Skip to main content

Kennedy Nixon Myths

Kennedy Vs. Nixon. Myth Vs. Reality.

The Kennedy-Nixon debates are some of the most presidential debates in the history of the United States. Along with the fame, comes many misconstrued perceptions, and myths.

the candidates debate

  • Myth- The introduction of television changed everything.

 Many modern Americans believe that the introduction of television for the debates amongst John Kennedy and Richard Nixon played a key role in the outcome of the debates. A common thought is that the cameras 'favored' Kennedy over Nixon. Many people believe that Kenned was so photogenic in front of the camera that it did indeed provide an edge in the polls and in public view. 

  • Reality- The introduction of television was not revolutionary in the 1960 presidential campaign.

In reality Nixon was no stranger to the effects of the camera. He was well aware of the advancement of the "I like Ike" campaign of commercials just several years prior. Nixon was not a new comer to politics and had watched the effects of the wildly successful campaign of television commercials form Eisenhower. In reality many people just believe that because since this was the first series of presidential debates broadcast on television that it must have been the reason Kennedy took a lead was because of the television. Many people don't look into why Kennedy had a better appearance, or into his campaign strategy which placed a great emphasis on media and appearance. in all truthfulness it is likely that many people just liked Kennedy more than Nixon, this is a direct result of Kennedy's borader campaign strategy which can be seen in the Documentary Primary in the race for the democratic nomination.

i like ike clip link  video clip link

  • Myth- Kennedy was photogenic and Nixon was old and sickly

After the myth that television enhanced Kennedy's appearance many people believe it was because he really was better looking becuase he was younger and energetic while Nixon was old and tired.

  • Reality- Both candidates were healthy young men.

The truth is that both candidates, not just Kennedy were appealing to the eyes. Nixon in fact was rather athletic. However, there is some truth to this myth. Nixon was known to often have a five o'clock shadow by mid afternoon, this did not translate well in front of the camera. Additionally Nixon was dealing with a knee infection and took steroid creams to combat that did give him a sickly, albeit slightly sickly, appearance. As seen in this picture both men looked well in front of the camera.

Candidates Nixon and Kennedy look energetic in front of the camera.

  • Myth- Nixon didn't understand the effect of television.

Many times it is thought that Richard Nixon didn't understand the effect of television and that it could ultimately determine the outcome of the election.

  • Reality- Nixon failed to asses the studio for the debates. 

This is more of a misconception than a myth. Actually, there is some truth behind this. Kennedy arrived early and assessed the studio, he even changed his suit to stand out against the background. Nixon however did not preview the surroundings and unfortunately had a inferior makeup artist, which added up to create an appearance that he disregarded the television. Additionally Nixon was oriented toward the debate itself. He had a history of strong debate performance dating back to debate team during his high school years.

  • Myth- People just agreed with Kennedy's viewpoint better.

This is the worst myth of all, stating that the public agreed with Kennedy's Nixon views on issues.

  • Reality- The candidates' viewpoints were similar.

Push come to shove, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon shared many similar views. The debates were not contentious. Nixon was a moderate Republican, and Kennedy may be described as as a moderate Democratic. Rather both candidates shared a Cold War consensus on domestic and foreign policy issues.