The first televised presidential debate took place in 1960 and set the tone for what was clearly intended to be a dialogue on substance and, believe it or not, respect — a stark contrast to last night’s debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
“Will you shut up, man?! This is so unpresidential!” Biden said.
Unpresidential. That’s one way to label Tuesday night’s debate, a debate that came with a display of insults from the very start.
“You’re the worst president America has ever had. Come on!” Biden said.
“You graduated either the lowest or second lowest in your class. Don’t ever use the word smart with me,” Trump said.
While the debate touched on issues facing the nation, this was a far cry from the first televised presidential debate. Republican Richard Nixon went head-to-head against Democrat John F. Kennedy in what was a discussion that did not include interruptions and focused on the issues. “This is a powerful country, but i think it could be a more powerful country,” Kennedy said during the debate.
Back then, candidates were not shy about saying when they did agree with one another.
“The things that Sen. Kennedy has said, many of us can agree with,” Nixon said during the debate.
When there was disagreement, it did not include name calling.
“I know Sen. Kennedy feels as deeply about these problems as I do, but our disagreements are not about the goals for America, but only about the means to reach those goals,” Nixon said.
For the next three elections, there were no debates. However, in 1976 they returned. Eventually, a former movie star took the stage, adding in some comedy to the mix.
“I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” President Ronald Reagan said during the debate.
Over time, opponents no doubt took serious jabs at each other. Why was this debate so different? Supporters on both sides say this race is all about the soul of America, each ticket saying that if the other wins, America as we know it will never be the same, and that could be why the debate was so different — each candidate desperately trying to frame the other in the darkest possible sense.