of power from one party to the other in what little official ceremony election night offered. All night, in his Washington home, the Chief of the Secret Service, Urbanus E. Baughman, a lean, graying, slow-spoken man, had sat watching the television screen, no better informed than any other citizen, yet burdened by law with the duty of guarding and protecting the body of the President-elect of the United States as soon as his identity should be known. Two direct long-distance wires linked him telephonically to Los Angeles and Hyannisport and to the two platoons (sixteen men each) of Secret Service men waiting for his word, at both centers, to move to protect a President -- or not to move. In Hyannisport, at the Holiday Heath Inn, Inspector Burrell Petersen, watching his television set too, began to itch for the move at 2: 35 in the morning when the television screen showed Kennedy at 261 electoral votes. Over the telephone, Chief Baughman instructed him to wait -- Kennedy was still eight votes short. At 4:15 A.M., with Kennedy at 265 votes and still four short, Petersen called once more – and again was instructed to wait. At 5:35, Chief Baughman in Washington noted that television had given Michigan's 20 votes to Kennedy, to make a tentative 285 and a tentative majority. It was now too late to wonder or doubt any longer, for his responsibility was clear, and at 5:45 Baughman telephoned Petersen with instructions to move to establish security. The candidate and his staff still slept as the sixteen agents in their borrowed cars set out in the night for the compound by the beach; by seven in the morning, security had been established and the President-elect was walled off, as he would be for four or eight years to come, from all other citizens and ordinary mortals. The members of the Kennedy staff still remember with amazement the silent efficiency of these operatives. As each of the staff group arrived at the compound in the morning, the Secret Service agents recognized his face and name, knew his function, importance, responsibility; they had done all the homework necessary to protect the Chief Executive and distinguish his servants from the strangers.

Sorensen was the first to arrive, to be invited upstairs at 9:30 to the candidate's second-story bedroom, where he found the President-to-be in white pajamas sitting on the bed. It was Sorensen who told the President that California had definitely been carried and that he, John F. Kennedy, was now the next President. A few minutes later Pierre Salinger arrived with the same news, and for a few minutes all three, with little excitement, discussed the late flashes and reports of returns from across the country. It was still too early to claim victory publicly, although now all three were convinced it had happened; they would wait, the President-to-be decided, until Richard M. Nixon in California chose to yield. When his aides had left, the candidate strolled to the window, saw a fine, bright New England day and a knot of photographers and cameramen on the lawn below; he waved to them, smiling, then withdrew; he shaved (with a straight razor), dressed, and then went down to have his normal breakfast with his wife and child.

He came out after breakfast, shortly after ten -- suntanned, windblown, smiling, a bit more tired than he had looked six months before, yet now revived from the exhaustion of the previous twenty-four hours. He was leading his daughter, Caroline, by the hand; he piggy-backed her for a few minutes at her insistent pleading, then invited his younger brother, Edward, to go for a walk along the beach. Several other Kennedys and Ted Sorensen now materialized, and they crossed the bluff and dune grass to the sands of the beach, followed carefully by Secret Service men, and walked until almost eleven, when they returned to Bobby Kennedy's cottage. There, Salinger had been informed by James Hagerty, Eisenhower's press secretary, from Washington, that a congratulatory message would soon be arriving from Dwight D. Eisenhower; Nixon's formal concession would also be coming momentarily. All sat down in front of the television set, and as the figure of Herbert Klein, Nixon's press secretary, appeared on screen, a dead hush fell over the group; for a moment the new President twitted Salinger on his appearance contrasted with Klein's, then all were silent. Someone cleared his throat as if to speak and the President-to-be said sharply, "I want to hear this," and leaned forward. When Klein had finished, the campaign was thoroughly over, and the new President said, "All right, let's go.”

There followed a bustle of almost an hour. "Where's Jackie?" said the President-elect as he rose from his armchair. She was on the beach, walking by herself, and the President-elect went personally to fetch her, bringing her back as he found her, dressed in a faded raincoat, wearing flat-heeled beach shoes, a scarf wound around her head. Now all must dress; all must have their pictures taken in the living room of his father's house; all must be ready for the cavalcade to the Hyannis Armory, where press and television waited. The cavalcade formed outside the home of Joseph P. Kennedy and lingered; the President had dashed from the car as if propelled by an afterthought and ran again into the house. He had decided he would not yield to his father's year-long insistence on obscurity -- his father must come with him now in this moment of victory, to be part of the public ceremony. While he waited for his father to dress, and the cavalcade waited for him, and the television cameras and the nation waited for all of them, the President tossed a football he had found on the lawn back and forth with one of his father's houseguests.

