This is a brief, un-scholarly history of debates. If you read this blog, (which you do, or you wouldn’t be reading this) you know I only write about things that interest me, so I try to leave out the dull stuff. (Fran writes the smart stuff). So, you could call this a Hupp-istry. After a lifetime with a last name of Hupp, I always try to beat people to the punch-line. Not because I’m offended, because I enjoy it.
The first ever televised presidential debate was on September 26, 1960 between JFK and Tricky Dick. You can watch some of it here, if you’ve got the stomach for it. They say Nixon lost because he looked worse. People that listened on the radio said Nixon won. (So, this must have been the beginning of the “shallow-ification of America” long before the Kardashians). Nixon is also famous (you know, other than for Watergate) for his “Checkers” speech, if you want to watch that. If you’re under 40 you should watch it, just because. Poor Checkers.
Prior to that, the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 was a series of seven debates. The format for each debate was: one candidate spoke for 60 minutes, then the other candidate spoke for 90 minutes, and then the first candidate was allowed a 30-minute “rejoinder.” (uh, what? Can you say “porta potty?”). That’s 3 hours, if you’re counting. Which points us to a significant fact…people didn’t have TV or air conditioning then, and apparently, they actually had attention spans (for things other than “Twilight” movies). You think any politician could talk intelligently about anything for that long these days?
Skip to 1976, and there was another round of debates sponsored by the League of Women Voters, featuring our old pal, smiling Jimmy Carter, and stumbling President Gerald Ford. Just the mere mention of those two names generates some excitement, don’t it? As an aside, Gerry Ford made Chevy Chase famous. You-tube it, youngsters, I don’t have the time.
Of course, I’d like to give credit to Reagan, who debated Jimmy in 1980, and was judged to have won the debates by a wide margin, helping him to get elected. Popular media credits Reagan having won because he had been an actor, which helped him come across better and win the debate. We wouldn’t want to think that Reagan actually knew what he was talking about or had any political savvy.
The 1988 vice-presidential debate between Senator Lloyd Bentsen and Republican candidate Dan Quayle, famous for spelling “potatoe” or “potato” (I can never remember, and really, does it matter?). Quayle was trying to make a point about his experience. He said that he had as much experience as John F. Kennedy did when he ran for President in 1960. Bentsen countered with the now famous statement: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy”. Which, of course, Quayle wasn’t, because Jack Kennedy could spell potato while banging Marilyn Monroe in Air Force 1. This line, (about Jack Kennedy, not the Marilyn Monroe thing) Biden tried to poorly invoke in the vice-presidential debate when Ryan cited something about financial policy in the Kennedy administration and Biden said “So now you’re Jack Kennedy?” Cmon, Joe, really? I mean, you’re even a bad smart-ass.
I guess the most amazing thing about the debates is that most things I’ve read say they actually make a difference. Cmon, haven’t you thought it through by now?