PRESIDENT NIXON DEAD. SHOT IN DALLAS. VICE PRESIDENT CABOT LODGE SWORN IN AS PRESIDENT.
The murder of Richard M. Nixon on the 22nd November 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald brought a meteoric political career to a cruelly abrupt end. The man who had risen from entering Congress in 1946 to defeating Senator John F. Kennedy in the razor thin election of 1960 was almost certain to be re-elected in 1964, given his adroit handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, tough line on Vietnam (remembering Truman’s “losing China”) and his hard-line on civil rights solidifying black votes into the Republican column. The death of the young, cheerful and endearingly awkward war hero president stunned America.
Vice President Henry Cabot Lodge easily defeated Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson, running on a thinly veiled racist (against his own better judgement, he admitted years later) states rights campaign the following year. As history now shows, the Republican landslide of 1964 was the last good thing to happen to the former Massachusetts senator.
By 1968 The US was wading through the nightmare of the Vietnam war, the Republican party bitterly divided with Cabot Lodge despised in his native New England, and the Democratic party united in opposition to the Republican wars abroad and the imposition of civil rights at home. The return to active politics of former senator John F. Kennedy, seeking the Democratic nomination in 1968, cast a contrast as the slightly older but still handsome Kennedy addressed a united Democratic convention in Chicago where he pledged to “bring the nation, the great silent majority, together”. At the Republican Convention in Miami beach, on the other hand, antiwar protestors battled with police, live on television, and President Cabot Lodge was reluctantly re-nominated.
Kennedy swept the nation in a landslide, carrying not just the solidly Democratic south but everywhere save the mid west and the slain president’s home state of California, where loyalty to her fallen son remained strong.
Kennedy had no longer been a senator when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had passed, and he had kept his remarks (Or “Remmarrks” as Vaughn Meader, America’s most popular TV presenter, alluded) limited to concerns about the federal government imposing its will on the states. He surprised and disappointed many supporters in the south, nevertheless, by refusing to consider repealing voting rights. Instead, he concentrated on ending the war in Vietnam, repairing the economy, restoring law and order and setting out a goal for the United States to land a man on the Moon before 1980.
In 1972, the US now out of Vietnam, Kennedy found himself challenged in the south by Governor George Wallace of Alabama and Senator Barry Goldwater for the Republicans, a close fought race that resulted in Kennedy narrowly being re-elected after Wallace and Goldwater split the anti-Civil rights vote in the south.
Kennedy’s second term was less eventful, given his refusal to open negotiations to recognise Red China (“Only someone like Nixon could have done that!” He told advisors.) although he did get to witness Commander Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin set foot on the lunar surface in June 1976.
The Republican party, recovering from its defeats of 1968 and 1972, turned in a new direction with its selection of former California Governor Ronald Reagan as its nominee for the 1976 election. Reagan’s anti-federal government, low tax, tough on communism approach, combined with his extraordinary communication skills, allowed him to narrowly defeat Vice President Connolly, Kennedy’s handpicked successor. As with Cabot Lodge, the election was to be the highlight of Reagan’s career.
By 1980, America had serious doubts about the ability of the former actor to manage the economic and energy crisis, and when the Shah’s regime collapsed in Iran, 52 US citizens were held hostage by Iranian militants. A botched rescue attempt by US special forces sealed the president’s fate, and Reagan just barely managed to defeat former Texas congressman George H. Bush’s primary challenge. In the presidential debates, the president looked tired against his charismatic Democratic opponent, who gave quips as good as he got them.
On November 4th 1980, exactly one year after the seizing of the hostages, President Reagan was overwhelmingly defeated, with establishment Republicans openly asking themselves “What were we thinking with this guy?”
The following January 20th, 1981, the president elect of the United States nodded at former President Kennedy, sitting beside the broken looking Presidents Reagan and Cabot Lodge, and took the bible in his hand.
“ I, Robert Francis Kennedy, do solemnly swear…”