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Honor Goldwater with debates

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News of the death of Barry Goldwater was followed by the traditional outpouring of tributes and remembrances.

But conservatives, liberals and middle-roaders alike have a rare opportunity to assure that the essential legacy of Barry Goldwater will live forever.President John F. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Goldwater, R-Ariz., came to the Senate together in 1953 and discovered that while they opposed each other politically, they also liked and respected one another. When Kennedy was in the White House, the two men figured they would be running against each other for president in 1964 - a prospect each relished, politically and personally.

What is little-remembered is that Kennedy and Goldwater agreed that they would actually campaign together - debating the issues side by side. Just the two of them on a stage with no news media moderators or interlocutors. The series of Kennedy-Goldwater debates would have given voters an unfiltered look at the clear political choice that was being presented before them. America was deprived of this unique presidential campaign when Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.

We did not learn of this unprecedented and unrequited Kennedy-Goldwater campaign agreement until many years later, when it was recounted on several occasions by Goldwater.

"When Jack Kennedy died, I lost all interest in running," Goldwater told writer Steve Neal in the late 1970s; the Chicago Sun Times' political columnist retold the story after Goldwater's death. "The country wasn't ready for three presidents in 3 1/2 years."

Goldwater told the Washington Post's William Prochnau in 1988 that he would have enjoyed the debate with Kennedy: "I even talked to him one day about using the same airplane, going to the same places. It would have saved a lot of money, we'd have had a good time and it would have done the country a lot of good."

Indeed. "If President Kennedy and Sen. Goldwater had been able to campaign in that format, it would have closely resembled to the Lincoln-Douglas debates," says David Zarefsky, dean of the School of Speech at Northwestern University and one of America's leading authorities on the historic debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois in their 1858 Senate campaign.

All who have endured the most recent presidential campaigns - with their video-news sound-bites and ads that do more to distort than inform - understand how much Americans will benefit from a nationwide rebirth of the Lincoln-Douglas debate format.

So let the Congress enact a bipartisan resolution urging future candidates for president to participate in at least one such weeklong series of debates.

Let's call it the Kennedy-Goldwater Memorial Presidential Debate Series - an enduring institutional tribute that can be the beginning of a restoration of honest discourse and clarity of choice in our presidential campaigns.