Butler County Times Gazette
  • Kent Bush: We haven't fallen far from 1960

  • Wednesday will be the first of three debates this month between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
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  • Wednesday will be the first of three debates this month between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
    Much is made of how the 1960 Presidential debate changed the world of Presidential politics. It was the first time that a debate had been televised.
    Then Vice President Richard Nixon had recently emerged from a hospital and was pale and skinny. And the cameras loved the younger and smoother John F. Kennedy.
    Kennedy was so smooth that when the questions from the press began, he began to answer from the rickety chairs they had staged the candidates in. The moderator told him to go to his place and Kennedy continued to answer without so much as a pause as he walked to the small school choir director's music stand they used as podiums for the event.
    The producers of this debate left a lot of room for improvement for future debate coverage.
    Some of that poor production also hurt Nixon in the debate. The cameras kept randomly shifting from the candidate who was speaking to his opponent. Nixon would try to look at Kennedy while he answered, but he couldn't miss the fact that the camera pointed at him was live and he would shift his eyes back and forth. That's not a great look to inspire confidence.
    But he wasn't being shifty. He just looked shifty because of clunky camera work.
    At other times, Nixon was very "nixony" for lack of a better term.
    I loved his attempt to explain away President Dwight Eisenhower's remark that if you gave him a week, he might be able to come up with one policy his Vice President had contributed to.
    Nixon pointed out – probably correctly – that Ike had only been joking. However, in the month after he made the statement and before the debate, the President had not corrected his statement.
    There were far fewer pundits in 1960 and there was no internet or AM radio talkosphere.
    People could make comments and just let them stand. The practice of walking back a comment within hours of first making it is a very new phenomenon.
    Nixon answered by saying the President got a lot of advice from advisors and didn't have to tell anyone – even Congress – who he got the information from. Looking back, Nixon was displaying the same political genetics that led to his eventual downfall.
    Everyone has heard that Kennedy won the debate by a huge margin with those watching it and lost by a close margin according to those who listened on the radio.
    I think I may try listening on the radio or at least with my chair turned backward Wednesday evening. It would be a different perspective.
    Page 2 of 2 - But the biggest change in the last five decades of televised debates is the rise of the pundit.
    After Wednesday's debate, FOX News will have a bevy of blowhards bemoaning Obama's remarks as socialist and dangerous to the country's very existence. Romney will be celebrated as the obvious winner.
    A few channels down the dial, MSNBC will have their own collection of closed-minded commentators who will convincingly communicate how Obama wiped the floor with Romney whose answers showed his overtly elitist, racist and extremist views.
    They could pretape these response segments before one question is asked in Denver.
    In the end, both candidates will spew their over-rehearsed answers and pray to whatever God both of them pray to that the other guy says something stupid to fill the 24-hour news cycle for a few days.
    Don't worry. We haven't fallen far from 1960. It isn't like those two statesmen shared wonderful ideas and the voters had a lot of substance to choose from.
    Kennedy referenced Lincoln and said the Ike-Nixon administration had accomplished little – all while he served in Congress himself, accomplishing equally little.
    Nixon stood for better competition with China and compared carefully selected statistics between the current information and the most recent one from the competing party.
    You will probably hear the name of Lincoln again. You will also probably hear a little about China and the George W. Bush administration.
    Honestly, Democrats won't be won over by Romney and Obama won't win over any more Republicans than he has the past three and a half years.
    Any voter who is undecided at this point in the election cycle will probably still be undecided after Wednesday night – mainly because undecided voters aren't incredibly likely to be watching a debate on television. If they were sufficiently engaged, they would have made up their minds by now.
    One thing is certain, the staging of the debate won't look like a thrown together Town Hall meeting in Podunk, Oklahoma. And CNN will probably have some space-age touchless screenless touchscreen on which they write their observations in Klingon.
    At least the theater is better, even if the ideas and statesmanship aren't.
    Kent Bush is the Augusta Gazette Publisher, a columnist and blogger for the GateHouse Media Network. He can be contacted at publisher@augustagazette.com.
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