Sunday, September 26, 2010
The white House Secret Service Detail responsible for President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon watched with interest as the first televised presidential debates between Richard M. Nixon and Massachusetts Senator presidential candidate John Fitzgerald Kennedy began. The assumption was that Vice-President Nixon would carry Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 60 % approval rating into the office of president of the United States. The relatively new media of television turned the race from an expected runaway for Richard Nixon to the closest presidential election ever held.
The substance of the debate was not dramatic as far as swinging the vote. It was the image appearing on the screen that started turning the tide. The youth of America had gradually begun a rebellion against the post-war policies and decided it was time for a change. Enthusiastically they turned the tide as they observed a youthful, good-looking candidate on the screen that appealed to their sense of change.
Suddenly the race took on a new momentum. President Eisenhower agreed to aggressively hit the campaign trail and support his vice-President. The Eisenhower agents, who would ultimately become “The Kennedy Detail,” were dispatched to conduct advances for trips to areas considered to be weakening in their support of Vice-President Nixon. President Eisenhower was not an avid campaigner, but the response to the televised debates by the American public necessitated the president’s last minute support.
Agents on the White House Detail were astute about not expressing their political preferences since their job was to protect the office of the President of the United States, but the youthful, tanned and energetic young senator suddenly caught their attention. In the weeks to follow the agents sensed that this was going to be a very tight race.
In the back of our minds we wondered what impact this would have on our responsibilities. We had a security conscious president who had no narcissist tendencies and was a military hero who did not have to mingle with the public to maintain his appeal.
That was about to change.