Yesterday, I was watching the second 2012 Presidential Debate and it reminded me of another – the 1960 one between Tricky Dick and Kennedy – and I got to thinking: suppose things had gone DIFFERENTLY?
I mean, people understandably dismiss such gabfests as being boring, irrelevant posturing that barely justify spending the time it takes to watch them. But the one in ’60 – CHANGED THE WORLD.
The story is now well known, but in case you’re not familiar with it, it goes something like this: the two candidates were invited to turn up at the studio for the simultaneous radio and TV transmission (the first time one had ever BEEN televised) HALF AN HOUR BEFORE it was due to start – and Nixon duly showed up and sat down at the appointed time.
Now while many men whose beard grows quickly shave twice a day, Tricky had NOT – thus by now, he had a BLUE CHIN. And after half-an-hour under the hot studio lights, being a man inclined to perspire – he was RUNNING WITH SWEAT.
Meanwhile, just five minutes before the event was set to start, JFK had swept up in his air-conditioned limo and taken his place, looking as cool as a cucumber. But what could the TV producer do? Keep him late after school? No – he was just relieved he had a SHOW.
5… 4… 3… – the programme began. What was SAID by the protagonists was everything, for the radio audience – but what the TV audience fixated on was what they could SEE: a cool, handsome dude talking with a podgy, scruffy guy who kept pulling at his soaking shirt-collar, whilst SWEATING profusely.
The polls told the story: those who had HEARD the exchange on the radio thought Nixon had won the debate – while those who had WATCHED it on TV were convinced Kennedy had aced it.
And when it came time to vote – it was Jack who took up residence in the White House.
But what if Tricky’s chauffeur had been changed at the last minute? What if he had been a “character”, had gotten stuck in traffic – and catching a look at Nixon in his rear-view mirror, had said, “Hey Dick, if you’re going up against that handsome guy Kennedy, you need a SHAVE, man – here, borrow my electric razor.”
Then, producing a battery-op Philishave from the glove compartment, he could have given it to Nixon who, figuring he had nothing better to do, being stuck in that traffic – might have USED it. And when the traffic eased, HE could have only just arrived at the studio in time, as well.
Which would have resulted in the two men at least starting on a level playing field – and it could JUST have made the difference, propelling Dick into said White House.
Just THINK about all of the things that happened as a direct result of JFK getting elected. (1) The Cuban Missile Crisis: Kennedy playing chicken with the Russians – almost starting WW3. (2) The challenge laid down to NASA to get a man on the Moon (and back) before the end of the decade: achieved, with eighteen months to spare (not six – there is no Year Zero on the Gregorian Calendar). (3) The POTUS getting assassinated. (4) As a result, Johnson taking over the presidency – and figuring winning the Vietnam War would be a doddle, if he just increased troop numbers. (5) When this proved to be a fallacy, his QUITTING and (RFK suffering the same fate as his brother) Nixon belatedly getting HIS shot in the White House. (6) Tricky ignoring history (Prohibition) and beginning America’s War On Drugs – which, forty-three years later, has cost thousands of lives and BILLIONS (short American OR long Rest-Of-The-World ones – either way, it’s a money-pit) of dollars.
Then came Watergate, followed by Clumsy Gerald, Unlucky Jimmy, Senile Ronald, Ineffectual George, Oversexed Bill, Idiot George and finally, the black superman himself – Barack Obama.
But where would we be today, if Tricky Dick HAD had that alternate chauffeur? (1) Would he have been so bold with the Russians? Or would he have been even crazier and STARTED WW3? (2) If not, the Moon would probably still been reached – but possibly much later. (3) If Dick hadn’t pissed off Lee Harvey Oswald, he would probably have lasted until 1968 – thus leading the US through most of the Sixties. (4) And if he’d had more sense than Johnson, he’d have steered CLEAR of the Vietnam conflict. (5) In 1968, JFK might well have got HIS spell in the White House – possibly followed by RFK, with each other acting as Attorney General during the others’ reign – meaning, if they had both served two terms, they would have ruled America from ’68 to ’84. (6) And since recreational drug use did not become an issue until ’66-7, Nixon, had he gotten two terms would have been nearing the end of his rule (and if he’d only gotten one, he’d have been GONE) and the Kennedys might have thought better of it, given their Dad was a former bootlegger.
And whilst life during the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and ’10s might not have been as FRANTIC as it was during the ’60s and ’70s – the fallout from the above differences would still be felt today.
In THIS existence, nuclear weapons are an anathema – space exploration is moving with the speed of an arthritic snail – thanks to Vietnam, the US military is forced to keep civilian casualties down to dozens, rather than millions – and only after 43 years, is the possibility of the legalisation and regulation of recreational drugs FINALLY being mooted – albeit with the same speed as space exploration (see above).
But in an existence (if such EXISTED – with Dick up against the Russians) where Nixon had turned up at that TV studio, cool and clean – who knows WHERE we’d be today?
One thing is certain: things would be VERY different for the population of this planet – and just because of that one Presidential Debate.
However, while I WILL be dutifully tuning in to the last Obama-Romney stump-exchange, next week – I doubt it’ll be as important as the one 62 years ago. The reason being that in the ’60s and ’70s, POTUS was all-powerful – whereas today, he can’t even smoke in his own office.
These days, America and the Rest-Of-The-West is ruled by small-time politicians, bureaucrats, bankers, corporate bigwigs and others In The Shadows. They play The Game – with us as the pawns. Of course, it has ALWAYS been that way, but never more so than NOW.
No, the people REALLY in charge don’t have to worry about things like Presidential Debates – because no-one VOTES for THEM…