by Jeremy Young | 6/04/2008 06:52:00 PM
Via Josh Orton, the McCain camp is apparently making this pitch:

Dear Senator Obama:

In 1963, Senator Barry Goldwater and President John F. Kennedy agreed to make presidential campaign history by flying together from town to town and debating each other face-to-face on the same stage. In Goldwater's words, those debates "would have done the country a lot of good." Unfortunately, with President Kennedy's untimely death, Americans lost the rare opportunity of witnessing candidates for the highest office in the land discuss civilly and extensively the great issues at stake in the election. What a welcome change it would be were presidential candidates in our time to treat each other and the people they seek to lead with respect and courtesy as they discussed the great issues of the day, without the empty sound bites and media-filtered exchanges that dominate our elections. It is in the spirit of President Kennedy's and Senator Goldwater's agreement, in the spirit of the politics of change, and to do our country good, that I invite you to join me in participating in town hall meetings across the country to discuss the most important issues facing Americans.

What I'm wondering is: why did Kennedy agree to this plan? Traditionally, the leading candidate is reluctant to hold many debates, which give his or her challengers an opportunity to break through in the campaign. In fact, Lyndon Johnson refused to debate Goldwater at all.

Of course, Kennedy was a great debater who had won the 1960 election largely on the strength of his TV presence in his one televised debate with Richard Nixon. But I'm wondering whether there wasn't another reason Kennedy would want to debate Goldwater in 1963: he wanted Goldwater to win the Republican nomination. Recall that Goldwater was locked in an incredibly tight primary battle with liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller, one of the most popular politicians in America and one of the very few men who could give Kennedy a real run for his money. Debating Goldwater might allow him to gain on Kennedy in the general election, but it would most certainly help him to defeat Rockefeller in the primary, sparing Kennedy the threat of a Kennedy-Rockefeller race.

What do you guys think? Did Kennedy agree to debate Goldwater in 1963 out of the goodness of his heart? Or was it the equivalent of Obama's agreeing to debate Mike Huckabee in February? Or was there some other reason I'm not aware of?



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Blogger AndrewMc on 6/05/2008 8:30 AM:

I think there's some merit to this. But, remember: Kennedy wasn't all that great of a debater. In surveys taken after the famous Kennedy-Nixon debates, people who only heard it on radio thought that Nixon had won. Kennedy's main debating appeal was his "telegenic-ness."

Still, the same thoughts have to come up with regard to McCain-Obama. Why the decidedly un-telegenic McCain would want to be seen side-by-side with Obama, who is an excellent debater and speaker, is definitely odd.


Blogger Jeremy Young on 6/05/2008 3:12 PM:

Andrew, good points. I'd say, though, that it sounds like the Kennedy-Goldwater debates would not have been televised, so everyone who encountered them would have seen him in person (where Kennedy's telegenicness would have worked its magic).

As for McCain, it's possible he doesn't yet realize that he's not a good debater any more. If you recall, he was widely considered the best debater in either party in 2000, and his debate skills helped him achieve national recognition (that was the first year primary debates were televised on cable).


Blogger AndrewMc on 6/05/2008 3:30 PM:

Yes, McCain was a good debater. Who knows? Maybe he'll rise to that again. He did OK against his Republican opponents, but they didn't have Obama's skillset.