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The Truth Gap: Dissecting Myths of the 1960 Election

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

Originally Written in November 2020. Two of the books discussed specifically take aim to torpedo the foundation of the

Kennedy “myth” established by Theodore White’s contemporary analysis of the 1960 election, The Making of the President. While W.J. Rorbaugh’s The Real Making of the President: Kennedy, Nixon, and the 1960 Election and Edmund F. Kallina’s Kennedy v. Nixon: The Presidential Election of 1960 arrive at different conclusions despite covering similar territory, both make excellent companion pieces in mapping the political landscape of the 1960s. Rorbaugh places the Democratic Party in the grip of big city machine bosses, while

oversimplifying the fault lines of the Republican Party. Kallina pays closer attention to the

schisms within the Republican Party and the political maneuvering that Richard Nixon navigated to secure the nomination from potential challengers like Nelson Rockerfeller.

The last work discussed analyzes and debunks the popular myth of organized crime’s

involvement in the 1960 election. In John J. Binder’s Organized Crime in the 1960 Election,

Binder reviews the bibliography of work that claims organized crime, specifically the Chicago

Outfit, fixed the 1960 election in Kennedy’s favor. Armed with voter data, the history of local

politics in Chicago, and intimidating mathematic equations, Binder is able to dispel any rumor of the underworld significantly influencing the 1960 election.

While Rorbaugh and Kallina both express a need to reexamine White’s version of the

1960 election, both authors go about it in very different ways. Since Kennedy was the main focus of White’s The Making of a President, he takes up an equal amount of space in Rorbaugh’s sardonic analysis. Rorabuagh’s take on the 1960 Democratic primaries transforms White’s portrayal of Kennedy as a “white knight” on a horse to a gladiator who didn’t mind “using dirty tricks during the primaries when he faced a possibly fatal loss... (1)” Rorbaugh specifically uses the term “dirty tricks” multiple times to describe the political strategies the Kennedy campaign undertook to win the Democratic primary, possibly in an attempt to further tarnish Kennedy’s reputation by using Watergate Era lingo (2). Rorbaugh goes on to expound on Kennedy’s ability to manipulate the press to the point where once his campaign’s dirty tricks were exposed, like getting FDR, Jr. to call Herbert Humphrey a “draft dodger” and the distribution of anti-Catholic literature in an effort to embolden the Catholic vote, Kennedy’s charm was seducing to the point where the “pro-Kennedy media had no interest in the story (3).” Kallina refrains from using the term “dirty tricks” to describe Kennedy’s shrewd political practices and downplays the importance it had on the primaries by claiming that “there is no evidence that the Kennedy skullduggery, such as it was, determined the outcome or the affected the margin of victory (4).” While Rorbaugh accounts for dirty tricks being one of the many reasons that Kennedy was victorious over Humphrey in the Democratic primaries, Kallina dismisses it entirely by saying “journalists became victims of their own sensationalism and propaganda about the importance of the religious issue....believing that the Massachusetts senator was the underdog (5).” Kallina places the blame of the manipulation of the media on the shoulders of media, departing from Rorbaugh’s claim that Kennedy’s manipulation of the media was a shrewd political tactic to help him win.

Another popular myth of the 1960 election where all three authors differ in their

conclusions is allegations of vote tampering in Chicago made on Kennedy’s behalf. Binder’s

Organized Crime in the 1960 Election methodically dismantles the claim that the Chicago Outfit interfered in the election after striking a deal with the Kennedys. Most of these accusations, from books like Gus Russo’s The Outfit, purport that organized crime was able to harness its influence within labor unions to control votes in certain districts of Chicago. Binder is able to crunch the numbers of voter data and conclude that “there is no evidence that union members voted unusually heavily for states where the Outfit had strong influence” and that “union members in states where the Outfit controlled organized crime voted unusually heavily against Kennedy (6).” Binder also does the math on how voter intimidation would also have been an impossibility from a simple numeric standpoint:

To effectively intimidate voters at a polling place, it would have taken at least four or five goons - a smaller number would have allowed irate voters to possibly pummel the "intimidators." With some 300 full members in 1960, many of whom were advanced in age, the Outfit would at best have been able to (if it so desired and the police did not intervene), coerce voters in one of these wards, each ward having between 46 and 63 precincts (7).

