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  Fourth Kennedy-Nixon Debate
TitleFourth Kennedy-Nixon Debate
Start Date/TimeOctober 21, 1960 09:00pm
End Date/TimeOctober 21, 1960 10:00pm
Last ModifiedChronicler - September 25, 2008 11:03am
The third debate was generally viewed as a Nixon victory. JFK's use of notes during the debate, called "cribbing" by the pundits, was a clear mistake on his part. However, JFK's performance in general was better than expected. A poll by the Detroit News stated that JFK had taken a 53-46% lead in Michigan, and that voters pointed to Kennedy's debate performance as the reason for switching to him [New York Times, 10/16/1960]. As the Quemoy and Matsu issue subsided somewhat, the time between the 3d and 4th debates was occupied with an attempt to organize a 5th debate. JFK sought to hold a 2-hour 4th debate and a 5th debate later. Nixon wanted to retain the planned schedule unless the 5th debate was held between the VP nominees. JFK rejected holding a VP debate [NYT 10/20/1960].

On the day before the 4th debate, both Kennedy and Nixon launched new policy position statements to help steer the questions in the debate. Kennedy called for stronger steps against Castro in Cuba, including freezing Cuban assets in the USA and increased funding for anti-Castro activities [NYT 10/21/1960]. Nixon introduced a 12-point economic program to adjust personal and corporate tax schedules and to lower excise taxes [NYT 10/21/1960].

Quick Facts
When: 10:00-11:00 p.m. (EST), 10/21/1960
Where: ABC's New York City station (7 West 66th Street); carried by ABC, NBC, and CBS television and the radio networks ABC, CBS, MBS, and NBC
Moderator: Quincy Howe, ABC; panel: Frank Singiser of Mutual News; John Edwards of ABC News; Walter Cronkite of CBS News, John Chancellor of NBC News
Number of viewers/listeners: 60,400,000 [Note: Arbitron, a firm specializing in determining these numbers, believed that the audience of this debate was 65,500,000 - NYT 10/23/1960]
Topics: Foreign policy

Transcript: [Link]

Format: Eight-minute opening statements, 30 minutes of questions and answers, five minute closing statements

Setting: The candidates stood on a platform in front of the panel. They were spaced seven feet apart. Each man had a podium and stool. [NYT 10/21/1960]

In his opening statement, Nixon provided a brief overview of the Eisenhower administration and then gave his vision for the future. He sought a foreign policy that was based on firmness, not belligerence, and he mentioned his economic proposals introduced the day earlier. Kennedy began his opening statement with a brief rebuttal on the Quemoy and Matsu issue and then moved to a critique of the Eisenhower administration's dealings with Castro and Brazil. Kennedy believed that the prestige of the USA was not on the rise around the world and that steps were needed immediately to change that.

Cuba was a new topic in this debate. Nixon took Kennedy to task for calling on public funds to try to overthrow Castro, as it would violate the OAS charter, lead to a rebuke by the UN, and "we would not accomplish our objective" of overthrowing Castro.

A second new topic was a report by the United States Information Agency on the international prestige of the USA. Kennedy maintained that the report was suppressed because it showed that the US prestige was lower than in previous years. Nixon verified the existence of the report but stated that it had been commissioned in the wake of the Sputnik launch and was not current.

In responding to a question on resumption of nuclear weapons testing, Kennedy outlined ways of conducting the tests without the knowledge of the Soviet Union: including underground testing and testing in outer space. He stated that the next president should attempt to get a treaty banning testing first, however. Nixon agreed that atmospheric testing should end and stated that negotiations were already taking place to end nuclear testing.

Responding to a question by Cronkite, Kennedy outlined his proposed foreign policy. He would attempt to increase economic ties to nations in eastern Europe, particularly Poland, in an attempt to lure them out of the Soviet orbit. He wanted to increase aid to India, a populous third world nation with the potential of falling into Communist hands. Last, he saw a role of the USA in working to give hope of freedom to the peoples of Latin America and other developing nations. In Nixon's response, he said that other nations did not want to be pawns in the great power struggle between the USA and the USSR. "We have to let them know that we want to help them ... because we care for them, because we stand for freedom, because if there were no communism in the world, we would still fight poverty and misery and disease and tyranny."

In his closing statement, JFK said that the USA needed to "re-establish itself as a vigorous society." He saw needs in the economy, particularly the steel industry and education. He said that the Republican Party favored "standing still," while the Democratic Party "believes in movement." He stated "I don't believe there is any burden, any responsibility, that any American would not assume to protect his country, to protect our security, to advance the cause of freedom."

Nixon used his closing statement to outline the successes of the Eisenhower administration: more houses constructed, more slums cleared, more classrooms constructed, more progress on civil rights. He called for a strong military and action to foster the economy. Nixon also called for "more progress in civil rights than we have so that we can be a splendid example for all the world to see - a democracy in action at its best." He stated that eight dictatorial governments in Latin America had been replaced with open governments during the DDE administration, evidence that "the tide of history is on our side." [NYT 10/22/1960]

After the debate, the New York Times conducted a poll on the debates. Voters believed that the 4th debate was a draw, although they believed that it was the strongest performance by both Kennedy and Nixon. Overall, the knowledge of the two candidates impressed Americans of all political stripes [NYT 10/23/1960].

In the days following the 4th debate, Kennedy and Nixon continued to discuss holding a 5th debate. Nixon at first wanted to limit the debate to Cuba, which Kennedy rejected. After Kennedy said that Nixon was not negotiating in good faith, Nixon broke off the discussions [NYT 10/24/1960]. In the greater sense, the debates ended the assumption that Kennedy was too inexperienced to serve as President, thus ending one of Nixon's greatest strengths before the debates began.

First Debate: 9/26/1960, produced by CBS [Link]

Second Debate: 10/7/1960, produced by NBC [Link]

Third Debate: 10/13/1960, produced by NBC [Link]

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