A Pundit Learns a Lesson PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 May 2015 13:54


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, beat the drums for the invasion of Iraq. On Tuesday of this week, he acknowledged his mistake.

He said:  “From the current vantage point, the decision  to go to war was a clear misjudgment, made by President George W. Bush and supported by 72 percent of the American public who were polled at the time. I supported it, too.”

As the day for the invasion drew closer, millions around the world were taking to the streets and pleading for peace. The Lady  Friend and I marched in San Francisco and Santa Cruz where the turnout was in the hundreds of thousands.

No doubt Brooks’ columns persuaded some in the poll favoring war. General Colin Powell may or may not have been deceived when he went before the UN asserting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and harboring a terrorist network led by al Qaeda. Powell’s mission was to make the case for war, and no doubt it helped.

Brooks says he has learned some lessons from Iraq. The first “is that we should look at intelligence products with a more skeptical eye. There’s a fable going around now that the intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction  was all cooked by political pressure, that there was a big political conspiracy to lie us into war.”

He rejects the claim, saying it doesn’t “gibe with the facts.” He cites a bipartisan commission that reported in 2005 that Iraq “was a case of human fallibility.” Citing the report as “exhaustive,” Brooks says that the commission discovered “a major intelligence failure.” Not only were its “assessments” wrong, but “there were also serious shortcomings in the way these assessments were made and communicated to policy makers.” The “error” reminds us that “we don’t know much about the world. And much of our information  is wrong.”

Another  question he raises is: “’How much can we really change other nations?”  So far “the outcome in Iraq should remind us that we don’t really know much about how other cultures will evolve....”  Iraq, he muses,  should also teach  us “to be suspicious of leaders who try to force revolutionary, transformational change.”

In sum, he writes, that “ a successful president has to make decisions while...staying open-minded in the face of new evidence, not falling into traps that afflict those who possess excessive self-confidence.”

Good advice for pundits, too.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

New England Stands with Brady PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 May 2015 15:28


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

I was nonplussed the other day to hear my cousin up in Maine say that people were ganging up on Tom Brady because they were jealous of the star quarterback and the New England Patriots.

I didn’t expect this from a straight-arrow like him, a respected, retired English professor and author. But the next day the New York Times reported something similar under a headline, “Patriot Fans Around Boston Stand by Brady.”

New Englanders do look after their own. Looking back, the Times recalled  James Michael Curley, mayor of Boston four times in the last century, was once elected when he was serving time for fraud.

Boston, the keystone of New England, is fiercely protective of its own. At the same time it can be a good  judge of character. Massachusetts was the only state that that did not vote for Richard Nixon  in 1972. But there’s another side to the story I’ll get to in a moment.

In my native Boston, the uncrowned capital of New England, one can forgive a transgression or two to keep a rascal like Curley on the political dole. The blurb on the jacket of a 1992 Curley biography, “The Rascal King,” by Jack Beatty, still rings true: “Twice-jailed scoundrel, and the people’s champion, builder of hospitals and schools and shameless grafter, pioneer of the New Deal, “Kingfish of Massachusetts,” spellbinding orator and master of political farce, James Michael Curley was the stuff of legend long before his life became fiction in Edwin O’Connor’s classic novel ‘The Last Hurrah.’”

I was a kid but I remember Curley on the stump and on the radio. He was the best actor in my time except for  Orson Welles and F. D. R.

So, what’s such a big deal about a little loss of air pressure from a few footballs? If the voters  could keep James Michael Curley in office it should not come as a shock that the puzzling disappearance of air pressure from a few footballs fails to shake citizens’ allegiance to their sports idol, Tom Brady, and the Patriots. Brady and his mates have done their duty in restoring New England’s pride when the Red Sox falter as they have since 2013.

Speaking of the Red Sox Is there a New Englander now alive who does not remember ’04 when the Sox broke the Bambino’s curse and won a World Series for the first time in 86 years?

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Presidential Chances PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 April 2015 15:36


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The New York Times conservative  columnist David Brooks likes what he hears from Marco Rubio. The 43-year-old senator, he says,  “doesn’t just speak in the ardent patriotic tones common to the children of immigrants like himself. His very life is the embodiment of the American dream” – raised by working class parents and look where he is today!

