On one point everyone seems agreed: had Eisenhower run again he would have won again. It seems likely that even Nixon would have won, had Eisenhower entered the campaign a week or so earlier than he did. The President, our greatest celebrity, might have carried the country for the Republicans had he only been a bit more energetic. Instead he was loyal to his principles: his contribution to the campaign consisted of pious words and a little golf, the suppression of unemployment figures and a final ride through cheering crowds. It is worth recording that the Republicans lost because of a failure of will and energy—and that they only barely lost, since after all, this very lack was once their greatest strength.
The central theme of Kennedy’s campaign was America’s decline. Whatever that means in terms of future policy, it marks the end of the great celebration. And for the moment, at least, the atmosphere in Washington is definitely changed. Kennedy has yet to prove himself, but he has made the point that complacency is out of date. There is an openness to new ideas probably unlike anything since the thirties; we are told to expect significant new policies. The liberal critics of the past eight years are job-hunters at last; they do not always get from the careful Mr. Kennedy the positions they would like, but they will be active and even important members of the new administration.
IT IS DOUBTFUL, however, that there exists a liberal politics which can provide a background of ferment, discontent, agitation—and, where necessary, support—for Kennedy’s “new frontier.” We find ourselves in the sixties almost by accident. No great liberal movement swept Kennedy into the White House. To be sure, both parties felt compelled in 1960 to adopt the most liberal platforms in their history, and they were surely both responding to a kind of public demand. The ’58 elections seemed to indicate some vague but pervasive sense of things gone wrong, of the need for new ideas and energies at the center of government. Kennedy managed to express this restlessness—to make it somehow more urgent, though no more specific—and there was just enough dissatisfaction to elect him president.
At the same time, however, liberal congressional candidates were defeated in many parts of the country and the new Congress will be more conservative than the last. The group of young Congressmen who worked together on the Liberal Project was decimated: almost half its members will not return—among them Porter of Oregon and Meyer of New Hampshire. The point is not simply that Kennedy failed to win a big enough victory to pull local candidates behind him. What is more important is that in the course of the campaign the “new frontier” acquired no programmatic substance; Kennedy did not win support for his policies or for the men who would support his policies. Narrow as his victory was, it was his own—anoth...
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $29.95 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.