Then, finally, they were ready. Forty-eight hours earlier, in the heat of the campaign, such a cavalcade would have been considered a disaster -- so few people lined the streets to watch him come; not until the procession reached the Armory was there any real mass of welcome sound and people. But there was no problem with this cluster. The Secret Service were used to protecting Presidents -- they cleared the way, fanning from their practiced lope alongside his white Lincoln Continental into a wedge that opened his path. And there in the Armory they were all there lining the way to the platform -- Sorensen and O'Donnell and O'Brien and Salinger and Reinsch and Dave Powers and Donahue and Dungan and Goodwin and Feldman and all the others. One or two of those closest to him as he climbed the platform insist that his eyes teared over and he could not speak when he shook hands with his aides before he mounted the steps; but this may have been imagination. When he finally spoke before the microphones and to the press and to the nation, he spoke evenly, with no tremor in his voice -- only his hands holding the yellow telegraph forms and the white sheets of his replies shook and trembled, but they were below camera range. He read the congratulations he had received from both Eisenhower and Nixon, read his replies, answered a few questions and then again made his way out
of the Armory, in a slow five-minute procession to the door as he shook hands with the reporters who had followed him; he paused to say a personal word to each that he could see.

Lunch followed at his father's house, full family present along with Sorensen and Walton. It was a laughing lunch as they discussed the returns, as they vaunted over who had performed best in what state, and needled those responsible for lost states.

In the afternoon family and friends went out to the lawn to play touch football, and in the midst of the game the President himself came running across the lawn to join them. The President became quarterback of one team, his brother Bobby quarterback of the other team, and the Secret Service men watching from the dune grass looked on in horror as his sisters screamed and clawed, as they bumped into one another, as players tangled and men fell to the ground and the President of the United States (whom they were sworn to defend) rose and fell with them. The game was over before five (Bobby's team had won by a single touchdown), and the President went back to his own cottage.

That night he dined with artist Walton again and with Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Bradlee, all old friends. They talked of politics and personalities, among others of J. Edgar Hoover and Allen W. Dulles. They also discussed quite warily and seriously the first note of congratulations from Mr. Khrushchev. At this point Joseph P. Kennedy arrived to invite them all to watch movies at his house. The movies began with an action picture with John Wayne and, since that satisfied no one, they interrupted it and began another movie, Butterfield 8. The President lingered for only a few minutes -- the screen could not keep his attention, and he slipped out of the room: He asked no one to come with him nor did anyone offer to follow.

It was important for him to be alone. He had run all the way, and brilliantly. Yet the margin of voices that proclaimed him President was so thin as to be almost an accident of counting. One could read no meaning from the numbers -- only from the shape and structure of the numbers. It was as if for a year he had been operating in a room full of dark, colliding forces; one could sense the outline of the forces; but there had been no light available to define the forces until election day itself. Then, like a high-speed stroboscopic camera in a photo flash of light, the election tally had stopped all motion and captured a momentary, yet precise, picture of the moods, the wills, the past and the future of all the communities that made America whole.
Compare and contrast

The names have changed, as have the times and the political geography. Emotions remain much the same.

For many, like Malcolm watching from Dublin, the torch was not just passing to a new generation: a whole swash of prejudices (against Roman Catholics, against the "black Irish" of Boston) had been sluiced away. There was a new hope: that the sliminess and McCarthyite red-baiting, spewed by the likes of Tricky Dick Nixon, had been buried forever; that America could find a new internal peace from its endless racial tensions.

Many of those seemingly-stainless hopes of 1960 corroded in the years that followed:

Hemingway, Eichman, "Stranger in a Strange Land",
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion,

"Lawrence of Arabia", British Beatlemania,
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson,

Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex,
JFK blown away, what else do I have to say?

We didn't start the fire:
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning:
No, we didn't light it;
But we tried to fight it.

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1 comment:

Dewi Harries said...

Thanks Malcolm - sounds a fantastic to Amazon !!

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