For hard-core political wonks, this week marks the 55th Anniversary of the first televised debate in our history between Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy, and GOP Vice President Richard M. Nixon. An estimated 70 million watched the first dust-up between the rivals. Back then, about 85% of households had a TV. Black and white TV left Nixon, who had been in the hospital prior to the debate, looking pale, tired, and sluggish. Polls of TV viewers reported Kennedy, tanned, rested and prepared, was given the nod by the public. As they say, “That’s history!”
Larry Sabato, of the Center for Politics, University of Virginia, commented on the impact of that seminal debate, “Before television debates most Americans didn’t even see the candidates-they read about them, they saw photos…this allowed the public to judge for themselves on a completely different basis. We continue that influence on campaigns to this day.”
The issues discussed on that day, September 26, 1960, were primarily domestic, with Nixon touting President Eisenhower’s managing of the economy, who was leaving the Oval Office with nearly 65% approval rating. Kennedy agreed, “Though we are a great country, we could be greater.” He warned of the USSR “global threat.” Nikita Khrushchev was in New York, three days earlier, at the UN, breathing threats at the United States. Kennedy’s prediction was prescient. He had to face down the “Cuban missile crisis” as President.
The term “existential threat” wasn’t on the radar then. It was bandied about at the CNN, GOP debate last week. Nearly every media outlet, since the ominous “promotion” of Isis, from the “JV Team” to an “existential threat” worldwide, parrot that term. It has become hackneyed, though the average American on the street hasn’t a clue what it means.
The Bostrom Scale of “risk to our existence” ranges from a personal loss, as imperceptible as “hair loss,” to a global risk, that destroys a large segment of the population, such as war, or the contrived “global warming,” to pandemic natural disasters. The scope and intensity vary dramatically. On the political stage, we find references primarily to a military threat, that involves nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, directed against another nation. Islamic Terrorism or a nuclear assault from Korea, would meet that threshold. Anyone who has read, The Plague, by agnostic, existentialist author, Albert Camus, understands that it’s more of a philosophical threat. Andrew Levine, Huffington Post columnist, blames the over use of the term, on Israeli “paranoia.” He agrees that Iran poses an existential threat to both Israel and the U.S., he claims it’s used as a casus belli, or justification for war.
As portentous as it sounds, it means that something or someone’s existence is in jeopardy. In geo-political terms, presidential candidates have used the debates and stump speeches to rail against the disastrous “Iran Deal,” making it synonymous with the an “existential threat.” It’s hard to deny that moral capital still exists from the Nazi Holocaust, haunting the memory of present day Israel, and Zionists around the world. It’s the specter of the capacity of rogue maniacal heads of Iran, Korea and Russia that bolsters the threat. Some claim it’s only a word used to replace serious thought.
Does Iran pose a genuine threat to the United States? Is there a more serious threat to our existence? Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s thinks it’s imminent. Iran’s verbally and theologically committed to Israel’s annihilation, as the “little Satan,” and the U.S. as the “Great Satan.“ Those reared in the Cold War years were constantly reminded that we could be incinerated any moment. Many feared the “inevitability,” and dutifully built a “fallout shelter.” On the Beach, and Fail-Safe, were wildly popular novels because of the “danger to humanity.” Imagine being next-door-neighbors to North Korea, with lunatic Kim Jong-un’s erratic finger on a nuclear missile. Shouldn’t they be nervous?
A growing segment of citizens believe there’s a pernicious tendency to be transfixed on foreign threats only, ignoring our growing internal threat of the “political/cultural war” against law enforcement. The recent “cold-blooded assassination style” unprovoked attack on Harris County, Texas, Deputy, while fueling his patrol car-shot from behind at point-blank range, has rank and file police condemning the rampant rhetoric of unwarranted criticism of police, that fosters class envy and racial animus, inspiring violent retaliation across the country. Articulate Milwaukee County Sheriff, David Clark, is outraged at President Obama’s racial politics, and professional race agitator Al Sharpton. Clarke’s furious at the unnecessary exploitation of racial tensions in Ferguson and Baltimore. He calls for “fixing the ghettos,” not the police. There’s more to it than meets the tarnished patina of the vapid, liberal elite’s mantra.
Is it a vast racial divide or blatant lawlessness? In 1992, former Secretary of Education and Drug Czar, Bill Bennett, wrote a chapter, in his book, Devaluing of America, Race and the New Politics of Resentment. In it, he quoted Walter Williams, black Professor Emeritus at George Mason University, “The fact that Washington and Harlem have 80 percent illegitimacy has nothing to do with racism in America. It has to do with 13-, 14- and 15 year old girls having sexual intercourse without benefit of marriage. In 1925, 85 percent of black kids lived in two-parent families. Surely Harlem in 1925, blacks were far poorer and there was more discrimination.” Presidential hopeful, Dr. Ben Carson, having risen from dire poverty, spent hours talking with a range of people in Ferguson, echoes Williams’ findings, and condemned the progressive expansion of welfare programs that disintegrated the Negro family structure.
We’re reminded that black-on-black crime hovers around 90%. Was Jesse Jackson’s remark at Freddie Gray’s wake in Baltimore, “We need less policemen,” justification for lawless actions? No one needs more police than those “urban war zones.” Is this the “existential threat” we dare not ignore? The threat’s exacerbated by our lawless President. Is it poverty of the soul that vexes us? What’s riskier than loosing one’s own soul? What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a resident of Natrona County. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org