October 03, 2016
We enter October scared, not of witches and hobgoblins, but for many of us, of an election without a viable choice of a government to take us out of this difficult decade and into the light of a new one. We suggested last week that Americans always believe in America. With that maxim comes this essential truth: It is hope that drives this experiment and without hope, its vitality is imperiled. Kefauver
We've lived in scarier times, for sure, as in 1956. World War II was past history and so was the euphoria of victory. Instead, post-war America was set in the concrete of segregation, the Hydrogen Bomb and an enemy who was powerful, godless and bent on our destruction. Schools added shelter drills to their curricula. America was on edge.
Enter Sen. Kefauver from Tennessee, Gov. Stevenson from Illinois, and an idea: A Democratic primary debate on television. Up until then, television had only been the home of Milton Berle. For also-ran network, ABC, Monday night was a graveyard anyway, with none of its shows even breaking into the top 30. After all, how do you beat CBS's Burns and Allen Show, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, I Love Lucy and December Bride?
So, on May 21, 1956, instead of Lawrence Welk, viewers found Kefauver and Stevenson, sitting at a small desk with ABC's Gordon Howe, doing something we did not see last week at Hofstra University. They spoke well and they spoke intelligently to an audience they clearly felt was worthy of that
respect; they identified the problems and explained why they were the best person to solve them; they spoke directly to each other without ever surrendering the high ground; they neither smirked, nor mocked, nor grimaced, nor raised their voices, for who would ever elect an American president who did that?
The Stevenson-Kefauver ticket (Stevenson really wanted Kennedy, but the party felt differently) was defeated — again — by Eisenhower in the general election. Stevenson would go on to serve as UN Ambassador under Kennedy and Johnson, while Kefauver will never be forgotten as the Southern Democrat who stood nearly alone in opposition to segregation. Well, perhaps, not nearly so alone, as the people of Tennessee re-elected him in 1960 with a stunning 72% of the vote.
No one dropped the bomb, we still grapple with race relations in this country and Russia is scarcely our biggest international problem. There was one casualty, however. Television. It would never be the same again.
We turn from the "vast wasteland" to more mundane matters, like earning a living. What do you do with clients who come to you with a contract with a karate school that provides that their child will receive a 2nd degree black belt in a certain amount of time. All he need do is "'achieve the requisite skills and qualifications'."