1960: Cuba was a major topic in the Kennedy-Nixon debate

Back in 1960, millions of Americans tuned in for a real “TV first” this week. They watched a debate by the two major presidential candidates running for president in 1960. 

Who won? Did the debates impact the vote?

Senator Kennedy won by 114,000 votes out of 70 million cast that day. It was 49.72% vs 49.55%.  

The conventional wisdom is that JFK won “the video” while Nixon won “the audio.”

Again, your guess is as good as mine. It’s like losing the pennant by one game and arguing about what “one game” made the difference.

What impact did it have?   

Senator Kennedy hit the Eisenhower administration very hard about the growing communist menace in Cuba. His debate comments actually had an impact on many Cubans, like my father, who were following the debates by shortwave radio.

Sadly, President Kennedy dropped the ball at The Bay of Pigs the next spring. He contradicted with his actions what he promised at the debates.

What else do we remember from the 1960 presidential debates? Vietnam was not a topic in the Kennedy-Nixon debates but it consumed the nation in the 1960’s.

In 1960, we learned an important lesson. Debates are important and we should continue the tradition.  However, the reality of the presidency often overwhelms campaign promises or ‘tough talk” at the debates.  

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