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John F. Kennedy was everything that Nixon was not. He had the swagger. He had the charm. He had all the right friends. He had the money. He had the good looks. He had the electoral votes when they mattered most. The list goes on.
To many Americans, JFK was going to be the guy that made the United States a better place. Right off the bat, he seemed like he was a purebred politician through and through. He came from a family of lawyers, businessmen, politicians, and socialites. If you wanted to move up in the world, you wanted the kinds of connections that Kennedy had in Massachusetts, where he grew up.
When he got into the world of politics, he made all sorts of lofty claims. Don't get us wrong, politicians tend to make all sorts of claims, but JFK seemed legit to a large chunk of the country.
This mostly had to do with the fact that this guy was considered young blood compared to just about every previous American president ever. He and his wife, Jackie Kennedy, were totally considered the power couple of the postwar era.
Women thought he was a total hottie, and men thought he was a guy's guy—he played football, drank whiskey, and had a ton of extramarital affairs.
JFK ran for president in 1960 on the promise of increased health care, more federal investment in education, and the elimination of racial discrimination. Like we said above, lofty.
And who did he end up running against? Richard Nixon.
Nixon was considered the more seasoned politician. He was the vice president at that time, for Pete's sake. By the 1960s, Nixon had a ton of experience in the political world, and while he may not have had Kennedy's good looks, he definitely had the political background and knowledge.
But JFK's magic won out in the end. He just charmed the socks off of everybody. For example, JFK and Nixon agreed to a televised presidential debate in 1960. JFK killed it—but not politically. He just looked so good on TV. Nixon, on the other hand, came across as a big, sweaty mess…even though he made some totally valid points.
Either way, America agreed: JFK won the debate and the presidency.
At home, Kennedy tried to get those domestic policies rolling as best he could. Foreign policy was always strained, however. Kennedy jumped into the presidential seat at the height of the Cold War, so he was kind of in between a rock and a hard place.
As part of his Cold War strategy, Kennedy tried to fight communism with the Bay of Pigs; he founded the Peace Corps as a sort of nonviolent counter-communism agency; and, most relevant to our little convo here, he increased the American presence in Vietnam.
By the time Kennedy got into office, Vietnam was a sticky situation.
To make matters worse, Kennedy backed a wild scheme that involved pretending to assassinate the United States' main ally in Vietnam with the purpose of getting rid of the president of South Vietnam. The whole thing totally backfired, and the president of South Vietnam actually got assassinated. This made a bad situation much, much worse.
But speaking of bad situations, JFK was himself assassinated before he did much else in Vietnam. On November 21st, 1963, as JFK and Jackie rode through the streets of Dallas, the president was shot and killed in broad daylight.
After this infamous day, the Vietnam situation would land on the next in line, Lyndon B. Johnson. And like JFK before him, Johnson would pass the Vietnam problem on to his successor: Richard Nixon.