Summary | JFK | Nixon
While JFK's politics were guarded at home, slowly he began guiding all Americans through the transition of Washington politics towards a nationwide, grassroots movement of activism. He founded the Peace Corps, which encouraged students to venture out across the planet. The space program was born, instilling a sense of greater purpose in the universe as we reached together towards the stars. And he began pushing the country, ever so slowly, towards facing the bloody history that marked race relations.
Nixon stood as the polar opposite to Kennedy. Where Kennedy looked to the future, Nixon reached towards the past. But by the time 1968 rolled around and riots broke out at the Democratic convention and Robert Kennedy was gunned down during the California primaries, Nixon represented a time and place that seemed much simpler.
Nixon, long a political insider, used his influence and connections to take back the presidency during this unrest. He effectively ended the Vietnam War. He opened the door to China. He began nuclear disarmament talks. To a large degree, he accomplished what the counter-culture movement had been clamoring for. something neither Kennedy nor LBJ had been willing to do. He opened the door to China.
Eventually, he would succumb to the power of the office and leave in disgrace, but in the wake of the chaos that was the sixties, he helped bring a stable end to an unstable time.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963)  (return to top)
When his presidency began in 1961, so did the era affectionately referred to as Camelot. Many Americans pinned their hopes and dreams on Kennedy. His mystique was larger than life; he represented the optimism that Americans had for themselves and their country. During his presidency, he dealt with some of the defining issues of the decade: avoiding nuclear war, increasing the number of U.S. military advisors in South Vietnam, creating the Peace Corps, and working on racial integration in the South.
Despite his philandering and lack of focus on foreign policy, Kennedy's mystique as an American hero drew legions of admirers from all walks of life. While he was reluctantly drawn into many political fights which he would rather have stayed away from - including the civil rights movement in the south - when the country looked for guidance in times of crisis, Kennedy always rose to the occasion.
Kennedy's term was cut short when he was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald November 22, 1963. For years, the assassination was surrounded by conspiracy rumors. In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, relying in part on acoustical evidence, concluded that a conspiracy was likely and that it may have involved organized crime.
While his presidency was too short to accurately judge his place in history as a political leader, Kennedy left an indelible mark on our society, reminding us to always look towards the future.
Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-1994)  (return to top)
Nixon's political career started as a U.S. representative from California (1947-1951). It was during this term that he got the nation's attention due to his investigation of Alger Hiss. He moved on to the Senate (1951-1953) and then became Dwight Eisenhower's vice president for two terms (1952 and 1956). After his first presidential defeat, he ran for governor of California and lost.
During his presidency, with Spiro T. Agnew as his vice president, Nixon achieved a cease-fire in the Vietnam War. His accomplishment came after he ordered invasions of Cambodia and Laos, as well as the bombing of North Vietnam. He paid a historic visit to China and initiated strategic arms talks with the Soviet Union. In trying to attract the South to the Republican party, Nixon, in effect, weakened the federal government's commitment to racial equality. Despite the economic problems that plagued his administration, Nixon was reelected in 1972.
In 1972, agents of Nixon's reelection committee were arrested in Democratic party headquarters, in the Watergate apartment building in Washington, DC, after an attempt to tap telelphones there. The situation erupted into a national scandal when a conspiracy was uncovered. It was revealed that members of the Nixon administration, including Nixon himself, knew about the burglary. Nixon was investigated for impeachment. He later admitted his role in telling the FBI to stop pursuing the burglary. After the House of Representatives voted to impeach him, he became the first president to resign from office. His successor, Gerald R. Ford, later granted him a full pardon.
Nixon continued to comment on foreign affairs and wrote his memoirs and several other books before his death. Nixon was a huge political figure of his time, and is a hero by virtue of surviving it. His accomplishments in foreign affairs brought the decade full circle. What the public wanted, the public finally got, and after a tumultous few years, stability loomed.