The United States election of 1960 is regarded as one of the most consequential presidential elections in recent United States history. New to the political scene, a young and handsome Democrat, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, ran against the experienced Republican, Vice President Richard Milhous Nixon. In the midst of a Civil Rights Movement and rising tensions in foreign policy with the fight against communism, one aspect of this election secured its place in history for all time. The election of 1960 was the first to utilize the newly widespread medium of television in the political arena, which changed the way presidential campaigns were conducted. Political campaigns and politics changed by replacing the focus of politics from what politicians said to how they physically appeared to the public because of the use of live television debates, broadcasted political ads, and televised journalism.Many factors other than the introduction of politics in television made this election notable. The 44th United States election took place on November 8th, 1960. Kennedy was a younger man than Nixon at just 43 years old during the election. His experience consisted of one term in the Senate and three terms in the House of Representatives, which made it difficult for him to analyze foreign affairs. Nixon, however, was slightly older and already had the experience of being Vice President for two terms under Dwight D. Eisenhower. In addition, Nixon had success fighting communism in the recent years and debating American superiority in his “Kitchen Debate” with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The election was incredibly close, with Kennedy winning the popular vote with just 0.17% or 112,827 votes. Kennedy substantially defeated Nixon in the Electoral College, 303-219. The presentation of the candidates and the closeness of the vote cemented this election in the history books forever. The first televised debate was introduced in the election of 1960 which changed the public’s perception of the candidates’ appearance and allowed Kennedy to increase in popularity, giving the nation a completely different look at the two candidates. Kennedy originally challenged Nixon to the first debate. Eisenhower and other associates of Nixon warned him not to debate Kennedy in fear of making him a household name. The incumbent President was correct because the first debate had 77 million viewers, with nearly 60% of the adult population in America watching. This was the first time a candidate could reach out and speak to millions of Americans at once. Senator Bob Dole noted that when he originally heard the debate on the radio he thought Nixon had won but when he saw clips the next day of the debate broadcasted on television he said Kennedy “wiped him out”. This was replicated across the country, as people who heard Nixon on the radio decided he was the clear winner and people who visually saw Nixon-Kennedy debate decided Nixon was defeated. The New York Times first gave Nixon the upper hand when writing about the debate but switched their mood after the buzz increased. Even conservative newspapers admitted Nixon’s flaws in debate. The New Hampshire Union Leader wrote that Nixon was “clobbered.” Political analyst Bruce DuMont said that “on that date, politics and television changed forever.” This debate introduced politics into the world of television for the first time, giving Nixon and Kennedy a reason to care about their public appearance. Multiple factors contributed to Kennedy getting the upper hand on Nixon for the first debate. The Vice President had been hospitalized prior to the debate due to a knee surgery; meanwhile, Kennedy went to the set of the debate to map out the design and note the camera and light placement. During the debate, Kennedy appeared calm and collected. He managed to look into the camera when answering questions rather than looking at the moderator, giving the impression that he was speaking to the American people. He was noted as not looking sweaty, unlike Nixon, and seemed healthy, good-looking, and full of poise. Nixon, on the other hand, notably appeared clammy and anxious. Nixon wore a gray suit blending into the background of the set and looked dull on the black and white television with a pale complexion. Comparatively, Kennedy wore a blue suit with a navy tie and had a noticeable tan, which together looked crisp against the gray background. Nixon’s makeup was described as a “pancake” by the New York Times. Political analysts wrote that the first debate put Kennedy over the top. People quickly decided Nixon’s experience was no longer important and made their voting decisions based on the debates.In the second debate, Nixon attempted to recover from the damage done to his campaign in the first one. In the first debate, the topics surrounded domestic policy, which played to Kennedy’s strengths. In the second debate, which heavily focused on foreign policy and civil rights, Nixon was able to recover due to his experience in those areas. Nixon hired a new makeup artist for the second debate, which turned out to make a difference as the New York Times described his new look as more “mild.” The set design was heavily influenced by various requests by the two candidates. Nixon did not like the “cold” feel of the first set, so his team changed it to have warmer tones. They also lowered the temperature in the set for the second debate to lessen Nixon’s perspiration during the debate. Kennedy complained about the temperature change and altered lighting in the set. Kennedy and Nixon were more relaxed during the second debate. While Nixon’s appearance on stage was greatly enhanced, he seemed to try and replicate Kennedy’s non-verbal style by glaring directly into the camera, which ultimately