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TV debates and the Warren Harding Error

Apparently, the cast list for TV debates in the next General Election is the most important election issue of the day.

A whole generation of politics students have grown up on the tale that John F Kennedy beat Richard Nixon because he looked better on television. Malcolm Gladwell devoted a chapter of one of his books to what he called the Warren Harding Error, the mistaken belief that you can judge a politician by looks alone.

The pre-eminence of the discussion about TV debates, and the media hurrah around debates that are most use to the media as events that allow them to commentate suggests no-one has actually learned from the Warren Harding Error, even if future British commentators might re-name it the Cameron error.

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4 comments on “TV debates and the Warren Harding Error

  1. korhomme
    January 14, 2015

    The JFK versus Tricky Dickie contest is interesting for another reason. Those who watched on TV gave the debate to Kennedy, for in him they say a fresh-faced newcomer; Nixon, familiar from the McCarthy era, looked shifty, sweaty and had a 5 o’clock shadow. But those who listened on the radio—it seems surprising, but not all Americans had a TV then—heard only the arguments, and on this basis, Nixon won.

    And in terms of their visual impact, voters go for candidates with a full head of hair.

    Like

    • jemima2013
      January 16, 2015

      I have heard that too, sadly at the moment a radio debate would show even more clearly how little any of the parties have to say!

      Like

    • cartertheblogger
      January 16, 2015

      Indeed, it’s a good point well made, and only reinforces the risks involved in first impressions.

      Like

      • korhomme
        January 16, 2015

        (and to jemima2013) Compare what happened to both JFK and Tricky Dickie. Nixon was deeply involved in Watergate, and had to resign before he was impeached. And JFK was at least as interested in screwing any woman as actually being President. Remember his throwaway comment to Harold Macmillan? JFK told Supermac that he, JFK, got a headache if he didn’t have sex at least every three days. And JFK’s minions had to ensure a supply of suitably pliant women for him. Unlike poor Supermac, who had been comprehensively cuckolded over the decades by Bob Boothby. Macmillan had refused Lady Dorothy a divorce in the early 1930s, when the affair began. You might well wonder to what extent his personal life affected Macmillan; did it contribute to the picture we have today, that of a deeply cynical and deeply political manoeuvrer, someone who as the ‘last Edwardian’ was out of touch with the contemporary World?

        Like

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This entry was posted on January 14, 2015 by in Uncategorized.

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