Episode #6: Rising Star, Setting Sun
Updated: Nov 25, 2018
We live in a world where politics is part bare-knuckle boxing, part entertainment, and thoroughly tribalistic. The political sphere has not always been (nor does it need to be) this way. Not that long ago, the nation's leaders disagreed divisively, argued hotly, but retained a foundational level of decency toward one another. The 1960 presidential election was just such a race. Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice-President Richard Nixon traded barbs and debated policy, particularly those of the outgoing Eisenhower Administration, but their divisions never hampered their ability to accomplish public work. When it came time for President Eisenhower and President-Elect Kennedy, members of opposite parties who didn't particularly like one another, to work together to facilitate a smooth transfer of power on January 20, 1961, both men rose to the occasion.
My guest on the podcast today is author John T. Shaw. John lives in Illinois and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois and a master's in History from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. He has 25 years experience as a congressional and diplomatic reporter in Washington, D.C. He has appeared on C-SPAN, the PBS Newshour, and KPCC. He now serves as Director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. John's fifth and latest book is Rising Star, Setting Sun: Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and the Presidential Transition that Changed America which deals with a significant change in American politics following one of the most notable elections of the 20th century.
Key Points in Today's Podcast
Some of the major topics I discuss with John in this episode are:
The revolutionary nature of the 1960 campaign between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon
John's lens of viewing the election as between JFK and the legacy President Dwight Eisenhower
The diametrically opposed personalities of JFK and Eisenhower
How the president and president-elect approached the challenge of transferring the power of the presidency
What the example of the Eisenhower-Kennedy transition offers us today
The lesson I took from my reading of Rising Star, Setting Sun and talking with John is that our political discourse works best in the context of respect for the office of the presidency and reverence for our republic. When the ideals of the nation are kept in the proper perspective: ahead of whatever the current crisis may be, ahead of personal rivalries, and ahead of winning for the party. It seems that John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower had an underlying understanding of this. Despite their personal dislike and heated rhetoric (which was especially heated for the time) during the campaign, Kennedy and Eisenhower committed themselves to a professional transition. The outgoing president did not obstruct the new team in bitterness, nor did the incoming administration disregard the insight of current personnel in cavalier disrespect. Despite being an historic and contentious election that resulted in a party reversal of the White House, the Eisenhower-Kennedy transition offers an example for future presidential administrations to follow and a model for Americans to expect.
For the Ever Curious
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, consider checking out these resources:
Books by John T. Shaw
www.johntshaw.com - John's website offers biographical information, news about his books, and his upcoming appearance schedule.
Paul Simon Public Policy Institute - Located at Southern Illinois University, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute works with elected officials to implement changes in public policy at both the regional and national level. The institute specifically focuses on those policies related to "ethical conduct in government, opportunity and fair treatment for people in America and throughout the world, and promoting responsible citizenship for all Americans--but particularly for young Americans"
Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith - Jean Edward Smith is a Pulitzer Prize nominated presidential biographer, whose 2012 biography on Eisenhower relies on substantial primary sources to demonstrate how a young man from Abilene, Kansas became an astute military and political leader.
An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek - The first holistic biography written on JFK since the late 60s, Dallek provides equal weight to Kennedy's public life as president and notable personal life.
The First Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate, 1960 - Published on YouTube by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, this video records the first nationally televised presidential debate in American history.