Brooks, whom you may remember beat the drums for the invasion of Iraq, is a fan of patriotic rhetoric. It’s a best seller until the bags come home.

“Political audiences,” he says “ always like the patriotic rhetoric...but this year’s Republican audiences have a special hunger for it...There is a common feeling on the right that the American ideal is losing force and focus, and that the American dream is stepping back from its traditional role in the world.”

And guess whose fault that may be? He suggests  President Obama.

“The president,” says Brooks, “doesn’t forthrightly champion the American gospel;” in other words the patriotic rhetoric.

Brooks adds approvingly, “Republicans seem to want their candidates for president to be drenched in the red, white and blue.”

The Republican strategy is to run against Hillary Clinton and President Obama. It may be working too well.

The Democrats are quiet. Too quiet. It’s early. The election is more than a year away. Still, the party should have alternatives to Hillary. She needs to be challenged. Hillary’s been off stage too long. She needs to be sharp against younger people like Jeb Bush to say nothing of a  Marco Rubio.

As Brooks pointed out, Rubio’s “net favorable/unfavorable rating is higher than every other candidate except Scott Walker of Wisconsin. He is at the center of the party. Fifty-six percent of Republican primary voters said they could see themselves supporting Rubio even if he wasn’t their first choice at the time, which put him above every other  candidate,” according to an NBC News/Wall Street poll, cited by Brooks.

So, he says, “it’s probably right to see Rubio as the second most likely nominee, slightly behind Jeb Bush and slightly ahead of Walker.”

High time for Hillary to take on a couple of sparring partners like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, among others.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

An Hispanic President for America? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 April 2015 14:28


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

An Op-Ed writer in the New York Times earlier this month dredged up the old news that Jeb Bush mistakenly listed himself as Hispanic on a 2009 voter registration application. Bush called it a slip-up.

Democrats in Florida wondered whether Bush, a former governor and then a likely presidential candidate, might have committed a crime. Bush laughed it off as an innocent mistake. “Don’t think I’ve fooled anyone!”

The author of the piece, Eli Finkel, is a professor in psychology, not politics. He wrote, “As a psychological issue, however, Mr. Bush’s error is a prominent entry point into some fascinating questions about what shapes human identity.”

“The first thing to notice is that Mr. Bush made a very specific error. He did not declare himself African-American or Native American. He declared himself Hispanic. Mr. Bush’s wife is from Mexico. Might his Hispanic identity have played a role in his voter registration error?”

Mr. Bush is also a politician. He can count. According to a study about Latino voters in CQ Researcher, the Latino electorate is “expanding rapidly and reshaping American politics.” It is rising up from 17 percent today. “As their influence grows, both the Democratic and Republican parties are courting Latino voters. President Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, reflecting the Democratic Party’s traditional dominance among Latinos.”

Latinos are running for president. Senator Marco Rubio, the 43-year-old son of Cuban immigrants weighed in this week. It is not far-fetched to see a Latino or Latina elected president. The taboos are fading.

Hillary’s made it official: she’s running, early and hard. Can a woman candidate for vice president be far behind? CQ Researcher cites demographers  who say “Latinos represent about 17 percent of the population – 54 million people – making them the single largest ethnic or racial minority.” By 2060 the Latino population share is expected to reach 31 percent.

Statistics are spinach. But this time the stats are dramatic and painting a new portrait of our country. Long overdue we’re focusing on Latinos. The number of Latinos today is almost six times larger than in 1970 and between 2000 and 2012 it accounted for more than half of the U.S. overall population growth.

Gary Langer, who runs a survey research firm, says: “If you’re selling politics and you’re neglecting the Hispanic market, someone is eating your lunch.”

In fact, we could windup with a Hispanic as president: Jeb Bush or somebody else.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

The Grapes of Wrath Part 2 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 09 April 2015 14:13


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

To tap the drought dilemma – no pun intended – I turned to the Lady Friend. The Lady Friend and I were discussing the drought, and she said the first thing she would do would be to shut down the fracking.

