A focused history of the period between Election Day 1960 and Inauguration Day 1961.
Market News International congressional reporter Shaw (JFK in the Senate: A Pathway to the Presidency, 2013, etc.) examines the transfer of power between Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, “sharply contrasting political leaders” and “generational rivals.” Although the orderly transfer of power is a hallmark of American democracy, the author deems this particular transition “a fascinating mix of dutiful cooperation, petty grievances, lofty sentiments, careful organization, ad hoc improvisations, hardball politics, poignant farewells, and elevated public statements.” Eisenhower’s closing down of his administration and Kennedy’s scrambling to form a new one, though, seem not as remarkable as Shaw would have readers believe. Eisenhower was disappointed that his vice president, Richard Nixon, lost the election; he was insulted by Kennedy’s criticism of his presidency and “doubted the senator was ready to be president.” Predictably, Eisenhower felt “protective of his own legacy, ambivalent about retirement, and determined to get his affairs and those of the country in order.” Despite his misgivings about Kennedy, he oversaw a well-organized transfer of power that included two meetings in which Eisenhower apprised Kennedy of problems in Cuba and Laos. Kennedy’s transition period, on the other hand, was messy. Shuttling impetuously between his residences in Hyannis Port, Palm Beach, Washington, D.C., and Manhattan, he surrounded himself with advisers to help him select a Cabinet and huge White House staff (about 1,200 support jobs, in addition to top-level appointments), formulate a policy agenda, and write his inauguration speech. As evidence of the distinction between the two men, Shaw points to the contrast between Kennedy’s inspirational inaugural message and Eisenhower’s farewell speech, in which he warned Americans to be wary of the military-industrial complex. The author prefaces his chronicle of the transition with familiar biographical background of the protagonists and accounts of Nixon’s failed campaign, election-night tensions, Eisenhower’s achievements, and Kennedy’s senatorial record.
A detailed yet hardly groundbreaking rendering of a significant moment in political history.