May 29 will be the 100th birthday of President John F. Kennedy. Our 35th President is remembered today for his personal style (drop dead handsome) and his inspiration to the nation (“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”).
However, his biggest achievement was breaking through the wall of religious prejudice. Never before and never since, has a Roman Catholic been elected President.
Thomas Oliphant (Boston Globe national correspondent) and Curtis Wilkie (journalism professor at the University of Mississippi and former Boston Globe national reporter) have written an enjoyable account of JFK’s five year quest for the Presidency.
The Road to Camelot (Simon and Schuster) covers JFK’s bid for the 1956 Vice Presidential nomination, the 1960 primaries and convention, the campaign against Richard Nixon, and the effort to build the Black vote. The book is rich in political lore–campaign strategy, power struggles within the party, the experts, the journalists, the bosses and the activists
Most significant in the 1960 election was the religious issue. In less tolerant times, Kennedy had to defeat the perception that conservative Protestants would never vote for a Catholic. To reassure Protestants, JFK emphasized his commitment to separation of church and state. Meanwhile, he worked to boost the urban Catholic vote.
On election day, JFK won the popular vote by 112,000 votes. He won the electoral vote by 303 to 219. After examining polls taken in 1960, reviewing press reports, and comparing statistics from previous elections, Oliphant and Wilkie conclude that anti-Catholic bias probably reduced JFK’s popular vote. However, strong Catholic support helped him win several battleground states and raised his electoral vote. As we learned in 2016, the electoral vote counts.
Happy 100th birthday, JFK.