The first of four televised Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate was held in September of 1960. Over fifty years on, it still holds an esteemed position in the minds of people who witnessed the debate. The presidential election of 1960 between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon is still considered to be the most closely contested election campaign (Greenberg, 2010).
All four debates were well contested, but this essay will only analyze the first debate between the presidential candidates. To summarize the proceedings of the debate, both Kennedy and Nixon mostly presented similar topics and agendas to improve on. Most notably, both candidates stressed to construct a positive future through changes. Kennedy mentioned a “New Frontier.” His speech stressed on the importance of making advancements in the U.S space exploration program and using technology to make innovative changes. Furthermore, he also demonstrated his concern for the growing poverty in the country and willingness to remedy the losses incurred through previous wars. Nixon also talked about preparing for a better and brighter future, but he targeted the sentiments of the public with his Republican beliefs. He stated that the private industries would be given an opportunity to blossom, and government spending would be reduced as much as possible. Another notable similarity between their speeches was the opinion regards Communism. They both recognized it as a threat and felt that U.S should modify their foreign policy and strengthen their armed forces (Franske, 1960).
Kennedy in his speeches was very critical of the performance of Republican government of that time. His opening statement, “I don’t believe in big government, but I believe in effective government action” was another way of representing his opinion regarding the government. Nixon, on the other hand, blamed most of the country’s problems on the previous administration of Democratic President Truman and tried to make a case on the improvements seen in Eissenhower’s (Republican) presidential term. However, Nixon was able to fend off the criticism against his administration very effectively. The first presidential debate illustrated how closely matched their themes were, but they wanted to adopt different methods to attain their goals (Franske, 1960).
After listening to an audio link of the debate, I felt that Kennedy won it. Both candidates spoke brilliantly, but I felt that Kennedy was more aggressive and confronted the experienced Nixon. Kennedy’s biggest weakness at the time was his lack of experienced, but hearing the debate. I did not feel that he was short on confidence or was not mature enough to take on the responsibility. I was mostly impressed by the way he forced Nixon to go on the defensive by showing a resilient grasp of the facts. His boldness was surprising and thus he is my winner.
After watching the video recording, I observed a remarkable difference between the outlooks of the two candidates. Kennedy came across as an attractive, dynamic and robust individual. On the other hand, Nixon seemed like worn down man and in poor health. Even the colors of the backdrop seemed to blend with the suit of Nixon, making his presence to disappear. While Kennedy was speaking, the Nixon cutaways in between showed him wiping perspiration from his face. In my opinion, it looked like an image of a man who has already admitted defeat. Even though both candidates spoke well but Kennedy immensely overshadowed Nixon in front of the camera and for this reason I feel that he easily won the first presidential debate between these two candidates (Prelinger Archieves, 1960).