The real debate story


Nobody wins the presidential debates.

I watched the Kennedy-Nixon debates. Pundits thought Nixon won. So did I. Of course, in 1960, I was a Republican, hardly an objective

By 1964, I was a Democrat. Not just somebody who was for the Democratic nominee. In those days, the characterization of my kind of party loyalist was “Yellow Dog Democrat.”

I was for LBJ; Dad was for Goldwater. So was my wife.

I suppose I would have voted for a Yellow Dog against a Republican. That was then. Of course, Vietnam ruined LBJ for me. I became a fan of George McGovern, the anti-war candidate. By this time, so was my wife.

This time around, I’ve pretty much skipped the presidential debates. It’s not that I know I’m probably voting for Hillary no matter who the GOP nominates and so I’ve a closed mind.

I follow the debates this election year by reading the accounts of the debates in the news stories and columns of the major papers. Meantime, I know if the Republicans were going to nominate somebody of the stature of Nelson Rockefeller or Bill Scranton, I might vote for one of these prominent Republicans.

When I wrote editorial endorsements for The Journal Gazette, I could have easily been endorsing a Republican as a Democrat. (Under an earlier editor, my paper went from being a “Democratic” organ to one listed in industry publications as “Independent.”)

But a couple of words about presidential debates. I think they help acquaint viewers with important issues. I think they help the candidates learn whether they can muster the support they need to keep up their campaign.

Meantime, they help winnow out the weaker candidates, a process that says nothing about their ability or their political smarts. Remember that Richard Nixon rebounded from his loss to JFK and won election as president.

Like Nixon, Hillary Clinton probably is the most well-qualified. Who knows politics better? Who knows the job of being president better?
Who knows foreign policy better?

Yet it’s unfortunate that during all the years in the public eye, she cut ethical corners. Maybe not any more corners than other nominees. Many adults will remember “I am not a crook” Nixon, who in fact did unleash aides against political enemies. Yes, “Tricky Dick” was a crook.

Yet he did withdraw troops from Vietnam. He launched good social programs. He launched better relations with the Soviet Union. When he had lost most all of his support in Congress, he resigned with what I thought showed a lot of dignity and grace.

The debates made Kennedy. With wit, style and a command of issues, he proved himself equal to the formidable and experienced Vice President. (Nixon, in college, had been a star debater.)

I won’t be surprised if the best Republican debater becomes the party’s nominee. In my judgment that person who will have the best chance of beating Mrs. Clinton likely will be seen by the majority of voters as the most moderate.

I do love this season when the presidential campaign gets into full swing. I recall the vigorous debates we had on the editorial board about the candidates. I enjoyed interviewing a few, including Bill Clinton. (What a charmer!)

To be sure, few enjoy the access I did or follow the campaigns as avidly as I did as an editorial writer. But I think lots more people perk up as the campaigns get started with TV debates and big local events.

We do care about the presidential election. We do care who gets to become president. I think if you ask them, they’ll say “Of course, it matters.”

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