Both JFK and Richard Nixon were elected to Congress in 1946, a year in whichthe New Deal took a serious beating as the Republicans regained control ofCongress on the slogan "Had Enough?" Nixon of course, had campaigned against incumbent Jerry Voorhis on an anti-New Deal platform, but it's oftenforgotten that when JFK first ran for the House in 1946, he differentiatedhimself from his Democratic primary opposition by describing himself as a"fighting conservative." (1) In private, Kennedy's antipathy to thetraditional FDR New Deal was even more extensive. In his diary, which waspublished in 1995, it was discovered that in 1945, he had written this.
"Mr. Roosevelt has contributed to the end of capitalism in our owncountry, although he would probably argue the point at some length. He has done this not through the laws which he sponsored or were passed during his presidency, but rather through the emphasis he put on rights rather than responsibilites." (2)
And when JFK and Nixon were sworn in on the same day, both were already outspoken on the subject of the emerging Cold War. While running for office in 1946, JFK proudly told a radio audience of how he had lashed out against a left-wing group of Young Democrats for being naive on the subject of the Soviet Union, and how he had also attacked the emerging radical faction headed by Henry Wallace. Thus, when JFK entered the House, he was anything but "progressive" in his views of either domestic or foreign policy. (3)
It didn't take long for the two freshmen to form a friendship. Both were Navy men who had served in the South Pacific, and both saw themselves as occupying the vital center of their parties. Just as JFK lashed out againstthe New Deal and the radical wing of the Democratic party, so too did Richard Nixon distance himself from the right-wing of the Republican party. Nixon's support of Harry Truman's creation of NATO and the aid packages to Greece and Turkey meant rejecting the old guard isolationist bent of the conservative wing that had been embodied in "Mr. Republican" Senator Robert Taft. Indeed, when it came time for Nixon to back a nominee in 1948, his support went to the more centrist Thomas E. Dewey, and not to the conservative Taft.
With the common bonds of age, and mutual sentiments on the New Deal, the Cold War, and their centrist positions within their parties, the two enjoyed a friendship that would endure until the 1960 presidential campaign destroyed it.
The public and private record of JFK's writings and statements more than confirm this. Here are some key examples.
1. JFK's navy buddy Paul Fay, one of his oldest friends recalled a letter written to him after Nixon's election to the Senate in 1950 where he described Nixon as "an outstanding guy who has the opportunity to go all the way." (4)
2. In 1950, JFK privately rooted for Nixon to beat Democrat Rep. Helen Gahagan Douglas in the Senate race. Not only did JFK want this because of his warm feelings for Nixon, but there was also the fact that Douglas, an out-of-step far left liberal, was universally disliked by the majority ofher fellow Democrats.
3. After Nixon's election, he told a Harvard graduate seminar (which was written up later in the October 13, 1952 issue of the liberal journal The New Republic) that he was "pleased" that Nixon had won and that Douglas "was not the sort of person he'd like working with on committees." (5)
|An essay in the left-leaning journal The Nation outlines Kennedy's favorable attitudes toward Nixon, and the ways in which JFK distanced himself from the more liberal wing of his party.|
"He explained that the check should be used in Nixon's campaign for senator, that it's intention was due partly to admiration for Nixon and partly to a preference for Congressman Nixon over Congresswoman Douglas." (6)
Nixon, despite the closeness he felt to JFK was nonetheless startled by the gesture. For a Democrat to come over and offer that kind of encouragement to help a Republican was literally unprecedented. Nixon aide Pat Hillings recalled how Nixon repeatedly said in amazement, "Isn't this something!" (7)
There is also internal documentation for the JFK visit in Nixon's privatepapers, which were not meant for public consumption. A February 3, 1960 memo from Rosemary Woods to Nixon made specific reference to the meeting and also recalled Nixon's "flabbergasted reaction" to JFK's bold step. In order to declare the account of the visit a "lie", the JFK-As-Progressive advocates must not only declare that (A) both Arnold and Hillings lied but that (B) Nixon and his friends lied to each other in their private memos which they knew had no chance of seeing the light of day for decades, if at all.
