Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Notable Moments in Presidential Radio Debates

Baba Booey

1908 - It was widely perceived that William Howard Taft's huffy speaking skills would put him at a disadvantage in his debate with noted orator William Jennings Bryan, but Taft was determined to use the relatively new medium to his advantage. During the start of the debate, as Bryan attempted to start into one of his lofty eloquent speeches, Taft pulled a stick of butter out of his pocket and blubbered into it in front of the microphone. He then derided  his opponent for being a "Rude, awful man... with the manners of a stable donkey." Bryan tried to defend himself against the accusations but the laughter filling the hall by that point made it impossible, and critics said he was unable to regain his stride for the rest of the night, some going so far to say it threw him into a funk for the rest of the campaign. Taft saw the night as a double victory, not only because he defeated his opponent, but also because he was able to later eat the stick of butter. This is why William Howard Taft is known as "America's First Shock Jock."

Ain't No Snitch

1924 - President Calvin Coolidge's monicker of "Silent Cal" proved all the more accurate during his debate with Democratic nominee John W. Davis. Davis answered the first question of the debate, and when turned to for a rebuttal, Coolidge said nothing, and continued to for the rest of the night. At first Davis thought he had the advantage, deriding his opponent's "disability to answer even the simplest of queries." But Coolidge's icy stare soon withered and wrecked his opponent, who after 90 minutes of trying to fill the silent void being left by the president, finally cracked and admitted to killing a man in an alley way in Washington D.C. in 1908. Even though the resulting arrest and trial seriously damaged his campaign, polling at the time showed that the biggest factor in his loss was his perceived lack of a cohesive policy to deal with Nicaragua. 

This Is Where The Roof Goes

1936 - No President ever took greater advantage of the radio than Franklin Delano Roosevelt, though one of his greatest successes was actually a mistake. Radios were finally in the majority of American households by the time of Roosevelt's debate against Alf Landon, but between the country's inexperience with the new technology and the fact that most families had eaten the buttons off of the new consoles in fits of hunger, people had trouble accurately tuning into the shows they were planning to listen to. So while many were impressed by Roosevelt's ability to conduct a debate and build a bird house at the same time, they had actually just happened to tune into "Al Roger's Birdhouse Hour brought to you by the Miracle Spring Bird Seed Corporation" on a night Mr. Rogers happened to go off script and launch into a tirade about federal funding. 

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