If you were old enough, you would never forget it.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas 44 years ago this November 22nd was the 9/11 of its day. And in its wake, Dallas, the state of Texas and the American Right were excoriated for supposedly being, respectively, the local, state and national focal point of political hate. It made no difference that the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a Communist sympathizer who months earlier had just missed in his attempt to kill the right-wing ex-General Edwin Walker. What was impressed upon America that horrifying day, and for years afterwards, was that JFK was the victim of a political hate crime perpetrated by the American Right. There was no place for hatred in American political life, went the lecture from the liberal media, politicians, academics and church leaders. And the people who indulged themselves in this kind of behavior were universally presented as moronic yahoos, scorned as grimly amusing when they were not fantasized as dangerous primitives.
A look back at the view of what constituted political hatred in the eyes of liberals circa 1963 is a startling reminder of just how far the world has turned in those 44 years. In his 1967 book The Death of a President, JFK friend and author William Manchester spent considerable time detailing what liberals of the day considered to be political hate in Dallas on the eve of JFK’s fateful visit.
Manchester begins by conceding the obvious: president-bashing has been a peculiarly American sport right from the beginning of the Republic. Presidents are, he says, “the biggest target in the land, and the formation of every Presidential cult is followed by the congealment of an anti-cult.” He lists the deep animosity attracted by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman, shrugging that strong presidents must expect abuse. But he makes clear that while the haters of the President-of-the-day populated various outposts around the country, they never dominated the political landscape to any serious degree. This was, Manchester charges, not so in Dallas, where “radical extremists” dominated the city’s political environment. He points out approvingly that the Warren Commission Report, the presidential commission that investigated the assassination, said that there was a “general atmosphere of hate” in the city, an atmosphere that Manchester and liberals of the day believed had infected the Dallas political and civic establishment.
What did these “radical extremists” of Dallas believe? What did they say or write to leave the impression the city was ruled by a “general atmosphere of hate”? Why did these extremists hate JFK with such passion? Here is Manchester on political hate:
* “There was something else in the city, something unrelated to conventional politics — a stridency, a disease of the spirit, a shrill, hysterical note suggestive of a deeply troubled society.”
* Anti-Semitism was disturbingly visible, “Jewish stores were smeared with crude swastikas.”
* “Radical Right polemics were distributed in public schools; Kennedy’s name was booed in classrooms.”
* The Democratic Mayor of Dallas was in fact not a Democrat at all but kowtowed to the Right because he was “as respectful of the prevailing political winds as any German functionary.”
* Local elected officials, not radicals themselves, “displayed an astonishing indifference toward radical excesses [and] bore a heavy responsibility for the city’s political atmosphere.” As a result, a “strange ideology” sprouted that was “malevolent and nihilistic” and on “American soil it had an alien look.”
And what precisely was the real problem with JFK in the eyes of these haters? “Kennedy’s private wealth and starchy New England vowels were bad enough.” Kennedy’s very being was a challenge to their accustomed and cherished ways, his views were a “desecration.” Why? Because the political haters of Dallas believed that “everyone had to stick together, wear the same label, and circle the wagons against disaster.” JFK simply refused to wear the right label, and worse was politely dismissive of any effort to get him to do so.
There was, of course, no Internet in 1963. But there was the Dallas Morning News, a right-wing newspaper that was filled with example after example of what Manchester holds out as sheer political hate. He writes: “…[T]here was something almost Orwellian about the News. To understand some passages, you had to know the code — there were references to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘Queer Deal,’ the ‘American Swivel Liberties Union’ and ‘the Judicial Kremlin’ (the United States Supreme Court).” The White House was ruled by a “dangerous faker” dismissed in the pages of the News as an “idiot” who was “50 times a fool” and a “cunning thief,” although “definite proof” of the latter had “not yet been established.”
ANY OBSERVER OF THE FEVER SWAMPS of the American Left this November week of 2007 will recognize instantly that the assessments and conclusions Manchester reached about the Dallas of 1963 are dead-on assessments of today’s modern liberalism.
Like JFK, George W. Bush is despised by the Left today in part because of his private wealth and his accent, the twang of Texas merely exchanged for JFK’s “starchy New England vowels.” Just as Kennedy’s existence was taken as a challenge to the “accustomed and cherished ways” of Dallas, so too is Bush hated. In Bush’s case it is in part because of his family life, his background as both oil man and baseball team owner, his opposition to same-sex marriage, and his hard-line against Islamic fascists. All are taken as a direct “in-your-face” challenge to the “accustomed and cherished ways” of the culture dominating the 2007 liberal equivalents of 1963 conservative Dallas — places like the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Cambridge, Berkeley, Vermont or Hollywood. Interestingly, the Ivy League pedigree that both JFK and Bush have in common infuriated alike, with one key difference. For JFK the fury came because the world of Harvard was decidedly not the world of cowboy boots and hats, and the haters of Dallas hated him for that. With Bush, the hatred is derived precisely because he did obtain not only the Yale undergraduate pedigree but the Harvard MBA on top of it — and publicly and quite explicitly prefers the culture of cowboys to the culture of the Eastern academic.
What better description of the atmosphere permeating today’s Democratic Party than Manchester’s of Dallas, a place that he charged was filled with “something unrelated to conventional politics — a stridency, a disease of the spirit, a shrill, hysterical note suggestive of a deeply troubled society.”
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