Thursday, March 9, 2017

Politics, Poker, and Access

As a piece of journalism, Theodore White’s “The Making of the President 1960” is good. I will admit I much prefer his “The Making of the President 1968,” but that’s probably due to the drama that surrounded the campaign in that year, what with Vietnam and the turmoil in the Democratic Party.

What I find striking in White’s first iteration is how much it speaks of access.

Today, that access – under a Trump presidency – likes to scream of a strangled First Amendment, when it’s clear that access, which Trump and his minions are denying certain members of the press corps, is much more about access, congeniality, conviviality, and butt-smooching than it is the First Amendment.

I base this claim on the near absence of Richard Nixon’s campaign from this book. Oh, it’s there – I did say the book represents a good piece of journalism, which presents both sides – but the book oozes access to the Kennedy campaign, either through design, accident, or malice that might make washed-up journalists like me blush.

It’s hard to tell whether the absent conviviality when White writes about Nixon is due to that candidate’s and, subsequently, that campaign’s rough relationship with the press, or whether it’s merely that White preferred to hang with the Kennedy crowd because of the access that campaign offered.

And I may be completely wrong and biased and ready to be ridden out of town on a rail. That’s just my impression, Nixon fanatic that I am. (Note: I call myself a fanatic because I’m fascinated by Nixon, not that I think he did everything right. Which obviously he did not.)

The Democratic campaign in the year 1960 has some interesting parallels to the campaign of 2016, wherein there was a core constituency of Democrats who preferred another candidate – Adlai Stevenson – over the establishment candidate, John Kennedy. Though Stevenson’s supporters were the minority, they tried mightily to get their man the nomination, viz (page 198):

The packing of the galleries by the [Adlai] Stevensonians was the result of sharp, well-planned organization. They had been allotted, prior to the Convention, only thirty-five tickets for all their cohorts. They had proceeded thus: first they solicited all members of the 750 Club (a Democratic money-raising device which promised two tickets to each contributor of $1,000) for their unwanted tickets and thus collected 1,000 free tickets; next, they pressed their friends on the host committee of the California Democratic Party to turn over most of their 1,000 tickets to them; finally, learning that the Kennedy organization expected to draw 2,500 tickets from the regular machinery of the Convention, they had lined their own people up at the special distribution lines for these tickets, pinned on them large KENNEDY buttons, and claimed from the earmarked Kennedy supply an estimated 1,500 tickets as their own. The Stevenson people thus, on the right of the Convention’s nomination, were in possession of almost 4,000 tickets to pack the galleries, which they did with lusty delight.

So yeah. Politics and poker, folks . . . 

And it ain’t getting’ any better today. The Democrats certainly saw what happened when the establishment candidate was picked over the one surging in popularity. And the whole country is witnessing what happens when the guy surging in popularity wins over the establishment candidate.

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