hurt him during the debate. Kennedy remained the victor in this area, because of his superior visual presentation and looking at the moderator as well as at Nixon. Kennedy was able to maintain his big-picture thinking towards the various topics discussed in the second debate, just as he had done in the first, and avoided the minute details on which Nixon elaborated. In addition, as the frequency of the debates increased, the more national exposure was given to Kennedy, and the new dynamic of non-verbal debating played to his strengths, leading him to win the election and changing the role of television in political elections in the future. The new focus placed on candidates’ appearance due to the televised debates led to the introduction of political advertisements, which were broadcasted nationally. Robert Dallek, a historian who wrote multiple books about Kennedy, noted JFK’s innovation when it came to distinguishing television’s potential in politics. Kennedy was able to appeal to the common man in his political ads. In one ad, he met with the Sills, an average American family, to discuss high-interest rates affecting the children’s college funds. In another one of his ads, Jackie Kennedy spoke Spanish in an attempt to reach out to Hispanics. He used pop culture to enhance his ads and appeal to broader audiences by having Frank Sinatra turn one of his hits into a JFK jingle. Kennedy’s use of television in politics made it the best outlet for spreading his message, replacing newspaper and radio. Nixon’s ads, on the other hand, were not flashy. He heavily focused on his experience, noting that he has and will “keep the peace” in America and that he has accomplished this with President Eisenhower for the better half of a decade. He said in one of his political ads that he has “sat opposite the conference table with Nikita Khrushchev” and that he will continue to lead America with strong diplomacy. Kennedy combatted this by having his advisors utilize part of Eisenhower’s press conference when Eisenhower could not name a contribution Nixon had made as Vice President. This negated the importance of the fact that Nixon had experience. As a rebuttal, Nixon utilized a segment of a speech given by Eisenhower explaining that “Nixon is the best-qualified man to be the next President of the United States” due to his experience in foreign affairs. The introduction of television ads into the political scene allowed the candidates, and their respective parties, to reach out directly to the American people rather than through the media, changing American elections forever. Televised journalism was yet another way that politics infiltrated the small-screen industry, and in turn, changed the way Americans view candidates. Prior to the election of 1960, print journalism had dominated the political arena. After the presidential debates and television ads were introduced, televised journalism became a worthy opponent to print journalism. Until 1960, television was seen as a light-hearted commodity. Comedy dominated the industry, with programs like “I Love Lucy” and “The Jackie Gleason Show”. When CBS bumped the Andy Griffith show to air the first live debate with over 85% of American homes having television sets, the medium was immediately seen as much more serious. Gradually, people started to depend on television headlines for their daily news. Updates on the Vietnam War became the norm through televised journalism. Later the moon landing, Kennedy’s assassination, and the Civil Rights Movement unraveled on the small-screen. During the Wisconsin primaries, Kennedy permitted filmmaker Rob Drew to produce a documentary about him titled “Primary.” No candidate had ever been so intimate with the cameras before JFK, which added to his mystique and the televised journalism era. Due to new technologies, the cameras could now follow the candidates around much closer than ever before. As a result of the Election of 1960 being the first to introduce television into the world of American politics, TV journalism started to become dominant, furthering the focus on political figures’ appearance rather than on policy. This infiltration of television into the political landscape was not automatically accepted by everyone. The abundance of television use in the election, through debates, ads, and journalism, made the process of electing a president into a spectator sport. Historian Henry Commager wrote that “the American presidency is too great an office to be subjected to the indignity of this technique” and that he hoped “TV debates be eliminated from future presidential campaigns.” Additionally, he made the statement that this new form of campaigning will “corrupt the public judgment and, eventually, the whole political process.” Robert Gilbert, a presidential historian, later on also said that “since the age of television, presidents have become like movie stars.” The importance placed on presidential candidates’ appearance stemming from the debates shifted peoples’ focus on what these historians believe is important when electing a president, making people who respect the election process upset.The light-hearted medium of television became a serious platform for politics when the first presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon aired on CBS. This spawned three more debates, a variety of diverse TV ads, and a new wave of televised journalism. Television allowed for a young Senator to go head-to-head against the Vice President of the United States, giving him recognition all over the country and allowing the way he conducted himself to help him become President. Television’s role in politics, stemming from the Election of 1960, changed the way campaigns are conducted and as well as politics in their entirety.
August 18, 2019 0 Comments