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The New Frontier, the Great Society – terms identified with the epochal decade of the 1960s, a time of social, cultural, and political change. 

The 1960s:  A Multi-Media View from Capitol Hill documents the public policy challenges resulting from those tumultuous times using a unique body of records housed in The Center’s historical collections—the  minutes and press conferences (both print and audio) of the Joint Senate-House Republican Leadership, 1961-69.

Following the election of John F. Kennedy to the White House in 1960, congressional Republicans sought a new venue to communicate their principles and positions to the public.  At the suggestion of out-going President Dwight Eisenhower, they created a new policy-making group called the Joint Senate-House Republican Leadership.  This group held weekly meetings when Congress was in session to discuss important legislative matters and to formulate party policy.  Following most meetings, Senate Minority Leader Everett M. Dirksen and House Minority Leader Charles Halleck (and later Gerald R. Ford) appeared together in a press conference designed to provide Republicans with an effective opposition voice.

Pictured below, Charles Halleck and Everett Dirksen at the first joint press conference, January 1961:

Over the course of the decade, these press conferences became popular news events, widely covered by the print and nonprint media and achieving a cult status comparable to C-SPAN today.  They became known as the “Ev and Charlie Show” and the “Ev and Jerry Show” when Jerry Ford replaced Halleck as House Republican leader in 1965.

Aside from their pop culture appeal, however, these sessions hold historical importance.  The minutes from the leadership meetings and the transcripts and audio recordings from the press conferences provide a close-up view of the legislative struggles of the decade. In the first three years of these meetings, for example, the following topics received substantial attention:

Major Issues in the Press Conferences and Their Frequencies, 1961-63 (1)

Issue
Number of Press Conferences Devoted to Discussing Issue

1. Federal Spending
23
2. The Farm Problem
21
3. Federal Taxation
19
4. Civil Rights
18
5. Nuclear Weapons Testing
17
6. Federal Aid to Education
15
7. The Cuban Crisis
13
8. Medical Care for the Aged
12
9. Federal Budget
11
10. Foreign Aid
9

As the table suggests, Congress wrestled with issues of paramount importance, many of which confront us today.

The 1960s: A Multi-Media View from Capitol Hill:

  • Identifies and digitizes the minutes, press conference transcripts, still photographs, and audio recordings of the Joint Senate-House Republican leadership. These multi-media materials are located in four separate series of the Everett McKinley Dirksen Papers housed at The Center.
  • Creates curricular aids (e.g., contextual information, study questions, links to related Web sites) to facilitate the use of these materials in classrooms and for scholarship.
  • Illustrates the role of the political party out-of-power in shaping legislative action and in contesting or supporting the president.
  • Depicts the symbiotic relationship between the opposition leadership in Congress and the national press.
  • Demonstrates the staying power of the major issues of war and peace, economic prosperity, social justice, and the proper role of government in American life.

The Joint Senate-House Republican Leadership press conferences were a creation of the television age and provided a regular forum for articulating the political philosophies and positions of the party out-of-power.  Unique in American history, these serial press conferences conducted by the highest elected officials of the Republican Party were an important instrument of political communication.  Their transcripts provide a rare opportunity to view, in an organized fashion, the reactions and impressions of the political opposition and to gauge the alternative policy proposals presented to resolve the issues of the day.  As such, they are useful to those who study and teach about history, government, political science, public policy, and communication.

Pictured below is the press conference, June 9, 1966:

(1) Quoted in Henry Z. Scheele, "Response to the Kennedy Administration: The Joint Senate-House Republican Leadership Press Conferences," Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. XIX, No. 4 (Fall 1989): 829.


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