BETHESDA, MD (WUSA) --- When America's presidential candidates take the stage for their first debate Wednesday Night, they'll be realizing the vision of a young University of Maryland student who, in 1956, wanted presidential candidates to share the stage there and answer questions from students.
Candidates for president on the same platform at the same time?
21st Century America takes it for granted but in 1956 it was unheard of.
Bethesda resident Fred Kahn was a new citizen at the time, having escaped Nazi Germany and served in the United States Army, the University of Maryland student took his new citizenship seriously.
"I had the idea I'll be a good citizen, especially since I had no citizenship before I became an American. I was considered a stateless citizen by the Nazis, mind you,"
Kahn wrote both parties inviting presidential candidates Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson to the Maryland campus, drawing the attention of national figures like former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who wrote the idea "might be something that would arouse the interest of young people all over the county."
It didn't happen in 1956,m but Kahn remained convinced of the idea's wisdom, and continued to push it after the 1956 campaign
"In a democracy you are allowed to have debates, whereas in a dictatorship, you are not; Certainly not in Nazi Germany. Based on my background, when I became a citizen in the army at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, I wanted to be a good citizen," he said.
His idea became reality in 1960 in the infamous Nixon-Kennedy debate of that year. Debates have been a mainstay of presidential campaigns ever since, garnering both praise and criticism for their role in contemporary elections.
What does Kahn think now? Are debates good or bad?
"I don't know. We'll see Wednesday," he said.