Why would you shut down fracking?

Because we don’t need it,” she said. We don’t need that oil. Fracking takes a lot of water and pollutes the existing underground water. (Last year 70 million gallons of water went for fracking in California.)

The Lady Friend, who grew up in a North Dakota farm family, would petition the feds to subsidize the farmers with water-saving methods for irrigation. Some of the farmers already have this, but not enough of them. It’s very costly to put in, but in the end it’s like putting in solar – in the long run it pays for itself – environmentally it  pays for itself.

Develop a system for recycling water. It’s good to ask people to cut down on their use of water, but how do you do it in a fair way? Why should people who live in apartments or condominiums have to cut down as much as people with large homes and swimming pools? This is what the lawmakers should give thought to.

She’ s no expert about recycling, but she knows – reads articles – that water can be recycled.

“I don’t know how much we do but I don’t think we do enough.”

In any event, as she points out, the drought should not come as a shock to anyone. “We live in a desert. We shouldn’t have developed all this land into housing. Too many people, too much development, and the bill is now due. Now we have to pay.”

It seems to me the politicians have been passing the buck, doing nothing or next to nothing, a hot potato, in which there was not much of a payoff for them.

The other day, I was amazed to read in the New York Times that Governor Jerry Brown was praised because he and his legislative allies – “pulled off something of a political miracle last year, overcoming decades of resistance from the farm lobby to adopt the state’s first groundwater law with teeth.”

The paper goes on to say, however, that California is not so far ahead of the country on other environmental issues. It became the last state in the arid West “to move toward serious limits on the use of its groundwater.”

I would ask where have Brown and others been all these years other than kicking the can down the road? Experts have warned us repeatedly that California is a desert and has experienced years of drought going back centuries. Our leaders have done a poor job of heeding history.

“Last week,” the Times continued, “Brown imposed mandatory cuts in urban water use, the first ever. He exempted farmers, who already had to deal with huge reductions in surface water from the state’s irrigation works.”

As Brown added, “They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America to a significant part of the world.” In normal times, “agriculture consumes roughly 80 percent of the surface water available for human use in California. Experts say the state’s water crisis will not be solved without a major contribution from farmers.”

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

The Typewriter PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 13:13


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

My trials with the computer are no secret among people who know me.

I am a displaced person from the age of typewriters who came kicking and screaming into cyberspace.

I have missed typewriters ever since computers took over the world. I am not, for example, like one old friend who ditched his typewriter the day he bought his first computer. In fact, I’ve kept an antiquated Olympia, a weighty table model, not as a writing machine but as a reminder of a simpler age.

The insecurity of the electronic miracle drives me nuts. The other day my printer was on the fritz. But if it’s not the printer, it’s the ink cartridge, or the screen, or the modem, or a short, or the wires, or a finger strays and presto! I’ve lost a document, weeks of work down the rabbit hole.

Saving on the hard disk is not security enough. Think power outages. So think CDs, or  SanDisk’s Cruzer Micro. The friend who made a gift of the latter says it’s a cinch to connect to the computer. And probably it is, but the Lady Friend and I are still figuring it out.

I’m telling you all this because after the printer failed I dropped in at an office equipment store that sells typewriters, old typewriters, to be sure.

“I just want to look at your typewriters. I don’t know if I’ll buy anything.”

“Take your time,” said a burly fellow who didn’t stir from a desk in a large room with all sorts of devices for business. “Take all the time you like.”

I liked the Smith Corona for $180 but I really liked the Olivetti for $250. But then I asked myself, why am I doing this? I’ll never use the typewriter. I’ll never give up the computer.

“I like the Olivetti,” I said. “But I need to sleep on it.” I hesitated, then wrote him a check on account for $50.

That night the printer was running again, and to my relief functioned flawlessly. In the morning I went back to the store lugging my old Olympia. The burly fellow fiddled with it a moment, then we bargained. In the end I wound up paying a few dollars off the listed price and left happy with the Olivetti.

When I got home I showed the typewriter to the Lady Friend. “It’s very nice,” she said. “But you’ll never use it.”

