Presidential debate history can be instructive. Reviewing some of the memorable moments—and debate debacles—from these televised showdowns provides a worthy primer in “debatiquette:”
Lesson 1: Lay off the Lazy Shave and Get Some Sun
The slightly unshaven look may work for Don Draper on “Mad Men,” but it was not a plus for Richard Nixon, as he learned in his historic confrontation with John F. Kennedy in the first presidential debate in 1960. Nixon had just come from a hospital stay. He had lost weight in the hospital and his suit looked ill fitting. He had also injured a knee and had to lean on the podium. To make matters worse, Nixon was given a heavy pancake makeup called “Lazy-Shave” to conceal his five o-clock shadow, making him appear even more pale and haggard. Chicago’s legendary Mayor, Richard Daley, reportedly said, “My God they’ve embalmed him before he even died.”
Read more: “Eight Lessons for the Presidential Debates”
“A great nation does not hide its history.” –President George W. Bush at the opening of the National Museum of African American History (9/24/2016)
The first reviews are in for In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives. (Holt Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House Audio, September 20, 2016)
[UPDATED September 26, 2016]
*Publishers Weekly in a *Starred Review:
“–delivers an eye-opening vision of ‘stubborn facts’ in American history…”
Read the complete Publishers Weekly review here.
*School Library Journal in a *Starred Review has called the book:
Read the complete School Library Journal review here.
*Booklist *Starred Review said:
“A valuable, broad perspective on slavery, paired with close-up views of individuals who benefited from it and those who endured it.” Booklist
Kirkus has called the book:
“An important and timely corrective.” Kirkus
In the Nonfiction Book of the Week, Horn Books says:
“Davis’s solid research (there are source notes and bibliographies for each chapter), accessible prose, and determination to make these stories known give young readers an important alternative to textbook representations of colonial life.”
In the Shadow of Liberty is now available from Holt Books for Young Readers and Penguin Random House Audio.
Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Situation in Little Rock,” (September 24, 1957)
For a few minutes this evening I want to speak to you about the serious situation that has arisen in Little Rock. To make this talk I have come to the President’s office in the White House. I could have spoken from Rhode Island, where I have been staying recently, but I felt that, in speaking from the house of Lincoln, of Jackson and of Wilson, my words would better convey both the sadness I feel in the action I was compelled today to take and the firmness with which I intend to pursue this course until the orders of the Federal Court at Little Rock can be executed without unlawful interference.
In that city, under the leadership of demagogic extremists, disorderly mobs have deliberately prevented the carrying out of proper orders from a Federal Court. Local authorities have not eliminated that violent opposition and, under the law, I yesterday issued a Proclamation calling upon the mob to disperse.
This morning the mob again gathered in front of the Central High School of Little Rock, obviously for the purpose of again. preventing the carrying out of the Court’s order relating to the admission of Negro children to that school.
Whenever normal agencies prove inadequate to the task and it becomes necessary for the Executive Branch of the Federal Government to use its powers and authority to uphold Federal Courts, the President’s responsibility is inescapable.
In accordance with that responsibility, I have today issued an Executive Order directing the use of troops under Federal authority to aid in the execution of Federal law at Little Rock, Arkansas. This became necessary when my Proclamation of yesterday was not observed, and the obstruction of justice still continues.
Complete text and Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Situation in Little Rock.,” September 24, 1957. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
(Revised post originally published on February 29, 2016)
Nearly 50 years ago, on July 28, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson established an 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. He was responding to a series of violent outbursts in predominantly black urban neighborhoods in such cities as Detroit and Newark. (New York Times account.)
On Feb. 29, 1968, President Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, later known as the Kerner Commission after its chairman, Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. of Illinois, issued a stark warning:
“Our Nation Is Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal”
The Committee Report went on to identify a set of “deeply held grievances” that it believed had led to the violence.
Although almost all cities had some sort of formal grievance mechanism for handling citizen complaints, this typically was regarded by Negroes as ineffective and was generally ignored.
Although specific grievances varied from city to city, at least 12 deeply held grievances can be identified and ranked into three levels of relative intensity:
First Level of Intensity
1. Police practices
2. Unemployment and underemployment
3. Inadequate housing
Second Level of Intensity
4. Inadequate education
5. Poor recreation facilities and programs
6. Ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms.
Third Level of Intensity
7. Disrespectful white attitudes
8. Discriminatory administration of justice
9. Inadequacy of federal programs
10. Inadequacy of municipal services
11. Discriminatory consumer and credit practices
12. Inadequate welfare programs
Source: “Our Nation is Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal”: Excerpts from the Kerner Report; American Social History Project / Center for Media and Learning (Graduate Center, CUNY)
and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (George Mason University).
Issued nearly half a century ago, the list of grievances reads as if it could have been written last week.
Read more about the unrest of the Civil Rights era in Don’t Know Much About® History. The crucial role of race in the American military is also treated in The Hidden History of America at War. And the long history of slavery is addressed in the forthcoming In the Shadow of Liberty (Sept. 20, 2016).
“By exploring the humanity of people held in bondage by early American presidents, Kenneth C. Davis once again turns American mythology into history. Read the book and be grateful.”— Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History
“The young woman was enslaved, but also privileged. She was part of the household of the nation’s first president. This powerful book tells her story, and others, which are surprising and have been unknown to most of us. They will give you insights into our American heritage that you may not have considered before. I hope In the Shadow of Liberty will be widely read. It is important and timely.”
—Joy Hakim, author, A History of US (Oxford University Press), Freedom: A History of US (Social Studies School Service), and The Story of Science (Smithsonian Books).
When George Washington defeated the British at Yorktown, America won its freedom; thousands of enslaved African Americans lost theirs.
When the British forces under Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington and his French allies on October 19, 1781, the terms of capitulation included the following phrase
It is understood that any property obviously belonging to the inhabitants of these States, in the possession of the garrison, shall be subject to be reclaimed.
(Article IV, Articles of Capitulation; dated October 18, 1781. Source and Complete Text: Avalon Project-Yale Law School)
Thousands of escaped enslaved people had flocked to the British army during Cornwallis’s campaign in Virginia in what has been called the “largest slave rebellion in American history.”
Among those thousands Washington had recaptured were seventeen people from his Mount Vernon plantation and about two dozen others from Thomas Jefferson’s plantations at Monticello and elsewhere. They were all returned to enslavement.
Read more about this piece of “Hidden History” in In The Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives.
Did you know that George Washington bought teeth from some of the people enslaved at Mount Vernon? (1st in a series)
George Washington had terrible teeth. But his dentures were never made of wood. They were made of metal, bone, ivory –and human teeth. And yes, records show that he paid some of the enslaved African-American people at his plantation for their teeth. It is not known if these teeth were ever used.
Read more about Washington’s relationship with the enslaved people of Mount Vernon, and the role slavery played in his presidency: In the Shadow of Liberty. (Available for preorder in book and audio; in stores on 9/20)
What was the Tonkin Resolution?
On August 7, 1964, Congress approved a resolution that soon became the legal foundation for Lyndon B. Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War. (New York Times story)
It came in August 1964 with a brief encounter in the Gulf of Tonkin, the waters off the coast of North Vietnam. where , the U.S. Navy posted warships loaded with electronic eavesdropping equipment enabling them to monitor North Vietnamese military operations and provide intelligence to CIA-trained South Vietnamese commandos. One of these ships, the U.S.S. Maddox was reportedly fired on by gunboats from North Vietnam.
Coming as it did in the midst of LBJ’s 1964 campaign against hawkish Republican Barry Goldwater, President Johnson felt the incident called for a tough response. Johnson had the Navy send the Maddox and a second destroyer, the Turner Joy, back into the Gulf of Tonkin. A radar man on the Turner Joy saw some blips, and that boat opened fire. On the Maddox, there were also reports of incoming torpedoes, and the Maddox began to fire. There was never any confirmation that either ship had actually been attacked. Later, the radar blips would be attributed to weather conditions and jittery nerves among the crew.
According to Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History, “Even Johnson privately expressed doubts only a few days after the second attack supposedly took place, confiding to an aide, ‘Hell, those dumb stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish.’”
Johnson ordered an air strike against North Vietnam and then called for passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This legislation gave the president the authority to “take all necessary measures” to repel attacks against U.S. forces and to “prevent further aggression.” The resolution not only gave Johnson the powers he needed to increase American commitment to Vietnam, but allowed him to blunt Goldwater’s accusations that Johnson was “timid before Communism.”
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed the House unanimously after only forty minutes of debate. In the Senate, there were only two voices in opposition. What Congress did not know was that the resolution had been drafted several months before the Tonkin incident took place. In June 1964, on LBJ’s orders, according to journalist-historian Tim Weiner,
“Bill Bundy, the assistant secretary of state for the Far East, brother of the national security adviser, and a veteran CIA analyst, had drawn up a war resolution to be sent to Congress when the moment was ripe.” (Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, p. 280)
Congress, which has sole constitutional authority to declare war, had handed that power over to Johnson, who was not a bit reluctant to use it. One of the senators who voted against the Tonkin Resolution, Oregon’s Wayne Morse, later said,
“I believe that history will record that we have made a great mistake in subverting and circumventing the Constitution.”
After the vote, Walt Rostow, an adviser to Lyndon Johnson, remarked,
“We don’t know what happened, but it had the desired result.”
In January 1971, Congress repealed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution as popular opinion grew against a continued U.S. military involvement in Vietnam
Since Vietnam, United States military actions have taken place as part of United Nations’ actions, in the context of joint congressional resolutions, or within the confines of the War Powers Resolution (also known as the War Powers Act) that was passed in 1973, over the objections (and veto) of President Richard Nixon.”
