✎ Dancing around the maypole 

24 February 2016 tbs.pm/8712

Myths build up around television. Viewers see what they want to see, programme makers remember what they want to remember, fans believe what they want to believe. In this television is no different to any other facet of history, except that the actual event is caught on film or tape if we’re lucky.

One such myth is that when Kennedy and Nixon faced each other before the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy won the debate for television watchers and Nixon won the debate for radio listeners.

The truth was much more finely ground: Kennedy won the debate with Democrats and Nixon with Republicans; Democrats were more likely to have television, Republicans more likely to only have radio; the vast majority of people watched the debate, a small minority listened to it.

And, either way, watching it now you can see that Kennedy had Nixon on the back foot. Kennedy tied the debate to the “communist threat”, then made it clear that such a threat wasn’t what was being debated. Nixon, the commie-bater of old, failed to regain the high-ground. Kennedy presented very cautious options for the tweaks to the system that would help folks. Nixon had to defend Eisenhower’s wasted, complacent years in power. Kennedy wanted the upper working class and farming voters to be given social security and healthcare options. Nixon had to shield Eisenhower from criticism that he had promised to do this but had never really acted.

In the end, history records that Kennedy was better looking and Nixon needed a shave. Kennedy was better dressed and Nixon misjudged the likely backdrop colour. If you listen to the debate, or watch it, more than half a century later, you discover that history has been oversimplified once again.

But Kennedy still won the debate hands down.

We can also see how history will view our current world in 50 years, thanks to the wonderful human ability to misunderstand Bad Lip Reading.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Paul Z. Temperton 26 February 2016 at 8:16 pm

“But Kennedy still won hands down”
Yet he only won the popular vote by the narrowest of squeaks (49.72% to 49.55%). More or less a dead heat. JFK was lucky with the crazy electoral system, which gave him 303 electoral votes to Nixon’s 219.

Russ J Graham 26 February 2016 at 8:27 pm

In context, Kennedy still won [the debate] hands down. I’ll clarify that sentence.

Your comment

Enter it below

A member of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
Liverpool, Friday 21 June 2024