This column originally appeared on March 11, 2010.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Looking Back and Forward PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 14:37


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

A record 30 million people were watching on television to General  Douglas MacArthur’s Farewell Address to Congress on April 19, 1951. President  Truman  had relieved him of his command in Korea. Truman feared MacArthur threatened a  wider conflict  by attacking China.

“In war,” MacArthur declared, “there can be no substitute for victory.” The general  was wildly cheered. For a time there was talk in Republican circles of running MacArthur for president. One  senator  confided in a reporter he had never feared more for his country than during MacArthur’s speech. “I honestly felt that if the speech had gone on much longer there might have been a march on the White House.”

In his Truman biography David  McCullough said Truman had not listened to MacArthur or watched on television. He kept busy at his desk. He did, however, read MacArhur’s speech. Privately, he said he thought it “A bunch of damn B.S.”  In time enthusiasm for the general  waned.

The invitation by Republicans in bringing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau of Israel to address Congress  was similarly an insult to a sitting president. As many as 60 Democrats boycotted the event, but that was not enough. All of them  should have left empty seats.

Now Netanyahu  is apologizing. Not for playing a key role in rudeness to the   president of three hundred and twenty million Americans, but to racist comments concerning the 1.4 million Arab citizens of his own country.  (In a nation  of 8.3 million, Jews are 75 %, of the Israeli population.)

On the eve of  the election Netanyahu said Arab citizens were going to the polls in large numbers. Many interpreted this as racist, a last-minute bid to win a close election. According to the New York Times, the White House remains furious with Netanyahu for appearing to turn his back “on a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict.”

After the voting, Netanyahu said, as politicians often do when their remarks backfire, that he was misunderstood. He insisted he was the same fellow with the same convictions. He supported the idea of a Palestinian state, though now he equivocated – not under present conditions.

The Obama White House was not impressed. It said a two-state solution “remains our goal today, because it is the only way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

In his day, Harry Truman was snubbed by a Republican Congress by inviting MacArthur to speak; just as an invitation to Netanyahu was a slap at Barack Obama.

Today most people say Truman did the right thing by firing MacArthur. It made him unpopular, but not forever. Historians rank him today as among the near-great presidents. Who knows what history  will say about Obama but I have a hunch the Republicans will rue the day they insulted the office of the  presidency.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Life Lesson Learned From a Cat PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 19 March 2015 16:27

By Aracely Garcia • Special to the Times

How many times have we seen a cat or other small animal dead in the street? Perhaps we have swerved to avoid it and have gone about our business.

Perhaps the person who accidentally killed it quickly recovered from the momentary shock and denial of striking an animal to hurry on with their day without giving it another thought. What if that dead animal belonged to someone who cared for it?

These questions consumed me as I found the little stray cat we had been feeding dead in the middle of Pacific Avenue on the morning of Friday, March 13. I had been going about the routine of driving my daughter to school when I saw it.

I immediately pulled over to the side of the road weeping like a small child. I called the police to contact animal control to retrieve the small body. I informed them I could not leave the body until animal control could pick it up. I didn’t want to see it run over any further.

I wanted to believe momentarily that we lived in a cruel, uncaring world where lives, both human and animal, were utterly meaningless. That the onslaught of death in all of its forms was random and tragic. The life of this lovely little calico cat had been short  but I realized quickly that it hadn’t lived without any caring.

My daughter and I adored our moments feeding the small scrappy thing. I had planned to take it to a no-kill shelter just that Saturday, March 14. This brought me to another conclusion: that it was caring that made life bearable and gave it meaning. That it was in the stopping of our personal business and self-interests to take action for another: to make a report, to help, to show compassion was what life was really about.

It was a powerful lesson learned from tragedy as is so often the case, but I thought I would pass it along. Next time you see a dead animal in the street, or believe you have killed an animal or have struck an animal, please stop what you are doing to show some caring and call the police.

And if you do not do so, let the next witness do it.  That’s how we know we don’t live in a cruel world: because some of us, most of us, take the time to care.

Aracely Garcia is a resident of San Leandro.

Technology’s Gain is History’s Loss PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 March 2015 15:28


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

There’s a twist or two since Hillary said that she had destroyed more than 30,000 emails about personal matters during her time as secretary of state.