While Binder is able to dispel myths of voter influence in the national election, he doesn’t

discount Outfit meddling in elections at the local level, and how that could have inadvertently aided Kennedy. Instead of electing Kennedy, Binder claims that the Outfit was “mainly concerned with defeating the incumbent Republican State’s Attorney for Cook County, Benjamin Adamowski...” who “was a thorn in the side of the Outfit, conducting raids on gambling joints...and strip clubs (8).” Binder admits that Outfit influenced straight ticket

Democratic voting in an attempt to remove Adamowski from office could have produced more votes in Kennedy’s favor in Outfit controlled districts (9).

While reexamining White’s work, Rorbaugh and Kallina both offer their dueling

perspectives on allegations of voter fraud in Chicago. In keeping with his perspective that the Democratic Party was in the iron grip of big city political machine bosses, Rorbaugh claims that Chicago mayor Richard Daley “put pressure on the precinct captains and ward bosses to produced fixed vote margins for each precinct and ward for Kennedy....Any member of the organization that failed to produce was likely to lose both his political party post and his job (10).”Rorbaugh portrays Daley as authoritative as any Mafia boss, to the point where it may have influenced voter fraud. Rorbaugh says that efficient precinct captains were able to deliver votes on Election Day, while other precinct captains who weren’t able to gather voters “turned to other measures”, like removing Republican candidates from voter rolls and tallying votes under a deceased person’s name (11). Because Daley’s Democratic political machine controlled the infrastructure of voting in Chicago, Rorbaugh is certain that Daley was far more involved in fixing the election for Kennedy than the Chicago Outfit.

Kallina is less clear in his opinion of who committed voter fraud in Chicago. It certainly

seems that he believes that organized crime had some role in the 1960 election. Kallina mentions Joseph Kennedy’s alleged organized crime connections multiple times and states that Joe Kennedy “intervened with his acquaintances in organized crime to secure their support for his son in 1960 (12)." Kallina’s view is a departure from Binder’s opinion of Joe Kennedy’s relationship with organized crime. Binder believes that Joe Kennedy would be far too politically astute to meet “with a notorious gangster [Sam Giancana] under investigation by a Senate committee his two sons were associated with (13).”Kallina later downplays the importance of organized crime’s role in the 1960 election in his endnotes by saying “there is no reason to think that the influence of organized crime on the election was significant” and that Chicago Outfit boss Sam Giancana “liked to brag that he had elected JFK, but his claims are unconvincing (14).” not organized crime, then what about Mayor Daley and his Democratic political machine? Kallina believes that “Democrats committed a massive amount of vote fraud in Chicago...however, most of it seemed to focus on a local race and Republicans never produced convincing evidence that it affected the outcome of the presidential contest.... (15)” The one thing that Kallina is sure of is the affect that alleged voter fraud had on the psyche of the Republican party: “In the end, it was easier to believe in an emotionally comforting legend [of voter fraud] than it was to confront the messy reality of close elections (16)." While both Rorbaugh and Kallina both demonstrate that Kenedy had a clear numeric electoral advantage in his victory over Nixon, Kallina is the only one of the two to give credence to why the myth of the 1960 election being “stolen” still survives.

With their own unique narratives and perspectives, each of the aforementioned works

explores and analyzes different myths surrounding the 1960 election. Whether it is a modern

reexamining of an older political work, or dispelling rumors of the involvement of organized

crime, each author’s work reviewed here aspires to be the “real” history of the 1960 election in an effort to exorcise the grip that the myths of the past still have on our culture. Notes:

1. W.J. Rorabaugh, The Real Making of a President: Kennedy, Nixon, and the 1960 Election (Lawrence: Kansas University Press. 2009), l. 3853, Kindle. 2. Rorabaugh, The Real Making of the President, 3962.

3. Rorabaugh, The Real Making of the President, 3853.

4. Edmund F. Kallina, Jr., Kennedy v. Nixon: The Presidential Election of 1960 (Gainesville: University of Florida Press. 2011), 66.

5. Kallina, Kennedy v. Nixon, 66.

6. John. J Binder, “Organized Crime and the 1960 Presidential Election,” Public Choice 130, No. ¾ (March 2007): 253.

7. Binder, “Organized Crime,” 255.

8. Binder, “Organized Crime,” 252 – 263.

9. Binder, “Organized Crime,” 263.

10. Rorabaugh, The Real Making of the President, 3604.

11. Rorabaugh, The Real Making of the President, 3610.

12. Kallina, Kennedy v. Nixon, 100.

13. Binder, “Organized Crime,” 255.

14. Kallina, Kennedy v. Nixon, 257.

15. Kallina, Kennedy v. Nixon, 257.

16. Kallina, Kennedy v. Nixon, 212.

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