The ‘kitchen debate’ of 1959

By the summer of 1959, VP Nixon was probably looking ahead to the 1960 presidential election. On the other hand, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was trying to prove to the Kremlin that he could stand up to the US. They both got their chance on this day in 1959, or the famous kitchen debates.

Who won?  They probably both did.  This is a portion of the conversation, because it was not really a debate:

Nixon: “I want to show you this kitchen. It is like those of our houses in California.”

Khrushchev: “We have such things.”

Nixon: “This is our newest model. This is the kind which is built in thousands of units for direct installations in the houses. In America, we like to make life easier for women…”

Khrushchev: “Your capitalistic attitude toward women does not occur under communism.”

Nixon: “I think that this attitude towards women is universal. What we want to do, is make life more easy for our housewives. … This house can be bought for $14,000 and most American [veterans from World War II] can buy a home in the bracket of $10,000 to $15,000. Let me give you an example that you can appreciate. Our steel workers, as you know, are now on strike. But any steelworker could buy this house. They earn $3 an hour. This house costs about $100 a month to buy on a contract running 25 to 30 years.”

Khrushchev: “We have steel workers and peasants who can afford to spend $14,000 for a house. Your American houses are built to last only 20 years so builders could sell new houses at the end. We build firmly. We build for our children and grandchildren.”

Nixon: “American houses last for more than 20 years, but, even so, after 20 years many Americans want a new house or a new kitchen. Their kitchen is obsolete by that time. … The American system is designed to take advantage of new inventions and new techniques.”

Khrushchev: “This theory does not hold water. Some things never get out of date — houses, for instance, and furniture.  Furnishings, perhaps — but not houses. I have read much about America and American houses, and I do not think that this exhibit and what you say is strictly accurate.”

Nixon: “Well, umm…”

Khrushchev: “I hope I have not insulted you.”

Nixon: “I have been insulted by experts. Everything we say [on the other hand] is in good humor. Always speak frankly.”

It went on a bit longer, and on TV, to say the least.  The comments about women are interesting so many years later.  Both men got their shots, but the Soviet leader never got to see Disneyland.  Mr. Khrushchev was barred from pre-woke Disneyland, and he was furious.

What’s amazing is that Cuba and Vietnam were not brought up, or at least I could not find any evidence that they were.  In other words, the issue that almost started a nuclear war and the war that divided the U.S. were not on the agenda.  Maybe neither man thought they were important.

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