Doris Kearnes Goodwin, who wrote  biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt and others, said, “They have marriages and children and rich private lives that are all mixed up with their public lives – as a biographer that’s what you want.”

Hillary said last week that  she  had turned over to the state department the 30,490 emails her staff judged to be related to her job. But more than half of the emails from 2009 to 2013 – some 31,000 – were personal and deleted.

“No one wants their personal emails made public, and  I  think most people understand that and respect that privacy,” Clinton told reporters.

Robert Dallek, a presidential historian, demurred. “If she becomes president, we would eventually want to have all the intimate details of her life before the presidency. It’s all part of the historical record.” There was the possibility that one day they would add  to the story of a presidency.

According to the New York Times, Dallek was the first historian to be given access to President Kennedy’s medical records in the late 1990s. From Dallek the world found out that Kennedy suffered from multiples health problems. It provided a new perspective on his llfe and his presidency, Dallek said.

For Doris Kearns Goodwin the problem goes deeper than the loss of email records. She fears technology is diminishing the human presence. “What will be missing in the future is the best of the material we have today which is handwritten letters and dairies,” she said.

Several of the important people close to Lincoln kept detailed diaries that were of  central importance in helping her write her 2005 book on Lincoln. In the 20th century  Harold Ickes’ meticulous diaries as secretary of the interior kept the New Deal years alive for many readers, including myself. An essential source for humanizing FDR and his own team of rivals.

For Goodwin’s  book on Theodore Roosevelt and Howard Taft (“The Bully Pulpit 2013), their thousands of letters, full of gossip and matters of state, enabled her to draw  profiles of human warmth.

“You feel like you’re looking over their shoulder as they write,” Goodwin told the Times. Emails, by comparison are shallow and less personal. “I would never write about a modern president,” she said.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Jeb Bush PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 March 2015 15:11


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

I was surprised when I caught Jeb Bush speaking on foreign policy the other day on TV and declaring “I am my own man.” It surprised me because he read the speech word for word from the paper it was written on; nothing stemmed from the heart, though it was his first major foreign policy speech in a dangerous world.

It was the opening shot in his prospective campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

In what I saw of the performance, he never looked up, his voice was flat. He might as well have been delivering the local weather report on a sunny, cloudless day.

Jeb is going to need  plenty of help. Starting with elocution and acting lessons. He may say he’s his own man, but the roster of advisers he’s brought on includes Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects for the invasion of Iraq.

As Maureen Dowd reminded us in the New York Times, Wolfowitz was “the man who assured Congress that Iraqi oil would pay for the country’s reconstruction and it was ridiculous to think we would need as many troops to control as Gen. Eric Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, suggested.”

Jeb may say he’s his own man, but he’s also bringing back a whole crew of losers who advised his brother.

“I love my father and my brother,” Bush said in Chicago. “I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions they had to make.” It was then he declared, “But I am my own man.”

It was an effort by Jeb to step out from the Bush family shadow and keep the foreign  wars and economic collapse in the background.

A little background. Bush, who just turned 62, left Texas where he grew up and moved to Florida in the early 1980s, working as a real  estate developer and broker. He lost his first bid to run for governor in 1994. He won on his second try in 1998.

He was governor in the midst of the 2000 election controversy. The outcome of the election of a president hinged on the Florida results. In the end, the issue was decided  by a single vote in  the U.S. Supreme Court.

*   *   *

This year’s Oscars on ABC drew about 36.6 million viewers, down 14.9 percent from about 43 million last year. It was the lowest- rated  show since 2009. A better show was on “60 Minutes” on CBS. The work of the late correspondent Bob Simon filled an unforgettable hour of the world in our time.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Truck Day is the First Day of Spring PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 February 2015 15:06


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

A few days ago at breakfast the Lady Friend asks, “What’s Truck Day?”

“Truck Day?” I say. “How should I know?”

“You should know. It has something to do with the Red Sox.”

“The Red Sox?” Now I’m wide awake.

“Look,” she says, and hands me the Chronicle comics. “Read `Non Sequitur.’”

