JFK and Nixon

Clearly, the two candidates at least inspired by JFK and Nixon. The "used car salesman" line which once Nixon is even used here of Cantwell.
There are obviously differences, of course. "Nixon" has the glamourous wife here instead of "JFK". "Nixon"'s past biography is also very similar to the real Nixon's (except in the film he seems to have gone after the Mafia more). The older brother character was an interesting invention - I'm not sure why there wasn't more about this.
I didn't like the fact both were in the same party in this.
Gore Vidal rarely seems to have a good word to say about Kennedy these days. I suspect it would be very different film had he written the screenplay now.


I don't think its as simple as that. I'd say both characters are an amalgamation of a number of different people.
Cantwell is more Kennedy-esque than Russell is (the ruthlessness, the young and attractive senator with the young and attractive wife; the hard-headed brother running his campaign??). There are bits of Nixon thrown in though - I agree about the 'car salesman' comment.
I'd say Russell is influenced more by Adlai Stevenson than by Kennedy, but I agree there are some Kennedy-esque traits.
More to the point, the whole scenario of the film is surely based on the Kennedy/Nixon wrangling that took place behind the scenes in the 1960 convention.

Anyway - great movie. I'm so pleased its finally out on DVD.

"Maybe I should go alone"
- Quint, Jaws.


JFK and Nixon were identical, American Caesars always are.

Marlon, Claudia and Dimby the cats 1989-2005, 2007 and 2010.


That will come as news to their families, friends and supporters...as it certainly would have to them.

But they were much closer in many matters than Democratic and Republican candidates are today. That's the result of the drift of the parties to the left and right, respectively, with few true moderates, or those of opposite persuasion to the majority of their party, left to serve as a balance. Today the Democrats are mostly liberal, albeit with some genuine moderate and even conservative members left; the Republicans are virtually all right-to-far-right, with even fewer exceptions. In 1960, there were lots of conservative Democrats, mostly from the South but some from the West and elsewhere, and many actually liberal Republicans, mainly from the Northeast, and many true moderates as well. The parties worked together on most legislation, and there were lots of members of each party who routinely crossed over to vote with the other party on different issues. Politics were still fierce, but there was a respect and friendship between many members across the aisle -- all the result of parties that were genuinely broad-based, not narrowly ideological. We thought things were so testy then. If only the politicians, reporters and historians of 1960 could see the state of American politics half a century later! A few have lived that long, and lament our comparatively benign past.


Nixon and Kennedy were utterly different from a personal standpoint, although from a purely political standpoint they had a lot of overlap. Both considered anti-Sovietism to be the North Star of US foreign policy. Both were extremely distrustful of "big business" although both sought to use it to their own advantage. Both men were, essentially, spectators to the Civil Rights Movement, constantly measuring their own attitudes against those of American voters as a whole. Neither had any significant 1:1 experience dealing with African-Americans (in fairness, virtually no whites from outside the South did in those days). Both viewed themselves as essential "outsiders" in terms of the overall American political scene: Nixon by virtue of economic class and geography; Kennedy by virtue of ethnicity and religion.


I agree with some of what you say, but not with a few things.

Neither JFK nor RMN was distrustful of "big business" at all. Many of Nixon's best friends, so to speak, were "big businessmen", and he had the strong support of Wall Street and corporate boardrooms. Kennedy was viewed by them with suspicion because he was a labor-oriented Democrat, but in fact once in the WH he appointed a Republican as Treasury Secretary and presided over a basically conservative economic policy under which big business thrived.

It is ironic that Nixon, who grew up poor, should have such an affinity for the well-off, while the rich Kennedy, with no direct experience of the working class, should be their hero. I don't believe either man thought of himself as an "outsider" -- they were of the same Depression/WWII generation and broadly shared similar views about America and the world -- but each did feel he had a unique position in American life...which they did. Neither man's upbringing, religion, ethnic background (both were of Irish descent) or geography (California? Massachusetts?) labeled either man as an "outsider". As for anti-Communism, that was a mainstay of virtually every major American political figure of that era; neither JFK nor RMN was in any way unique in that regard.

Both were indeed observers to the civil rights movement, but then so were most politicians in 1960, and in fact Nixon got 32% of the black vote that year -- the last Republican ever to exceed 9 or 10% of that vote, thanks to the party's subsequent "Southern strategy". (I disagree that "virtually no whites from outside the South" had any 1:1 experience with African-Americans at that time. Millions did, but seldom on equal terms, that is, as friends or neighbors. Southerners were no different in this respect, except that violence against blacks and legalized discrimination were the norm in the South.)


