On this day in 1960, the first-ever televised presidential debate was held in Chicago. Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy and Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon squared off before an audience of more than 65 million viewers.
This debate revealed the power of television as a modern medium for politics. Radio listeners awarded the debate to Nixon, but the much larger television audience gave the prize to Kennedy. In contrast to Kennedy’s relaxed, confident appearance, Nixon looked glum and sweaty. In addition to a more youthful, vigorous appearance, Kennedy also seemed more at ease with the new medium, looking at the TV camera to address the American viewers. Nixon, however, instead of looking into the TV camera, turned to Kennedy, addressing his comments solely to his opponent.
It’s these small factors that probably gave Kennedy the edge, not only in the debates but also in the election. He won the presidency in November 1960 by one of the smallest margins in U.S. presidential history (1). Nixon ran for president again, winning the 1968 and 1972 elections for president. In both of these winning campaigns, Nixon declined all invitations to debate his opponent.
Today’s Challenge: Abecedarian Debate Topics
Abecedarian is an adjective meaning “of or related to the alphabet.” On this 26th day of the month, it’s appropriate to turn to the alphabet, covering your subject from A to Z. What are the best topics for a debate — timely or timeless topics that are controversial enough to spark a two-sided argument? Your challenge is to generate at least 26 different possible debate topics, one topic for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
1- Safire, William. Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.