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The Evolution of U.S. Televised Debate

It’s been fifty-six years since the first televised U.S presidential debate, and during those fifty-six years….a lot has changed. The first televised U.S presidential debate aired on September 26th, 1960, between Massachusetts Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy and Republican Vice President Richard Nixon.

Back then, body language was a noticeable factor, as it is now– especially if you’re going to become the next leader of the “free world” and have a majority of the country’s population watch your every move. The battle between Kennedy and Nixon was an interesting match to watch. Kennedy stayed calm and would easily transition his answers, while Nixon would continuously sweat. Plus, Nixon had five o’clock shadow and seemed “worn-out." Don’t blame Nixon for not “stepping-up to the plate." Prior to the debate, he was in the hospital for two weeks after recuperating from a badly injured knee. Kennedy ended-up “winning” the debate because of his well-spoken speech, dominance in comfort and his striking good-looks.

In his opening statement, Kennedy started-off on a good note by saying:

“In the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln said the question was whether this nation could exist half-slave or half-free. In the election of 1960, and with the world around us, the question is whether the world will exist half-slave or half-free, whether it will move in the direction of freedom, in the direction of the road that we are taking, or whether it will move in the direction of slavery. I think it will depend in great measure upon what we do here in the United States, on the kind of society that we build, on the kind of strength that we maintain.”

From the 1950s through the 1960s was the Civil Rights Movement, which encompassed various social movements to end racial segregation and other forms of oppression. Racial segregation and other forms of oppression are both ongoing issues that continue to plague our global society.

Later Kennedy noted:

“I’m not satisfied until every American enjoys his full constitutional rights. If a Negro baby is born – and this is true also of Puerto Ricans and Mexicans in some of our cities – he has about one-half as much chance to get through high school as a white baby. He has one-third as much chance to get through college as a white student. He has about a third as much chance to be a professional man, about half as much chance to own a house. He has about four times as much chance that he’ll be out of work in his life as the white baby. I think we can do better. I don’t want the talents of any American to go to waste.”

Just to note, the word “negro” was common to say back then. Now, most people say “Black African-American,” “African-American,” or just “Black” as a more simplistic term.

With Nixon’s opening statement, he mostly talked about how the United States needed to step-up our international position and involvement “in a deadly competition, a competition not only with the men in the Kremlin, but the men in Peking”. Kennedy did also mention the United States’ need for a firm international position. He mostly stood on internal affairs because he believed that if we, as a country, could stand strong on our internal affairs first, then we could stand strong on the international stage of strength, power and freedom.

Now, it’s 2016 and the U.S just went through three tiring televised presidential debates. The first debate between former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and business mogul Donald Trump was more of a “test” to see who would better in the long run. According to various top news outlets and networks in the country, most predicted and said Hillary Clinton “won” that debate.

For the second debate, we went to Twitter to ask “Who won?” 45% said “Hillary Clinton won,” 36% said “Donald Trump won,” 9% said “Neither won,” and 10% said “Don’t know, don’t care."

Prior to the third and last final debate starting, we went to Twitter to ask “Who will win?" 50% said “Donald Trump will win,” 33% said “Hillary Clinton will win,” and 17% said “Don’t know, don’t care."

After watching the debate, we expected there to be different results; we were right. We went back to Twitter to ask “Who focused on the questions/material asked during the debate?” 80% said “Hillary Clinton focused on the questions” and 20% said “Donald Trump focused on the questions.”

There were many topics discussed during the three presidential debates, but there was too much drama from both sides of the aisle to see the true image these two candidates stand for, for some people to fully understand.

Debates are meant to send important messages directly to your country’s people and to the rest of the world. When you impose your personal life and affairs into a debate, the debate goes nowhere and people can’t understand what message you’re trying to send them. These three televised debates, including the presidential election itself, have shown many “flying colors”.


September 26th, 1960 First Televised U.S Presidential Debate TRANSCRIPT


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