Kennedy and Nixon

The 1960 presidential election offered voters a clear choice between a well-born candidate who cared about the poor and a candidate of modest birth who wanted government restrained.

Kennedy and Nixon display a levity they probably do not feel after their second presidential debate, on October 7, 1960. (Associated Press)

Because there so often has been no real difference between the two political parties, it frequently has been difficult, if not impossible, to present a meaningful choice to the voters in an American presidential election. This year, fortunately, the choice will be clearer than usual. Two young men, intelligent and full of vigor, are the party standard-bearers. Both talk hopefully of the future, here at home and in America’s relations with the rest of the world.

One candidate seeks to meet the calculable problems by a more determined, fuller use of the powers of the federal government. The other believes that the problems can be handled with only a minimal increase of activity in the federal government in foreign affairs and close to none at all in domestic matters. This is the difference between progressivism and conservatism, between those who are not afraid of big government and those who are afraid, who see any expansion of the role of government as creeping socialism …

The candidates, far more than the platforms, matter most, however, and each of the two presidential nominees can be counted on to amend his platform as the campaign progresses.

Many observers believe that Kennedy is more conservative than the public thinks and that Nixon is more progressive.

John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon are both products of the 20th century, but, paradoxically, they have reversed their inheritances. Kennedy, born to wealth, has come to know the problems of the millions without wealth. The seven primaries in which he participated, especially the primary in West Virginia, where he saw at first hand the worst kind of American poverty, were vital to his education and to his growth in understanding this nation. His experiences in these primaries, as he is the first to admit, were highly useful in making him a national figure and in acquainting him with the political figures of the Democratic Party who were crucial to his nomination and will be to his election. His experiences in the primaries and the convention demonstrate that, however imperfect the system, the combination of the two is the best way for us to nominate a candidate.

Nixon, born to modest circumstances, has come to know, though not to acquire, wealth and the power it gives, in a way which has convinced him that conservatism is the essence of the American system. He, too, is well aware of the unfinished business of this nation at home, but he has accepted the view that restraint of government is vital to the continuance of the growth of free economic enterprise.

A good many observers believe that Kennedy is more conservative than the public thinks and that Nixon, on the other hand, is more progressive. This is probably so, if one compares the individuals with the party platforms. But neither should be viewed in that light alone; each is the standard-bearer of a force in the American system. Neither party is totalitarian in its approach; each has its extremists at both ends of the political spectrum. But the great majority of the Democratic Party is with Kennedy as a progressive, and the great majority of the Republican Party is with Nixon as a conservative.