Talk radio and Fox absent in 1962 battle over whether there were missiles in Cuba.
Can Paul Ryan avoid becoming the next Homer Capehart? And if so, how?
Homer Capehart, after all, was right.
The issue was in fact just as real as he said it was and every bit as dangerous.
He stood up when few were willing and said why it was dangerous — over and over again. He called the President of the United States to task for not paying attention. There would be extremely serious consequences for ignoring the problem, he insisted. He spoke, he pleaded, he demanded. He did everything up to and including begging for something to be done. He even presented two different ways to deal with this problem. And still, he was brushed off. Dismissed by the so-called sophisticates of the day — in the White House, the Congress and certainly in the dominant liberal media of the day — the latter more than effectively the only media of the day.
Who was Homer Capehart? He was, in the summer of 1962, the conservative Republican who was serving as the senior Senator from Indiana. What was he so concerned about?
The Soviet Union, he insisted, was in the process of installing nuclear missiles in Cuba. Intermediate range nuclear missiles that could reach anywhere on the American East Coast. America, Capehart insisted, was on the verge of opening itself to nuclear blackmail. The U.S. government and John F. Kennedy’s administration, he warned, should bring an immediate halt by either blockading the island — or invading it.
And no one — no one of any consequence — listened. The President, assuredly not a hard left-winger as so many Democrats are today, was nonetheless scornful of Capehart. He rejected Capehart’s demands, and made a point in a campaign speech in Indiana where Capehart was running for re-election to deride the Senator as one of “those self-appointed generals and admirals who want to send someone else’s son to war.”
Cuba had been a thorn in the Kennedy administration’s side from the moment the new President had taken office. An inexperienced Kennedy White House had thoroughly botched the Bay of Pigs invasion, in which armed Cuban exiles were prepared to storm the imprisoned island and depose Castro. Instead of either vetoing the project outright or getting it done, the very-green president did the worst thing possible: he wavered, half-in (a covert promise of air support) and half-out (refusing the air support when the invasion actually launched). The incident sent a signal to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that Kennedy was weak — an impression reinforced at a summit meeting shortly thereafter between the two men. In Vienna, now face-to-face, the Russian legendarily played the unchallenged bully, something Kennedy himself realized at the time. The Berlin Wall went up shortly thereafter in August of 1961 — and again Kennedy gave the impression of weakness, allowing the Wall to stand.
Capehart was convinced there was more to come.
By the summer of 1962, Capehart, a successful entrepreneur who had made a fortune in the jukebox industry, had used his time in the Senate to focus on Latin American affairs. He was alarmed at the information he was receiving. Not a shy man — but alas in the day when everyone was worshipping the youth and style of the young president and his administration — Capehart was a decidedly old-fashioned, style-less and older man from rural Indiana. Homer Capehart was worse than informed — he was out of style. Mocked by the so-called “best and the brightest” on Kennedy’s team as “the Indiana Neanderthal.” So instead of being listened to, Homer Capehart was derided. Administration officials, ruefully recalled Kennedy’s White House Counsel and close aide Theodore Sorensen, responded to Capehart and “flatly asserted that no offensive weapons were in Cuba.” Period, end of story.
Months went by — and then — reality hit. And it hit hard. Frighteningly hard.
Air Force reconnaissance flights were authorized — finally. And the results shocked Kennedy. The photos revealed in vivid detail that everything Homer Capehart had been saying for months was absolutely, positively true. In a blink, the Cuban Missile Crisis burst onto the public consciousness, precisely as Capehart said would happen. For thirteen dramatic days in October of 1962 America and the world would teeter on the brink of all-out nuclear war. To this day the episode is the subject of books and movies depicting the calm young president and his brother Bobby tensely working to defuse the crisis and save the world. Repeatedly downplayed when not ignored altogether (Kennedy aide and hagiographer, the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr., mentions Capehart but once in his massive Camelot memoir A Thousand Days — in reference to the fact that Capehart served on the Senate Labor Committee. That was it.) The more forthright Sorensen noted that a shocked Robert Kennedy confessed his brother’s stubborn refusal in not paying attention to Homer Capehart could mean “sixty million Americans killed and as many Russians or more.”
The Kennedys rallied and saved the day — by taking Capehart’s exact suggestion of a blockade and re-making it into a clever piece of iconography for RFK. Bobby Kennedy opposed an invasion of Cuba, Capehart’s other suggestion, and in adapting the blockade as his own less aggressive alternative to invasion Bobby was portrayed by an all-too-unquestioning media of the day as the young “wise man” who saved the world from nuclear war. Much later historical quibbles developed about secret pledges to remove American missiles in Turkey and a promise never to invade Cuba. But in the day and time the Kennedy White House, caught asleep at the switch again in Cuba, hastily did exactly what Capehart had long demanded — a naval blockade of Cuba. And took credit for it. And got away with it.
What frequently gets lost in the Kennedy-crazed media of today is the role of Homer Capehart — then 65 and in the last year of his third term. Described by Time magazine in the day as a “codger,” Capehart’s alarms were dismissed as so much right-wing grandstanding.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online