On pages 367-368 of his 1962 book Six Crises, Richard Nixon talks about the religion issue in the 1960 Presidential election, specifically the fears that a number of Americans had that John F. Kennedy, who was a Roman Catholic, would be subservient to the pope were he to become President. Kennedy gave a speech in which he attempted to dispel that fear.
From what Nixon narrates on pages 367-368 of Six Crises, Nixon, who was Kennedy’s opponent, chose not to touch the religion issue. This, even though Nixon himself was criticized by some for being a Quaker. Governor Luther Hodges of North Carolina, for example, said that, the last time that America preferred a Quaker over a Catholic in a Presidential election, it regretted its decision! Hodges was referring to Herbert Hoover’s defeat of Catholic Al Smith in the 1928 Presidential election.
Nixon says that he did not give his own speech on the religion issue because he did not want to inflame it. Nixon feared that, if he were to give a speech about religion in which he said that people should not consider Kennedy’s religion when they voted—-either for or against Kennedy—-people would accuse him of being a bigot and of inflaming the religion controversy by reminding voters that Kennedy was a Catholic. If Nixon won the election, detractors would attribute his victory to his exploitation of the religion issue, and Nixon did not want to set back religious tolerance. Nixon states that he “felt a responsibility to keep a lid on the boiling cauldron of embittered anti-Catholicism”, and Nixon does not regret not giving a speech on the religion issue.
One passage that stood out to me on pages 367-368 was the following: “Also, from a personal point of view, I could not dismiss from my mind the persistent thought that, in fact, Kennedy was a member of a minority religion to which the presidency had been denied throughout the history of our nation and that perhaps I, as a Protestant who had never felt the slings of discrimination, could not understand his feelings—-that, in short, he had every right to speak out against even possible and potential bigotry.”
I admired Nixon for this observation. Nixon recognized his own status of privilege, at least in the sense that he had never experienced religious discrimination, and so he sought to sympathize with Kennedy and to keep quiet when he felt that his (meaning Nixon’s) knowledge and experience were limited. Nixon instead focused his attacks on Kennedy’s lack of executive experience and spendthrift proposals on government spending.