The Tuesday night presidential debate left this observer nostalgic for the good old days of 1960 when civility ruled the day.

On the evening of September 26, 1960, the Shanks gathered around the black and white Zenith television in the living room on the family farm to take in the presidential debate. The Shank household was divided that evening as my dad was a huge Richard Nixon fan and my mother felt the same about John F. Kennedy.

Nixon at 47 and Kennedy at 43 represented the youngest average age for the two major party candidates for president in American history, a statistic that remains to this day. Two thirds of the nation’s adult population (70 million) tuned in for the debate that evening.

At the Kennedy Presidential Library, a film clip shows the two candidates greeting each other backstage prior to the debate, and were more than cordial in their small talk. Each candidate was allowed eight minutes for an opening statement, with three minutes for the close. Not a single interruption was heard during the 60-minute debate. At the conclusion, the two candidates walked across the stage, shook hands, exchanged a few pleasantries, and then departed.

It was reported that a majority of those listening by television picked Kennedy to have won the debate. On the other hand, a majority of those that tuned in by radio picked Nixon the winner.

Three presidential elections would pass before debates would be made a permanent part of the campaign. In 1976, Georgia’s former Governor Jimmy Carter and President Gerald Ford went head-to-head. Ford and Carter have been referred to as two of the most decent human beings to hold the office of the presidency and their debate reaffirmed that perception. At one point, Carter referred to Ford as a good and decent man. After their time in office, these two former presidents would become close personal friends.

Four years later, Carter was back on stage with Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator. During the give-and-take, Carter provided a list of disagreements with the challenger. Reagan smiled, looked over at his opponent and said "There he goes again," a phrase that lessened tension on the debate stage and brought laughter from the audience.

Following the 1996 campaign, President Clinton, the winner over Kansas Senator Bob Dole, invited the defeated candidate to the White House and presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The friendship between these two, once political adversaries, remains intact.

In 2000, Texas Governor George W. Bush, while debating Vice President Al Gore complimented the Clinton Gore Administration for the handling of hurricane relief during their time in office.

Hopefully, a new normalcy of political discourse will sweep the nation in 2024 as there seems to be no hope for it happening this time around.

In the meantime, Jimmy Carter turned 96 on Thursday. He has been called the nation’s greatest former president for his good deeds during his 40 years out of office. May he have many more "happy" birthdays.

Richard Shank is a retired AT&T manager, is employed in the healthcare industry and has farming interests in Saline County. Email him at