Hardball: Dead men voting

WASHINGTON -- Ed Myles, loyal Chicago Democrat, never made it to the voting booth on Nov. 8, 1960. He never saw John F. Kennedy win his cliffhanger with Richard Nixon, give that brilliant inaugural address, march with such magic into American history.

But you can't say this good party loyalist didn't do his bit for JFK. Thanks to the high-octane electoral machine of Mayor Richard Daley, the vote of "Edward Myles" was counted that night with all the other Democratic loyalists in the city's 4th Ward, 31st precinct.

Boss Daley knew he had the situation in hand. "Mr. President, with a little bit of luck and the help of a few close friends," he phoned Kennedy with the polls closing, "you're going to carry Illinois." As word spread of Daley's shenanigans that day, an eavesdropping Benjamin Bradlee, of Newsweek, would wonder at the deeper meaning of Daley's hard assurance.

Illinois was not the only scene of "irregularities" in the Kennedy-Nixon fight. There were close tallies and serious questions about the counts in Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico and Texas, home to Kennedy running mate Lyndon Johnson. "We had all kinds of evidence," Nixon's much-admired campaign chief Robert Finch once recalled to me. "We had affidavits. It did not all turn on Illinois."

But demanding recounts, especially in Texas, which lacked a legal provision for one, would have taken months. It would have created havoc in the country poised in global combat with the burgeoning Soviet empire.

So in the days after his narrow loss to Kennedy, Nixon cried on the inside, complained to friends, but said nothing in public. When the New York Herald-Tribune's Earl Mazo began a series on election fraud, focused on Illinois and Texas, Nixon urged him to kill it. The country, Mazo recalled him saying, could not afford to be without a leader.

For Kennedy, even Nixon's silence was unsettling. He needed a public validation of the country's decision, a formal certification of his election. Only one man could give it to him.

The meeting was arranged by Kennedy's father. A man of hard-right temperament, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy made a practice of cultivating powerful friends. One of them was former president Herbert Hoover, a man known to exercise considerable influence over Nixon. When Nixon got the call from Hoover he was all too ready to oblige: He would follow Hoover's counsel; he would do what was good for the country; he would meet with Kennedy.

When the call came from Kennedy, Nixon was having dinner with his family and campaign staff in Key Biscayne. When he offered to join Kennedy in Palm Beach, his rival trumped with reality.

"No, I have a helicopter at my disposal, and it would be easier for me to come to you."

The Kennedy-Nixon meeting achieved all that the visitor had hoped. It gave the election a finality, the winner his victory, the country a fine, spiffy changing-of-the-guard.

Through all the sunshine, glamour and popping flashbulbs, Nixon nursed his sense of victimhood but never let it show.

"I asked him how he took Ohio," Kennedy joked to the crowd of reporters afterward, "but he is saving it for 1964."

Richard Nixon never asked him, at least with reporters listening, how Daley had out-stolen the rural Republican bosses to win Illinois.

When Nixon died in April 1994, Senator Ted Kennedy paid tribute to this, his most unsordid act.

"Despite the intensity of the campaign and the narrow outcome, he accepted the results with grace and without rancor."

For the Kennedys, who loved to quote Hemingway's definition of courage as "grace under pressure," this was tribute indeed. "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

The man who could have rained on Jack Kennedy's great inaugural words had stood just a few feet away applauding them, and in this brief, shining moment, honoring them.

(Chris Matthews, chief of the San Francisco Examiner's Washington Bureau, is host of "Hardball" on CNBC and MSNBC cable channels. The 1999 edition of "Hardball" was published by Touchstone Books.)

Copyright 2000, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.


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