Contrary to the Bard’s assertion, one can have too much of a good thing; I’m not sure that the fourth Nixon/Kennedy debate entertained anyone, except perhaps the Trumanesque moderator, ABC’s Quincy Howe.
That is because the candidates had exhausted themselves of platitudes and nitpicky facts, leaving naught but tired repetitions of previous debate points. Here’s a brief summary of what was addressed at last night’s all-foreign policy debate.
Both candidates fairly squandered their opening statements. Communism as the main enemy of the United States was the theme of Nixon’s preamble. He repeated his assertion that 600 million souls had fallen behind the Iron Curtain during Truman’s administration while virtually none had during the Eisenhower administration. Kennedy preempted the speech he’d planned to give to respond to Nixon’s charge, and he dredged up the same points he’d made in the last debates: that Eisenhower let Cuba fall to Communism, and that a neglected Africa is on its way, too.
The debate did have a few interesting highlights, however. Nixon was asked if he was only taking such a strong stance on the defense of Quemoy and Matsu (two insignificant islands off the coast of Red China currently claimed by Formosa) just because his opponent has not. The Vice President said that the accusation was totally false…and then said he’d drop the whole matter if Kennedy changed his position. Kennedy declined.
On the topic of Cuba, Nixon endorsed a queerly dovish policy: embargo Cuba, and the people will eventually topple Castro, he said. Kennedy strongly disagreed, and he urged active American support of anti-Castro Cubans, domestic and exiled.
On the issue of national prestige, Nixon assured his audience that American is doing just fine, and that any blows to our country’s image are Kennedy’s fault for being so unbalanced in his attacks. With regard to the space race, Nixon may be right–we’ve had, as he said, 28 successful space shots to the Soviet’s 8. We just never achieve the spectacular first. I guess, ‘Being #2, we try harder.’ But when the Vice President talked about our high prestige in Latin America, well, color me unconvinced. The rocks and eggs which pelted Nixon when he visited Peru and Venezuela in 1958 weren’t flowers.
Kennedy countered simply, “I look up and see the Soviet flag on the moon.” He may be referring to Luna 2, or he may be predicting that the Communists will get there first. Either event points up a Soviet superiority in boosters (i.e. missiles), at least for the moment.
When asked which region of the world would receive stronger focus in his administration, the Senator suggested Eastern Europe. This surprised me given his calls for greater ties with Africa and Latin America, but perhaps he meant ‘in addition’ to those regions he’d already mentioned. Specifically, Kennedy singled out Poland as a possible candidate for pulling from the Soviet grasp. Truth to tell, I did not know that Poland was vulnerable to such endeavors given that they share a border with the Soviet Union. I was impressed by the Senator’s articulation on this point.
I was not, however, impressed with Nixon’s “me too” reply or his subsequent closing statement. Just appearing sincere is now too much of an effort for the Vice President, and he’s given it up. I think he couldn’t wait for this whole debate fiasco to be over.
And fiasco it has been. Going into the debates, Senator Kennedy was struggling with an image of immaturity. Vice President Nixon was considered the better speaker, the more experienced candidate. Now we’ve seen four contests between the two, and Kennedy has come out the winner in at least three (in my opinion). More importantly, Nixon began and ended the series with weak performances, whereas Kennedy has only looked more and more presidential.
I don’t believe that these debates are the lynchpin to the election, but they have made it much more of a horse race. What was the Vice President’s election to lose is now anyone’s game.
Next up: the second season of The Twilight Zone!