- Kitchen Debate
The Kitchen Debate was an impromptu debate (through interpreters) between then U.S. Vice President
Richard Nixonand Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchevat the opening of the American National Exhibitionin Moscow, on July 24, 1959. For the event, an entire house was built that the American exhibitors claimed anyone in America could afford. It was filled with labor saving and recreational devices meant to represent the fruits of the capitalist American consumer market.
The Kitchen Debate was the first high-level meeting between Soviet and U.S. leaders since the
Geneva Summitin 1955. It took place in the kitchen of a suburban model house, cut in half so it could be viewed easily. It has also been called “splitnik,” a play on words of the Soviet Union’s satellite Sputnik. The two men discussed the merits of each of their respective economic systems, capitalismand communism. The debate took place during an escalation of the Cold War, beginning with the launch of Sputnik in 1957, through the U-2 Crisis in 1960. Most Americans believed Nixon won the debate, adding to his domestic prestige. It was recorded on color videotape, a new technology pioneered in the U.S.; during the debate Nixon pointed this out as one of the many American technological advances. He also boasted achievements such as dishwashers, lawnmowers, supermarkets stocked full of groceries, Cadillac convertibles, makeup colors, lipstick, spike-heeled shoes, hi-fi sets, cake mixes, TV dinners, and Pepsi-Cola. It was Nixon’s emphasis on America’s household appliances, such as the washing machine, that helped give the event its title, “The Kitchen Debate.”
Both men argued for their country’s industrial accomplishments, with Khrushchev stressing the Russians’ focus on “things that matter” rather than luxury. He satirically asked if there was a machine that "puts food into the mouth and pushes it down". Nixon responded by saying at least the competition was technological, rather than military. In the end, both men agreed that the
United Statesand the Soviet Unionshould be more open with each other. However, Khrushchev was skeptical of Nixon's promise that his part in the debate would be translated into English and broadcast in the U.S.
The kitchen was designed by
All-State Propertiesin Florida. Following the debate the company was inspired to market affordable second homes.
TV Broadcast and American Reaction
In the U.S, three major TV networks broadcast the kitchen debate on July 25th. The Soviets subsequently protested, as Nixon and Khrushchev had agreed that the debate should be broadcast simultaneously in the U.S and the Soviet Union, with the Soviets even threatening to withhold the tape until they were ready to broadcast. The American networks, however, had felt that waiting would cause the news to lose its immediacy. [Richard H. Shepard. "Debate Goes on TV over Soviet Protest" "New York Times," July 26th, 1959] Two days later, on July 27th, the debate was broadcast on Moscow television, albeit late at night and with Nixon’s remarks only partially translated. [Associated Press. "Soviet TV Shows Tape of Debate." "New York Times," July 28th, 1959 ]
American reaction was initially somewhat mixed, with the New York Times calling it “an exchange that emphasised the gulf between east and west but had little bearing on the substantive issue” and portrayed it somewhat as a political stunt. ["News of the Week in Review" "New York Times," July 26th] The New York Times also declared that public opinion seemed divided after the debates. ["Moscow Debate Stirs U.S Public" "New York Times," July 27th, 1959] On the other hand, Time Magazine, also covering the exhibition, praised Nixon, saying he “managed in a unique way to personify a national character proud of peaceful accomplishment, sure of its way of life, confident of its power under threat.” ["Better to See Once" "Time Magazine," August 3rd, 1959]
In spite of the undiplomatic nature of the exchange, Nixon would ultimately gain popularity after his trip to Moscow, after a generally lukewarm relationship with the public. [Paul Kengor. "The Vice President, Secretary of State, and Foreign Policy." "Political Science Quarterly" Vol. 115, No. 2 (Summer 2000) 174-199. pg 184] [Bruce Mazlish. "Toward a Psychoistorical Inquiry: The Real Richard Nixon" "Journal of Interdisciplinary History" Vol 1, No. 1 (1970) pp 49-105] Immediately after the trip, Nixon’s profile as a public statesman was raised and his chances were seen to have been greatly improved to be nominated as the Republican presidential candidate in the upcoming year. ["Now the Summit" "New York Times," August 3rd, 1959]
*A [http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=176 condensed version] is available at TeachingAmericanHistory.org, a project of the
Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs.
*A [http://www.turnerlearning.com/cnn/coldwar/sputnik/sput_re4.html more complete version] of the text is available at Turner Learning, a division of CNN.
* [http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/byorg/abbey/an/an21/an21-7/an21-708.html The Loss of Early Video Recordings] - Article about the missing Kitchen Debate videotape
*A [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIJ1S9wAGbA newsreel covering highlights of the debate] (with
kinescopeimage of some of the videotape) at YouTube
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