Even after Nixon's election to the Senate and Vice-Presidency, and JFK'selection to the Senate in 1952, there was still considerable warmth between the two. When JFK was laid up in the hospital in 1954, Nixon sent many get-well wishes. JFK aide Ted Reardon remembered Nixon fondly during this time, "One thing about Nixon, God bless him. Every few days he'd stop inand ask 'How's Jack getting along?' He really admired Jack." (8)
And the feeling was reciprocated. During JFK's convalescence, Jackie took it upon herself to write to Nixon that "I don't think there is anyone in the world he thinks more highly of than he does you--and this is just another proof of how incredible you are." (9)
And it continued all the way up to the eve of the 1960 campaign. JFK knew that if he were nominated he would be facing his old friend, but his feelings for Nixon were still stronger than his feelings for the Democratic Party's liberal wing. Charles Bartlett, the man who introduced JFK to Jackie recalled that "I always had a feeling that he regarded [the liberals]as something apart from his philosophy." JFK himself encouraged this in an interview with the Sarurday Evening Post in 1953 where he declared, "I'd bevery happy to tell them I'm not a liberal. I never joined the Americans forDemocratic Action or the American Veterans Committee. I'm not comfortable with those people." (10)
Indeed, JFK's opposition for the nomination came entirely from the left, first from Hubert Humphrey in the primaries, and then from Adlai Stevenson and Stuart Symington at the Convention. The same distaste JFK had felt for old-guard liberals in his first campaign of 1946, was still there in 1960. (10)
Bartlett was also present at a New Year's dinner on December 31, 1959 where he heard JFK get his true feelings out in the open. So startled was Bartlett by the declaration that he recorded it for posterity the next day.
"Had dinner with Jack and Jackie---talked about presidential campaign alot--Jack says if the Democrats don't nominate him, he's going to vote for Nixon." (11)
And several months later, JFK still took the opportunity to defend Nixon from the standard liberal assaults. A JFK neighbor Joan Gardner, recalled attending a dinner at JFK's house, where she referred to Nixon as"dreadful." To her surprise, JFK shot back, "You have no idea what he's been through. Dick Nixon is the victim of the worst press that ever hit a politician in this country. What they did to him in the Helen Gahagan Douglas race was disgusting." (12)
Finally, the pressure of the campaign ended their friendship. Nixon, who had always taken their good relations for granted was surprised at how JFK's tone changed during the course of the campaign, and it left him feeling betrayed and bitter toward the Kennedys. Nonethless, the record is clear that for fourteen years the two had been friends and both identified with each other on the issues. Therefore, the "JFK was never friends with Nixon"argument pushed by the likes of Joseph Knapp, is revealed to be patently absurd. JFK's own words tell us otherwise. And all of JFK's biographers from Richard Reeves to Thomas Reeves to Garry Wills to Peter Collier and David Horowitz to Christopher Matthews have all acknoweldged it as well.
(2) John F. Kennedy, Prelude to Leadership: The European Diary of John F. Kennedy -- Summer 1945 (Washington, 1995), 10.
(3) Nigel Hamilton, JFK: Reckless Youth (New York, 1992), 787-88.
(4) Matthews, 74. Based on author's interview with Fay.
(5) John P. Mallan, "Massachusetts: Liberal And Corrupt," The New Republic (October 13, 1952), 10-11.
(6) Bill Arnold, Back When It All Began (New York, 1975), 14.
(8) Matthews, 100. Based on author's interview with Reardon.
(9) Jacqueline Kennedy to Richard Nixon, December 5, 1954.
(10) Matthews, 100, 120; Herbert S. Parmet, Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (New York, 1980), 171.
(11) Matthews, 128. Based on author's interview with Bartlett.
(12) Matthews, 123. Based on author's interview with Gardner.