First Presidential debate televised in American history between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon

First Ever Televised Presidential Debate Happened 56 Years Ago Today, How Did It Potentially Alter History?

Tonight, close to 100 million people will gather around their television, computer, or mobile devices to take in the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Many people take for granted the fact that they can view the presidential candidates on TV. By seeing the candidates with their own eyes, the public can attach the candidate’s body language with what they are saying. Important factors such as how healthy a presidential candidate looks can also be determined.

The role of the television as it relates to presidential elections, arguably, was changed forever 56 years ago today. On this date, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon took part in the first-ever televised presidential debate. Prior to this, presidential debates were held on radio. Now that the television was overtaking the popularity of the radio, presidential candidates had to be concerned with how they would look as opposed to just worrying about how they sounded. The televised debate drew 70 million viewers.

The first televised debate took place in a television studio in Chicago. Going into the event, the polls showed that Nixon was leading Kennedy nationally by six points. By the time the debate was over, Kennedy found himself slightly ahead.


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On television, Kennedy had an instant advantage due to his charisma and good looks. Kennedy’s looks were enhanced due to him spending time getting a tan and using make-up prior to the cameras being turned on. Nixon refused to wear any make-up even though he was requested to do so. On television, Nixon did not look well. One of the main reasons that Nixon did not come across looking well on television was due in part to a recent knee surgery. Nixon had been in the hospital and appeared tired, pale, and unkempt since he did not shave for the event and was sporting a five o’ clock shadow. His appearance suffered further since he reaggravated his surgically repaired knee as he was entering the Chicago television studio.

The dichotomy of the first televised presidential debate was made apparent by the views expressed by Kennedy’s and Nixon’s running mates. Nixon’s running mate, Henry Cabot Lodge, was one of the 70 million people watching on television. Due to how Nixon appeared on TV, Lodge had some strong words to describe what he witnessed. Lodge stated, “that son-of-a-bi**h just lost us the election.” Kennedy’s running mate, Lyndon Johnson, tuned into the debate on the radio. Johnson was convinced that Kennedy had lost the debate. Many others felt the same way as Lodge and Johnson, depending on what medium they used.

The entire debate can be seen on YouTube, and is very interesting to watch. Seeing just how different politics and presidential debates have become in a short period of time is a real eye opener. It is highly unlikely that the debate tonight between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will showcase the civility that Nixon and Kennedy had in their debate.

How will you be watching the first presidential debate of 2016? Which candidate do you think has the advantage going into tonight?

[Featured Image by AP Images]

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