Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Great Debates: Kennedy v. Nixon

October 21, 1960 marked the date for the fourth and final debate between presidential hopefuls, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

The world's first televised presidential debate took place just over a month prior on September 26.

I think we're all familiar with the circumstances surrounding these oft discussed events. Besides being the first televised presidential debate, many credit these debates as the events that would change the way we looked at the president for years to come and helped put Kennedy over the top in his defeat of Nixon. The debate gave national exposure to Kennedy, who was a relatively unknown senator, and helped him to go on to win the election by a narrow margin.

Nixon who had been on the campaign trail that day appeared tired and un-shaven to the television audience. While Kennedy appeared to be polished and well rested. It's been said that those that listened to the debates on the radio declared Nixon the winner, while those that watched on television gave the victory to Kennedy.

It's a testament to the power of perception and image, and truly helped to shape the personae an American presidential candidate needs to address.

I've always said that because of this, a great candidate like Lincoln would not have made it as president in the television age. His awkward appearance and cracking voice would not translate well. And despite his great oratory abilities, it would be too difficult for the American people to overlook his appearance.

Here are two great resources to discuss these historical debates in class:

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1 comment:

A.T. said...

I had studied a little bit American history two years before. Our teachers should tell us the effect of TV on this debate. This is really interesting. Also it reminded me how people's attitudes towards the war had changed when they saw videos from the Vietnam War.

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