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:
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:
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.