WHICH PARTY DO WE WANT TO LEAD THE UNITED STATES?
Chicago, Illinois (JFK+50) The 1st question of the 1st presidential debate on September 26, 1960 was directed at Senator John F. Kennedy by ABC News reporter Bob Fleming.
Mr. Fleming asked:
“The Vice-President has said that you were naive & immature. He has raised the question of leadership. On this issue, why do you think people should vote for you rather than the Vice-President?”
Senator Kennedy answered:
“(We) came to Congress together (in) 1946 (&) have been there for 14 years, so our experience in government is comparable.
The question is…what are the programs we advocate, what is the party record that we lead?
I come out of the Democratic party which, in this century, has produced Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt & Harry Truman, & which supported these programs which I’ve discussed tonight.
Mr. Nixon comes out of the Republican party (which) most of these last 25 years…has opposed federal aid for education, medical care for the aged, development of the Tennessee Valley (&) development of our natural resources.
I think Mr. Nixon is an effective leader of his party.
The question before us is, which point of view & which party do we want to lead the United States?”
Going into the 1st debate of 1960, Richard M. Nixon was the clear front runner. He had been Vice-President of the United States for 2 terms under a very popular president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Republicans wanted to emphasize this advantage in the campaign by saying that Mr. Nixon was more experienced than the Democratic challenger.
So this 1st question by Mr. Fleming was most appropriate.
I think JFK hit a home run with his answer. He turned the question, which might have put him personally on the defensive, into a positive for him by 1st neutralizing the premise of inexperience & 2nd by emphasizing the differences in the respective parties.*
*Following is a quote from an essay written in 1962 which illustrates JFK’s skill in the use of television. Just as FDR was the 1st president to use radio effectively, JFK was the 1st to use television to his advantage.
THE GREAT DEBATE
by Hallock Hoffman, Director of the Center of the Study of Democratic Institutions, 1962.
“It is already clear that Kennedy will use television skillfully as President. (He) will tell us not only what policies he thinks are right…but also what attitudes & beliefs he wants us to adopt. In his hands, television will become an active tool of Presidential policies.”