1960 Kennedy VS. Nixon
The Living Room Candidate
"Debate," Kennedy, 1960
MALE NARRATOR: In his historic debate with Richard Nixon, Senator John F. Kennedy has made an impression by being direct, by being specific, by facing the issues squarely. He is meeting the challenge of the '60s; he's offering new American leadership for the country, for the world.
KENNEDY: This is a great country, but I think it could be a greater country. And this is a powerful country, but I think it could be a more powerful country. I'm not satisfied to have 50 percent of our steel mill capacity unused. I'm not satisfied when the United States had, last year, the lowest rate of economic growth of any major industrialized society in the world. Because economic growth means strength and vitality. It means we're able to sustain our defenses. It means we're able to meet our commitments abroad.
I'm not satisfied when we have over nine billion dollars of food, some of it rotting, even though there is a hungry world, and even though four million Americans wait every month for a food package from the government which averages five cents a day per individual. I saw places in West Virginia, here in the United States, where children took home part of their school lunch in order to feed their families. I don't think we're meeting our obligations towards these Americans.
I'm not satisfied when the Soviet Union is turning out twice as many scientists and engineers as we are. I'm not satisfied when many of our teachers are inadequately paid, and many of our students go in part-time shifts. I think we should have an educational system second to none.
I'm not satisfied until every American enjoys his full constitutional rights. When a Negro baby is born, 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 Americans to go to waste.
I know that there are those who say that we want to turn everything over to the government. I don't at all. I want the individual to meet their responsibility. And I want the states to meet their responsibilities. But I think there is also a national responsibility.
If you feel that everything that is being done now is satisfactory, that the relative power and prestige and strength of the United States is increasing in relation to that of the Communists, that we are gaining more security, that we are achieving everything as a nation that we should achieve, that we are achieving a better life for our citizens and greater strength, then I agree. I think you should vote for Mr. Nixon. But if you feel that we have to move again in the '60s, that the function of the president is to set before the people the unfinished business of our society, as Franklin Roosevelt did in the '30s, the agenda of our people, what we must do as a society to meet our needs in this country and protect our security and help the cause of freedom.
As I said in the beginning, the question before us all, that faces all Republicans and all Democrats, is: can freedom in the next generation conquer? Or are the Communists going to be successful? That's the great issue. And if we meet our responsibilities, I think freedom will conquer. If we fail--if we fail to move ahead, if we fail to develop significant military, economic, and social strength in this country--then I think that the tide could begin to run against us. And I don't want historians ten years from now to say: These were the years when the tide ran out from the United States. I want them to say: These were the years when the tide came in. These were the years when the United States started to move again. That's the question before the American people, and only you can decide what you want--what you want this country to be, what you want to do with the future. I think we're ready to move. And it is to that great task that, if we are successful, we will address ourselves.
MALE NARRATOR: You have been watching an important excerpt from the Kennedy-Nixon debates presented by Citizens for Kennedy. Vote for new American leadership. (Cheering) The country needs it, the world needs it. John Kennedy for president.
"Debate 2," Citizens for Kennedy-Johnson, 1960Video courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1960/debate-2 (accessed October 3, 2023).
In 1960, America was enjoying a period of relative prosperity. With the exception of the stirrings of the modern civil rights movement, domestic turbulence was low, and the primary foreign threat seemed to be the intensifying Cold War. Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1959, and installed a Communist regime just ninety miles off the coast of Florida. In May 1960, an American U-2 spy plane was shot down inside the Soviet Union, further intensifying tensions between the superpowers. The Republican nominee, Vice President Richard Nixon, was enjoying a growing reputation for his foreign policy skills after his televised "kitchen debate" with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1959. The Democratic nominee, charismatic Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, was attempting to become the first Catholic president and, at age 43, the youngest man ever elected to the office. Nixon argued that he had the maturity and experience to deal with the Communists, while Kennedy attempted to turn his youth into an advantage, proclaiming in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, "We stand today on the edge of a new frontier."
Lyndon Johnson for vice president
"Kennedy: Leadership for the ’60s"
The Kennedy campaign produced nearly 200 commercials, which varied widely in subject and style. The variety was partly caused by disorganization within the media campaign, which was being handled by two competing agencies. Several Kennedy spots showcased his spontaneous speaking abilities, using excerpts from rallies, speeches, and debates. And there were a variety of endorsement ads: Jackie Kennedy’s
More than the ads, two key television events gave Kennedy his winning margin in 1960. The first was an impassioned speech to the Houston Ministerial Association in which he responded to concerns that Catholicism was incompatible with the secular office of president. In a confrontational arena, Kennedy’s manner was confident and assured as he proclaimed his allegiance to the separation of church and state and turned the issue into a question not of religion but of religious tolerance. Originally aired live throughout Texas, the Houston speech was edited into a half-hour commercial that was broadcast frequently throughout the campaign.
The second and more important event was the Kennedy-Nixon debate on September 26, the first of four televised general-election presidential debates. Kennedy appeared tanned, confident, and vigorous. Nixon, wearing no makeup and a light-colored suit that blended into the background, looked exhausted and pale, and sweated profusely. An estimated 75 million viewers tuned in to watch. The debate was also broadcast on radio to an audience of approximately fifteen million. Testifying to television’s visual impact, Kennedy emerged as the clear winner even though most radio listeners felt that Nixon had won.
Henry Cabot Lodge for vice president
"Nixon-Lodge: They Understand What Peace Demands"
In 1960, Nixon’s campaign instituted a procedure that became standard in subsequent Republican campaigns. Rather than hire an advertising agency, Nixon formed an ad hoc group and named it Campaign Associates. The group was headed by Carroll Newton, who had played a key role in both Eisenhower campaigns, and Ted Rogers, producer of the 1952 "Checkers" telecast (in which Nixon saved his vice-presidential nomination by answering corruption charges with an emotional speech made during a paid half-hour broadcast). This organizational structure gave Nixon direct control over his advertising, and allowed the group to recruit volunteers from several agencies.
Nixon used his 1960 commercials as a sort of rehearsal for the job. In a formal office setting, he spoke directly to the camera, giving detailed, forceful answers to questions posed by an offscreen speaker, and presenting himself as a tough, experienced leader able to stand up to the Communists. Polls showed that voters saw Nixon as stronger than Kennedy on foreign policy by a two-to-one margin, and saw Kennedy as stronger on domestic policy by the same ratio. Thus Nixon turned every question into a Cold War issue. About civil rights, he said, "We cannot compete with Communism without the full participation of all our citizens."
The message implicit in these ads was that while Nixon may not have been as charismatic or even as likable as Kennedy, he was a seasoned, mature leader ready to stand up to Khrushchev. Nixon’s ads also played to his foreign-policy strength by frequently including his running mate, former United Nations ambassador