cover image Kennedy & Nixon: The Rivalry That Shaped Postwar America

Kennedy & Nixon: The Rivalry That Shaped Postwar America

Christopher Matthews. Simon & Schuster, $24.5 (8pp) ISBN 978-0-684-81030-0

Wartime naval officers John Kennedy and Richard Nixon entered politics in the congressional class of 1947 and remained friendly thereafter. Until ambition and party identity began to pull them apart, they even shared a Cold War conservatism and middle-of-the-road domestic agenda. Yet Kennedy would remark after his narrow presidential victory in 1960, ""If I've done nothing [else] for this country, I've saved them from Dick Nixon."" Because Kennedy had his father's fortune as well as his father's ruthlessness, he was able to hold his own in the national arena after Nixon's own opportunism got him (during Eisenhower's illnesses) within a heartbeat of the White House. Additional Kennedy advantages were his authentic hero status and a reputation for braininess gained from his book Profiles in Courage. Washington cable news anchor Matthews (Hardball: How Politics Is Played) has described the largely familiar parallels between the political careers of the two electoral rivals and added some striking ones of his own. Nixon, he contends, was handicapped by resentment of Kennedy's affluence and easy elegance, struggling clumsily once in office to match what he saw as his presidential style. Running against the graceful ghost of one Kennedy, he found himself, in 1968, competing against the shade of a second martyred Kennedy, then against the inheritance of the Last Brother--whose ambitions he sought to sidetrack by means of the bunglers of Watergate. Haunted by the Kennedys, Nixon recklessly undermined his own presidency. To Matthews, the ""Camelot"" aura is as much a misperception as the idea that Watergate represents the real Nixon. Despite a straining for balance and a tendency to oversimplify to fit the tale to the theme, it is a good story. Illustrations not seen by PW. (June)