The campaign slogan for one of the Presidential candidates in the debate that night was It’s experience that counts to which the other candidate responded I’m not satisfied with the way things are… I think we can do a better job.
“A good record is never to stand on, but sometimes it can be used to build on,” said the older man with skin so white he looked pasty to the television viewing audience.
“I want to say these are the years when the tide came in for America – not when it rolled out,” said the cool confident handsome younger man.
I was fourteen years old in September, 1960 when the first presidential debates aired on television and radio by the only three networks operating at the time: NBC, CBS and ABC. I’d like to say I have fond memories of the debate – or really any memories of the debate – but I must have filed them in a safe place where they are currently unavailable for recall so after watching Bon Qui Qui at the King Burger again today for the umpteenth time because that youtube video guarantees me a good laugh, I inexplicably clicked on the video of the initial Kennedy/Nixon presidential debate.
Now why would I connect Bon Qui Qui to presidential debates…who knows…perhaps because her hilarious Rude – call Security lines from that routine jump-started my brain to the images I’m already dreading of the first debate of the 2016 presidential campaign which is coming up in prime time Monday night. My approach/avoidance nerves are already jangling at the prospect of a forum that will be less than inspirational. Rude – call security. Play nice, please.
Richard Nixon was the Republican Vice President of the United States when he decided to run for President the first time in 1960. He had served under President Dwight Eisenhower for seven and a half years and his campaign slogan was It’s Experience That Counts. In the course of the first debate that evening in September, 1960 he touted his contributions to the Eisenhower administration and powerfully argued their two terms in office had been successful ones for the nation.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a Senator from Massachusetts when he entered the presidential race in 1960 and the televised debate was a huge opportunity to introduce himself to a country that didn’t really know much about him other than his religion was Catholic and he was very young. In his first eight minutes of television time, he defined himself as the candidate of change with a skilled oratorical style reminiscent of a Baptist revival preacher about to give an altar call.
Following Senator Kennedy’s passionate I’m not satisfied rhetoric in his opening remarks, Nixon agreed that both candidates wanted to see the country moving forward but their disagreement was in the means to make that happen. One of the biggest disagreements was the role of the federal government in dealing with issues such as farming supplements, health care for an aging population, balanced budgets, income taxes, labor unions and a host of other problems. Nixon implied the Democrats looked to the federal government for too many answers. “I don’t believe in big government, but I do believe in effective government action,” Senator Kennedy argued.
The first debate was supposedly on domestic issues, but both candidates linked domestic problems to foreign affairs. Senator Kennedy’s boogeymen were Soviet Premier Khrushchev and the Chinese Communists, and his warning If the United States fail, then the whole cause of freedom fails was a strong statement advocating global leadership for America.
Unfortunately for Vice President Nixon, the television cameras were not kind to him. While the radio listeners subsequently declared Nixon to be the winner of the first debate, television viewers gave the nod to Kennedy. One historian said that Nixon had hurt his knee getting out of a taxi before going into the debate and was in a great deal of pain throughout the debate which probably didn’t help his onstage look.
His pale skin was due to refusing any makeup, and he didn’t win points when he kept glancing at a clock on a wall in the room which made it appear that his eyes were shifty and he was unfocused on the topics. All in all, Richard Nixon had poor optics and poorer preparation for television.
It wasn’t Nixon’s eyes or Kennedy’s delivery that struck me most about these debates of fifty-six years ago, however. No, what gobsmacked me was how little the campaign themes have differed through the years but how much the style of the debates has taken a flying leap out of control to the dark side. Experience versus change. That is still the language of today’s candidates, although the party roles are reversed from the 1960 campaign.
I have watched presidential debates since 1976 with the same passion and critiques I usually reserve for the Grand Slam tennis tournaments. I don’t miss them, and ordinarily I would be ecstatic at the opportunity to watch the first female presidential candidate participate in the debate. Yet, the debate style has gotten so off the grid from political issues to personal attacks I fear the worst. Most def…which leads me to a second Bon Qui Qui quote from her King Burger routine as a counter consultant for a major fast food chain: Have it your way, but don’t go crazy.
Please, for all of our sake Monday night. Have it your way, but don’t go crazy… or we might have to say Rude – call Security and switch to Monday Night Football.