Political Hay

John F. Kennedy and Madness of the American Left

Fifty years after JFK's inaugural: left-on-left violence, ideological pornography.

By 1.18.11

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"And so my fellow Americans; Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." -- President John F. Kennedy in his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961

"I have to tell you, Rush Limbaugh is looking more and more like Mr. Big, and at some point somebody's going to jam a CO2 pellet into his head and he's going to explode like a giant blimp. That day may come. Not yet. But we'll be there to watch. I think he's Mr. Big, I think Yaphet Kotto. Are you watching, Rush? -- MSNBC Host Chris Matthews on Rush Limbaugh

It was to be the beginning of a new American golden age.

Instead, it ended in a horrifying display of left-on-left violence that set the tone for what can effectively be described as the moment the stage was set for today's liberal media obsession with what amounts to ideological pornography.

The inauguration of John F. Kennedy as the 35th President of the United States took place on a crisp, cold New England-style day fifty years ago this week. So long ago -- yet so memorable to any alive in the moment. 

There had been a snow storm the night before, blanketing not only Washington but a considerable portion of the East Coast. The storm had created chaos of a sort in Washington, but by the designated morning of the ceremonial day the Capital was sparkling under a bright blue sky.

American televisions were still broadcasting mostly in black and white. The television series Bonanza, a Western saga about widowed Virginia City rancher Ben Cartwright and his three sons, was one of the audacious new programs broadcast in color for those lucky few who had color TV sets. But most of America tuned into one of the three television networks of the day -- veterans CBS and NBC along with the newer, less viewed ABC -- to see the new president sworn-in in black and white.

Even in black and white the images dazzled. The old president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the hero general of a war still barely fifteen years distant, looked like Norman Rockwell's ideal of the kindly grandfather. The famous big grin that reminded Americans of why they had always liked Ike was still in place. But of a sudden there was a consciousness that, well, he did seem old at that.

That feeling, universal at the time, was accentuated for reasons well beyond the fact that the old president was giving way to the new. What made the event so riveting -- the first of its kind in the television age -- was the inescapable visual of the old man's successor.

John F. Kennedy this January inauguration day was a mere 43 years old. The last time -- the only time -- America had had a president of such visible youth and energy was a full sixty years earlier. Theodore Roosevelt, age 42 when he received word that William McKinley's death at the hands of the left-wing anarchist Leon Czolgosz had elevated him from the vice-presidency to the White House, was now a distant if fond memory. Indeed, TR's daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth was still a Washington celebrity -- and a Kennedy favorite.

To look back at the images of JFK, hatless and coatless as he took the presidential oath that day, the trademark thatch of chestnut hair to become the model for a generation of politicians, is to be reminded that his youth was -- and is -- very much a part of America's self-image. "I say this country must move again," he had exhorted during the campaign, and this day gave the exhilarating sense the forward motion had begun.

Remembered now for the famous phrase that summoned a generation to "ask what you can do for your country" -- in fact the speech was also significant for what it said about the state of American liberalism of the day. 

Kennedy was celebrated by his admirers for his cool, calm rationality. And that very rationality had made of John F. Kennedy a member in good standing of those who were unafraid to look unblinkingly into the eye of the Communist Soviet Union and see, as Ronald Reagan would later say, "an evil empire."

Kennedy had run to the right of the celebrated anti-Communist Richard Nixon in 1960.

In the very first line of his opening statement in the first Kennedy-Nixon debate, Kennedy had made it abundantly clear where he stood. 

In the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln said the question was whether this Nation could exist half slave or half free.

In the election of 1960, and with the world around us, the question is whether the world will exist half slave or half free, whether it will move in the direction of freedom, in the direction of the road that we are taking, or whether it will move in the direction of slavery.

Twenty years before Ronald Reagan would succeed him, it was Kennedy the liberal Democrat who threw down the gauntlet, saying in crystal clear language that he viewed the Soviets as a slave state, Communism as the modern, operational philosophy of slavery. For good measure he had brought the name of Lincoln -- the Republican president who ended slavery in America -- into the debate. As president, when challenged by the famous British leftist Lord Bertrand Russell over his tough response to the secret placement of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, JFK rebuked him with a tart telegram

I think your attention might well be directed to the burglars rather than to those who caught the burglars.

The fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy's inaugural this week was already certain to draw considerable attention. But the tragedy of the shootings in Tucson has brought the nation up short with a vivid reminder of just how far from JFK the American Left has traveled since that January day of 1961.

PERHAPS TWO OF THE MORE vivid pieces of this ideological pornography written in the last few days was the "Climate of Hate" column by the New York Times' Paul Krugman, in which Krugman blamed everyone from Sarah Palin to Fox News stars for the Arizona shooting done by a clearly mentally ill shooter. And the attempt by Kennedy nephew Robert Kennedy, Jr. to do the same added Sean Hannity as a "hate merchant." 

Meanwhile, unnoticed, the son of Bobby Jr.'s brother ex-Congressman Joseph Kennedy II -- that would be 30-year old Joseph Kennedy III -- gave a speech to the Massachusetts legislature celebrating JFK's "City on a Hill" speech delivered days before he left for his swearing-in as president. Mr. Kennedy, a prosecutor on Cape Cod and viewed by some as the next Kennedy in politics, had the courage to take on the American left for its rhetoric while predictably doing the same with the American right. But sadly, like his uncle RFK, Jr., he repeated something that is a flat-out untruth: that John F. Kennedy was killed because, as the Boston Globe pretended, "of President Kennedy's opposition to racial discrimination and violence." To say that JFK was killed "for what he represented" is to gloss over a very hard fact.

