First Obama/McCain Debate To Take Place On 48th Anniversary Of Famous Nixon/Kennedy Debate
Which shouldn’t suggest that Barack Obama bears any resemblance to JFK (though many on the left think that to be true), or that McCain is some modern-day Nixon (which many on the left also think to be true), but it is an interesting coincidence.
The 1960 Nixon vs. Kennedy debate was the first presidential debate ever aired on television, and it may mark the point at which American politics began to be more about style than substance. Many blamed Nixon’s poor performance in that debate for losing him the election, and indeed those who watched the debate on television saw Nixon come off as nervous. Sweating. A stark contrast to the cool and collected Kennedy, who television viewers felt “won” the debate.
But a much-touted anecdote from the time suggested that people who listened to the debate on the radio instead of watching it on television felt that Nixon won it. Because all they got from the debate was what was said, not how the candidates looked. Which suggests that for television viewers, how Kennedy looked while he answered questions was more important than what he actually said.
That makes me think of tonight’s debate, which will feature Barack Obama who has run a stylish campaign full of soaring rhetoric and great theatrics but not a lot of substance. Will Obama be judged to have “won” tonight’s debate simply because he looks more attractive, and sounds more eloquent, than the wintry and not-that-well-spoken McCain?
Obama will certainly have an edge. Because like it or not, for many in this country how Obama looks and sounds will be more important than what he actually says.
You can watch the entire Nixon/Kennedy debate here: