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50th Anniversary of First Presidential Debate

Modern American politics was born fifty years ago in Chicago. On September 26, 1960, presidential hopefuls John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon clashed in the first debate ever held in a presidential election. The "Great Debates," as the four debates that year between Kennedy and Nixon are often called, fundamentally changed American politics. As the first major televised presidential campaign moment, the Kennedy-Nixon debate in Chicago marked the birth of the era of televised politics. Additionally, although the 1960 debates represented a unique experiment in presidential politics that would not be tried again until 1976 (in part because Nixon refused to participate in debates again since it aided in his narrow defeat), today the electorate expects candidates to participate. Debates fundamentally enrich political campaigns by providing the best opportunity for voters to compare and contrast the candidates and since viewers generally learn more from debates that other political mediums. At the conclusion of the fourth debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, moderator Quincy Howe noted, "The character and courage with which these two men have spoken sets a high standard for generations to come. Surely, they have set a new precedent. Perhaps they have established a new tradition." Kennedy and Nixon did indeed set a new precedent and created a new tradition.

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