I give it a look. The characters are in an offshore diner in a swirling snowstorm talking about Truck Day at Fenway Park. But they are talking gibberish until I realize it’s my own Boston English they’re speaking. Says one, “WELL, THAT’S IT. WINTAH IS FINALLY OVAH!”

”AH-YEA! HAPPY TRUCK DAY, EDDIE!” says another.



The guy who raises the question is nonplussed but the others are in a mood to party.


I lay the paper to rest, and say, “Just what goes on on Truck Day?” As I ask the question I’m getting up to google for the answer when the Lady Friend wheels ’round and beats me to the punch. Two minutes later she returns with the dope.

Truck Day, I learn, is February 6. when  a moving van is loaded with equipment at Fenway for the trip to the club’s spring training complex in Fort Myers, Florida. There’s a bit of hoopla to the occasion. The 18-wheeler is followed “in a procession by Red Sox staff, and Wally the Green Monster tossing gifts to fans from a flat-bed truck.”

“Tell me something,” I say. “Why have you gone to the trouble of letting me know all this?”

“Simple,” is the reply. ”Your mood changes drastically when baseball starts.”

This column originally appeared on Feb. 18, 2010.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Looking Ahead and Looking Back PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 February 2015 13:02


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The 2016 Democratic National Convention will choose its candidates for president and vice president in July in Philadelphia. The Republicans have already picked Cleveland as the site for their convention. Philadelphia may be the more auspicious.

It was from Philadelphia that Roosevelt would lead the party to an historic landslide in 1936 after delivering one of the great acceptance speeches in history. It was delivered at a time when the world was teetering towards a Second World War. In the speech he famously proclaimed that “this generation of Americans has a ‘rendezous with destiny.’”

In 1936, the dominant issue was the economic recovery from the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s strategy was to ignore his opponent, Alf London, governor of Kansas. In defending the New Deal,  Roosevelt reminded voters that it was the New Deal that saved the free enterprise system. The election marked a decisive shift of the black vote with the endorsement of Roosevelt by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

*   *   *

The Lady Friend says she remembers a time when the outcome of conventions was exciting because the outcome was often in doubt. Probably Kennedy’s nomination in 1960 was the last. But then I looked it up and even then there was little doubt in the outcome.

Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota was Kennedy’s  leading opponent. But Kennedy’s victories in primaries in Wisconsin and West  Virginia were crucial. Most critical was Kennedy’s showing in West Virginia. It proved that a Catholic could win in predominately Protestant states.

Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas was another name to reckon with as well as Adlai Stevenson of Illinois. He had lost two elections in the 1950s to Dwight Eisenhower. As Democrats convened in July 1960 in California, Kennedy was well ahead in the contest for delegates, and nominated on the first ballot with 806 votes to 409 for Johnson. Kennedy disappointed  many liberals when he chose Johnson as his running mate. But there was reason for doing so. It helped Kennedy to carry Texas, pivotal in the outcome.

*   *   *

One of the narrowest  races of the past century pitted Kennedy against Richard Nixon in the election for president in 1960. Nixon won the Republican nomination on the first ballot with 1,321 votes to 10 for Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. (Four years later Goldwater would be the Republican candidate for president and lose in a wipeout at the hands of Lyndon Johnson.)

Back again to the presidential election of 1960. The lead seesawed back and forth. The economy and communism were leading concerns. But the religious question was still hot. Kennedy put it to rest it in a speech before a ministerial association in Houston.

The central moment of the campaign was the first of four Nixon-Kennedy televised debates drawing 70 million viewers. The confrontation appeared to be a draw. But as William A. Degregorio pointed out in his book on U.S. presidents: “It was the physical comparison of the two men that most hurt Nixon.”

Kennedy looked to be in superb health; Nixon, having lost weight after spending  nearly  two weeks on his back in a hospital for treatment for an infection, looked “haggard and menacing.” Kennedy himself believed that without the debates he would have lost the election.

*   *   *

We’re getting closer to the primary season. They were designed as  the route to cleaner and more open elections as early as 1913. More than one hundred years later it still remains to be seen. Follow the money.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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