The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

Excerpt, My Day

-- Watching the fourth debate[1] between the Presidential candidates, I had the feeling that Senator Kennedy, though at times irritated by his opponent, was rather enjoying himself, but that the Vice President was not enjoying it at all.
I was away from home, having made a speech on the U. N. in Long Island,[2] and so I knew none of the people with whom I saw the program. I therefore watched them, as well as the program itself, in order to get their reactions. As so often happens, I am sure most people watching were affected by their own feelings primarily, and I doubt whether anyone's vote was changed by the debate.
Mr. Nixon's technique of stating as facts what as a rule are only half facts requires, of course, that his adversary have a very complete knowledge of the various subjects under discussion, with details of time and dates well in hand. It is curious, too, that the same technique in speaking employed by the Vice President in these debates is copied by a number of his colleagues on the hustings. He, himself, is apt to be "clarifying" what he meant for several days after the debate. Similarly, Senator Javits is now clarifying what he is reported to have said the other day on the prestige of the U. S. in other parts of the world.[3]
Whatever our political opinions may be, I believe we can be grateful to the networks for having given us these four debates. They have been a milestone in TV usefulness, and have served to introduce the candidates and the people to each other. I would in the future far rather see debates where the two opponents were alone on the stage and where their ideas and views throughout were exchanged man to man, without the intervention of reporters. Perhaps it would be effective to have a moderator to start them off and, if they got too heated, to calm them down. Since this technique is probably here to stay, we can improve on it as the years go on and make it of ever greater value to the people who have to vote on Election Day.


(Copyright, 1960, by the United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)
     [1.] The fourth and final debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon took place on October 21st in New York. The topics of discussion (limited to foreign affairs) included the Cold War policy of preventing the expansion of communism in developing nations, the situation in Cuba, and the level of American prestige abroad. Although presidential historian Theodore H. White described the fourth debate as the "dreariest" of the four televised debates between the two presidential candidates, the viewing audience was nearly as large as that for the first. The TV stations estimated that from 115 to 120 million viewers tuned in to at least one of the debates. [Theodore H. White, The Making of the President 1960 (New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1988), pp. 290-93; Thomas C. Reeves, A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (New York: The Free Press, 1991), p. 199.]
     [2.] ER delivered a "United Nations Day Address" on October 21, 1960, on the subject, "Is America Facing up to World Leadership," in which she declared that because America had been thrust into a position of world leadership after World War II, it was crucial that we take a "world point of view."
     [3.] October 20, 1960, ER and New York Senator Jacob Javits, a Republican, addressed a "standing-room-only crowd" of 600 plus members of the American Association of University Professors who crammed the City College Student Activities Center to watch the leaders debate their respective candidates' positions and campaign strategies. During the debate, Javits rejected Nixon's claim that "American prestige is at an all-time high," called it a "silly" position "no matter what anyone says," and conceded that American prestige had "suffered" because of our handling of the U-2 incident, the crisis in the Congo, and Castro. Kennedy would make the same claim the following night in the fourth and final debate. ["Loss of Prestige Is Seen by Javits," The New York Times, 21 October 1960, p. 25; Sidney Kraus, ed., The Great Debates: Background-Perspective-Effects (Indiana: University of Indiana Press, 1962), pp. 411-430.]