I think the support Nixon had from "Wall Street and corporate boardrooms" was simply a function of his status as the Republican nominee at a time when the GOP was so strongly identified with those elements. I think, on a personal level, Nixon never blended in with that crowd the way (for example) Dewey, Eisenhower, George Romney, and Nelson Rockefeller did.

I don't think Nixon really did have "such an affinity for the well-off", I think in fact he felt painfully self-conscious around them, with a small handful of exceptions (I am thinking, in particular, of Walter
Annenberg, Bebe Rebozo and Bob Abplanalp; perhaps John Mitchell to an extent).

I guess we will have to disagree about whether Kennedy, and most non-Catholic Americans in general, viewed his Catholicism as a sign of his "Otherness" or of his status as an outsider. I think both he, and they, most definitely did. The role of the Irish in statewide Massachusetts politics is well-settled today, but it was not in 1946 when he began his career in politics. Likewise with Nixon, as a raised-poor Californian making his way up in an political system typically dominated by upper-middle class types from the East and Midwest.

I admit I sliced it a bit thick when I said "virtually no whites from outside the South" had 1:1 experience with African-Americans. But the exaggeration is not all that great. I guess I would rephrase by saying most white Americans of 1960 from outside the South had no day-to-day dealings with more than one or two African-Americans, if that. These things are admittedly difficult to quantify, and I do not claim any statistical proof for my assertion. But neither have I heard of any proof to the contrary.


Actually, I agree with most of what you write.

I do think Nixon had an affinity for the corporate crowd and the well-off, and vice-versa, but agree that that was in large part because of his party and ideological leanings. I think you're correct that he never blended in with such people, but I put that down not to political differences but personality and background: he had grown up poor, and while so had people like Ike and Romney, Nixon had never had business success or been in command of anyone. This doubtless gave him feelings of inferiority among those who felt at home with the establishments types of that era. Nixon was never a "mixer" anyway -- as he himself said, he was something of an introvert in an extrovert profession, and he was a loner to boot...qualities that ultimately helped lead to his undoing as President. I think the relationship between him and the corporate crowd/upper classes was mainly a marriage of convenience: they basically had similar agendas and Nixon envied their success and wanted to emulate it, but clearly he was not one of "them", nor was he blind to their limitations and shortcomings as individuals.

It's intersting that the exceptions you mention, at least people like Rebozo and Abplanalp (among others), were also guys who had been born poor and come up the hard way, so Nixon shared more similarites in outlook and character with these men than with others of similar economic status.

For some reason I wasn't thinking of Kennedy's Catholicsm as a factor that set him somewhat apart from many if not most Americans, but of course you're right about that, and it was a major issue in 1960. (Amazing to look back on now, isn't it?) Still, I'm not sure how much Kennedy himself thought his religion made him an "outsider" in American life. He obviously recognized it was a negative for many people but I wouldn't really say that that made him feel he was not of the social or political mainstream. (He certainly recognized he was not of the economic mainstream.) LBJ had to combat anti-Southern prejudice, even as President, but I think he never thought of himself as an outsider. As for Nixon, I actually do think he may have thought of himself as an "outsider", but in his case I think that was largely either a political ploy (he was forever inventing enemies, beyond the ones he really had) or, again, his jealousies (real and imagined) of people who had "made it" (financially), as opposed to his poor-boy background...something he also tried to use for political effect throughout his career. But all this, again, was more a product of his tortured personality than reality. I never heard of any American, pro- or anti-Nixon, refer to him as an outsider of any kind.

I agree with your revised comments about the normal day-to-day experience of white northerners with blacks, though I suspect it was less a matter of frequency of their interactions -- though that was important too -- as it was the manner of these interactions. I think most northern whites' dealings wiht black people 50 or 60 years ago was limited to having them doing "menial" jobs (waiters, cleaning people, garbagemen, that kind of thing) at a time when there were very few blacks in corporate offices, or in retail businesses that served a lot of whites.


Nixon, yes. Kennedy, no. Russell was nothing like Kennedy.


When this aired on TCM, Ben Mankiwiecz, said that Gore Vidal based his characters on Adlai Stevenson, the intellectual egghead, Russell, and Joseph McCarthy, Cantwell. Couldn't they have used an older less attractive actor for that part, because I think of kennedy.


No, Cantwell is definitely a Nixon standin, nothing like McCarthy.

Ironically, Robertson played JFK in PT 109.