Monday 26 September 2016

The Debate

As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, presidential candidates representing respectively the Republican and Democratic Parties come together for their first in a series of presidential debates later today, here I assemble some random memories of past confrontations.

The Lincoln-Douglas presidential debates of 1858 appear to me to have attained a sort of reverential position in the historical memory of the United States. But in modern times, the Nixon-Kennedy debates of 1960, with its first time use of television in addition to radio as well as the media-friendly aura of Jack Kennedy, has seemingly set a standard to which all debates are compared.
Interestingly, although Kennedy is largely viewed as the victor because of his media savvy and the result of the election, documentaries and articles often remind that most people who listened to the first debate on radio thought Nixon -a debating champion in college- won the debate while those who watched it on TV thought Kennedy to be the victor.
The legend is that JFK waltzed into town from the Kennedy family's Palm Beach resort residence complete with a tan and having availed himself of the services of two young women of easy virtue. While Kennedy strode in "looking like a matinee idol", Nixon, whose facial features appeared permanently etched with a grimace at the pain of having banged his knee a few weeks earlier on, is said to have refused makeup and paid for this with a resultant 'five o'clock shadow'.
The debates since then have been memorable for quips and put downs. In 1984, Ronald Reagan's retort to an anchor's expression of concern over his ability to cope with the demands of the presidency was met by his pledge not to make "age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience."
His opponent Walter Mondale rocked with laughter along with the gathered studio audience.
One of the most memorable of course has to have been the retort by Senator Lloyd Bentson to Vice Presidential candidate Dan Quayle in 1988 when Quayle appeared to compare himself to John Kennedy.
"Senator,” Bentson replied, “I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
Quayle appeared stone-faced and mumbled a response reminiscent of a petulant teenager being severely admonished by his parent.
There have been interesting moments since then, but these are the ones which stand out in my memory.
© Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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