John F Kennedy

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TV Debates

John F Kennedy
Kennedy tried to identify himself with the liberal reform tradition of the Democratic party of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, promising a new surge of legislative innovation in the 1960s. •JFK hoped to pull together key elements of the Roosevelt coalition of the 1930s—urban minorities, ethnic voting blocs, and organized labor. He also hoped to win back conservative Catholics who had deserted the Democrats to vote for Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, and to hold his own in the South. •John F. Kennedy eloquently confronted the religious issue in an appearance before the Greater-Houston Ministerial Association. He said, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President—should he be Catholic—how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote." But anti-Catholic feeling remained a wild card in the campaign. •John Fitzgerald Kennedy captured the Democratic nomination despite his youth, a seeming lack of experience in foreign affairs, and his Catholic faith. On May 10, he won a solid victory in the Democratic primary in overwhelmingly Protestant West Virginia. His success there launched him toward a first ballot victory at the national convention in Los Angeles—although he did not reach the 761 votes required for the nomination until the final state in the roll call, Wyoming. After choosing Texas senator Lyndon Johnson as his running mate, Kennedy told the convention delegates that he would get the nation moving again. He declared that the United States would have the will and the strength to resist communism around the world. •Kennedy then challenged the vice president to a series of televised debates. Many in the Nixon camp, including President Eisenhower, urged the vice president to reject the debate proposal and deny Kennedy invaluable national exposure. But Nixon confidently agreed to share a platform with his rival on nationwide television. •In 1950, only 11 percent of American homes had television; by 1960, the number had jumped to 88 percent. An estimated seventy million Americans, about two-thirds of the electorate, watched the first debate on September 26th. •Age was not the only factor in the election. Kennedy was also Roman Catholic, and no Catholic had ever been elected President before. AL SMITH, a Catholic, suffered a crushing defeat to HERBERT HOOVER in 1928. This raised serious questions about the electability of a Catholic candidate, particularly in the Bible Belt South. Questions were raised about Kennedy's ability to place national interests above the wishes of his Pope. •Kennedy addressed a group of Protestant ministers. He pledged a solid commitment to separation of church and state. Despite his assurances, his faith cost him an estimated 1.5 million votes in November 1960. •Kennedy stressed his character, assisted by those in the press who reported stories about his World War II heroism. While he was serving in the South Pacific aboard the PT109, a Japanese destroyer rammed his ship and snapped it in two. Kennedy rescued several of his crewmates from certain death. Then he swam from island to island until he found a group of friendly natives who delivered a distress message Kennedy had carved into a coconut to an American naval base. Courage and character became the major themes of Kennedy's campaign. •Kennedy was from a wealthy background and graduated from Harvard University. •Kennedy named one of his opponents for the Democratic nomination his Vice-President. Lyndon Johnson was older and much more experienced in the Senate. Johnson was from Texas, an obvious attempt by Kennedy to shore up his potential weaknesses in the South. •In his inauguration speech, he challenged his fellow Americans to "Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country." •Proclaiming that the "torch has been passed to a new generation of...
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