The War Powers Resolution came as a direct reaction to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Congress sought to avoid another military conflict where it had little input.
“The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the Limits of Presidential Power” National Constitution Center
In 2005, the National Security Agency (NSA) issued a report reviewing the Tonkin incident in which it said “no attack had happened.” (Weiner, p. 280)
The National Endowment for the Humanities website Edsitement offers teaching resources on Tonkin and the escalation of the Vietnam War.
Read more about Vietnam, LBJ and his administration in Don’t Know Much About® History, Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents. The Vietnam War and the Tonkin Resolution are also covered in a chapter on the Tet offensive of 1968 in THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR.
On August 6, 1945, the New York Times asked:
“What is this terrible new weapon?”
(Source, New York Times, August 6, 1945: “First Atomic Bomb Dropped on Japan”)
The story followed the announcement made by President Truman:
“SIXTEEN HOURS AGO an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British “Grand Slam” which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.”
August 6, 1945
(“Statement by the President Announcing the Use of the A-Bomb at Hiroshima”: Truman Library and Museum)
The first atomic bomb was exploded in a test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. President Truman, who had taken office upon the death of President Roosevelt on April 12 without knowledge of the Manhattan Project or the atomic bomb’s existence, was alerted to the success of this test at a meeting with Churchill and Stalin at Potsdam, a city in defeated Germany. (See this recent post on Potsdam)
The atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. A second device, a plutonium bomb, was used on the city of Nagasaki on August 9. Japan surrendered on August 14.
Almost since the day the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, critics have second-guessed Truman’s decision and motives. A generation of historians have defended or repudiated the need for unleashing the atomic weapon.
What history has confirmed is that the men who made the bomb really didn’t understand how horrifying its capabilities were. Of course, they understood the destructive power of the bomb, but radiation’s dangers were far less understood. As author Peter Wyden tells it in Day One, an account of the making and dropping of the bomb, scientists involved in creating what they called “the gadget” believed that anyone who might be killed by radiation would die from falling bricks first.
In less than one second, the fireball had expanded to 900 feet. The blast wave shattered windows for a distance of ten miles and was felt as far away as 37 miles. Over two-thirds of Hiroshima’s buildings were demolished. The hundreds of fires, ignited by the thermal pulse, combined to produce a firestorm that had incinerated everything within about 4.4 miles of ground zero.
(Source: Hiroshima and Nagasaki Remembered. Copyright © 2005 – 2013 AJ Software & Multimedia. All Rights Reserved. This project is part of the National Science Digital Library and was funded by the Division of Undergraduate Education, National Science Foundation Grant 0434253.)
The estimated death toll was eighty thousand people killed instantly in Hiroshima; as many as 90 percent of the city’s nurses and doctors also died instantly. (By 1950, as many as 200,000 had died as a result of long-term effects of radiation.) The death toll in Nagasaki also reached 80,000 by the end of 1945.
Today should not be a day to argue about the politics of the bomb. It should be a day of solemn remembrance of these victims. And of contemplating the horrific power of the weapons we create.
The City of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum offers an English language website with a history of Hiroshima and the effects of the bombing.
You can read more about Hiroshima and the dropping of the atomic bombs in Don’t Know Much About History and more about President Truman in Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents and in The Hidden History of America At War.
On the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, First Lady Michelle Obama had the audience riveted with her speech.
“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn,” she said. “And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all of our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”
But Michelle Obama is not the first FLOTUS to remark on who built the White House. In 1800, shortly after arriving in Washington to take up residence in the unfinished President’s House, Abigail Adams wrote to her uncle, Cotton Tufts, about the construction of the capital city and the new executive palace:
The effects of Slavery are visible every where; and I have amused myself from day to day in looking at the labour of 12 negroes from my window, who are employd with four small Horse Carts to remove some dirt in front of the house. the four carts are all loaded at the same time, and whilst four carry this rubish about half a mile, the remaining eight rest upon their Shovels, Two of our hardy N England men would do as much work in a day as the whole 12, but it is true Republicanism that drive the Slaves half fed, and destitute of clothing…whilst the owner waches about Idle, tho his one Slave is all the property he can boast, Such is the case of many of the inhabitants of this place.
—Abigail Smith Adams to Cotton Tufts, 28 November 1800 (Source: National Archives)
Mrs. Adams found slavery morally distasteful and woefully inefficient. Although her husband, John Adams, had never enslaved any people, Abigail Smith Adams had grown up in a slaveholding household. She later became an outspoken opponent of slavery.
After the White House burned in 1815, it was rebuilt, again using enslaved labor. Read more about the history of slavery and the early presidency in the forthcoming In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives (September 20, 2016-Now available for preorders.)