Monday, October 7, 2013
OCTOBER 7 = The Great Debates: JFK -vs- RN
"...we could only guess which program would have the larger audience. Foreign affairs was my strong suit, and I wanted the larger audience for that debate. I thought more people would watch the first one, and that interest would diminish as the novelty of the confrontation wore off. Most of my advisers believed that interest would build as the campaign progressed, and that the last program, nearest Election Day, would be the most important one."
- Richard M. Nixon in "RN - the Memoirs of Richard M. Nixon."
On today's date - October 7 in 1960, then Vice President Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy squared off in the second of four televised debates. At that point in time, television was a relatively new medium. Nixon had used TV once before - in 1952 his famous"Checkers" speech, in which he invoked the name of the family dog to deflect charges that he had accepted improper gifts from contributors. It was a performance that had saved his spot on the Republican ticket with Dwight D. Eisenhower. But this was eight years later and the challenger was JFK. The two men were about the same age, and both were were very intelligent, capable, and awesomely ambitious. But Kennedy was extraordinarily photogenic, and Nixon was not. And this disparity was very evident on the TV screen. Author Theodore H. White remarked on the TV appearance of Nixon:
Nixon and Kennedy's Appearance on T.V. Cameras Differs
Nixon was also in poor health during the first debate on Sept.26. He had injured his knee recently, and it was still in considerable pain. In addition, he had kept up an exhausting schedule of campaign appearances. So as Nixon himself acknowledged he was physically worn out and looked it. And any modern viewer, used to the heavily made-up appearance of TV personalities in the modern age can see the difference. Kennedy looks tan, rested and quite relaxed as he gives calm and seemingly reasonable, substantive answers to the questions. Nixon, on the other hand, giving answers that are in fact equally substantive and reasonable nevertheless appears to to glower meanly at the camera, looking uncomfortable and combative.
"As for television debates in general, I doubt that they can ever serve a responsible role in defining the issues of a presidential campaign. Because of the nature of the medium, there will inevitably be a greater premium on showmanship than on statesmanship."
Dick Morris has an interesting prospective on this story... click on this phrase for a link to that.
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by T.H. White, Athaneum House, New York, 1961.
NIXON: Volume One; The Education of a Politician 1913-1962.
by Stephen E. Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1987