John F. Kennedy was murdered. By a Marxist. A leftist. Someone who so admired both the Communist Soviet Union and Communist Cuba -- the nations JFK was calling slave states and had threatened with nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis -- that he tried to defect to both. Failing, he murdered John F. Kennedy. After almost killing the right-wing retired General Edwin Walker with a just-missed shot through Walker's Dallas living room window.

Looking back decades later it is no small point that the unraveling of the modern American Left can be traced to the day JFK's left-wing killer was let off the hook by the aborning liberal media of the day -- which tried instantly to put the blame on the American and Dallas right. Anywhere but where it squarely belonged -- at the feet of a determined Marxist who in fact was acting in the violent traditions of his decidedly leftist political faith.

John F. Kennedy's murder, the third time a president of the United States had been shot to death by a leftist -- and not counting the two leftist attempts to kill FDR and Truman -- was an eye-opening example in the day and right now of what can only be called left-on-left violence. The seating of Democrats and Republicans together at the next State of the Union Address will not -- cannot -- cure this.

In fact, JFK's assassination turned out to be the curtain raiser on a cascade of left-on-left violence through the 1960's and beyond. The once seemingly stable Big Government American left represented by JFK and before him FDR and Harry Truman slid into a cesspool of violence and violent rhetoric typified today by the Matthews remarks on Rush Limbaugh or the Robert Kennedy Jr. smear of Sean Hannity , Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and Fox News. And of course, Matthews again, attempting to link Mark Levin to the Tucson violence. A bizarre, scurrilous slur which has drawn a $100,000 challenge from Levin to Matthews to prove it in court.

Several years after JFK's murder, with the country in the grip of leftist race riots in leftist-run cities and leftist violence on leftist-run college campuses, a presidential commission on "Campus Unrest" tried its best to understand what was going on with all this murderously violent left-wing rioting, shying from the obvious fact that leftists were rioting against leftists.

The other day, perhaps attempting to recover from a reprimand of sorts from President Obama for his "Climate of Hate" column that picked up where the liberal media of 1963 began, columnist Krugman tried to explain.

But the truth is that we are a deeply divided nation and are likely to remain one for a long time. By all means, let's listen to each other more carefully; but what we'll discover, I fear, is how far apart we are. For the great divide in our politics isn't really about pragmatic issues, about which policies work best; it's about differences in those very moral imaginations Mr. Obama urges us to expand, about divergent beliefs over what constitutes justice.

What constitutes justice, alas, for the American Left is repeatedly passing extensive entitlement programs or materializing them by executive fiat or a ruling from an unelected judge. All done, but of course, in the name of some imagined virtue. No one is allowed to disagree or protest without being suitably -- preferably publicly -- shamed for a lack of conscience that indicates they oppose what Krugman or some other liberal defines as "justice." Which means in turn that as the entitlement inevitably keeps growing endlessly, it becomes politically impossible to deal with the inevitable constituency created by the entitlement. Example? In 1956, Congress passed an amendment to Social Security on disability insurance. Estimated cost by 1980? $860 million. Actual cost the year Ronald Reagan was elected? More than $15 billion a year.

And of course, step three in all this is that "reform" of X translates into a hardened bureaucracy, a bureaucracy quickly unionized, highly paid and declared off-limits from taxpayers across the country who are being bled dry financially by the same philosophy with their state and local governments. American states are now headed to bankruptcy precisely because they have followed the thinking Krugman advocates. And, in turn, this has birthed the Tea Party.

Krugman also says of the differences between conservatives and the Left:

One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state -- a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society's winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net -- morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It's only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That's what lies behind the modern right's fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty."

This is bizarre. Do conservatives believe in freedom and liberty? Absolutely. But conservatives also believe that the left deeply opposes economic growth out of a desire to control, a greed for power and money to be secured by the creation of a massive class of economic dependents. It is, as the late Jack Kemp often said, natural for human beings to desire to better their condition. A tendency liberals are determined to fight because this implies the obvious -- independence from the government. Krugman and his fellow liberals exhibit not compassion but an insatiable lust "red in tooth and claw" for raw political power and the money that comes from that control -- control over people's lives that is won by pitting race against race, rich against poor, producer against consumer and so on and so on. It is a bitterly zero-sum, cold-hearted and cynical view of the world, built on a platform of arrogance, elitist condescension, racial manipulation and topped off by the threat of violence if the rest of us refuse to cooperate.

To oppose any of this effectively, or, to oppose the Left's agenda in the field of national security and foreign policy, is to directly risk summoning that violence -- which is why at this minute former Governor Sarah Palin is being swamped with death threats. It is why European capitals from London to Athens are engulfed in violence or murderous riots.

A young man named David Keene, who would later become a respected conservative leader as head of the American Conservative Union and the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), had the audacity to say something in his testimony to the President's Commission on Campus Unrest in 1970 that surely made the liberal members of the commission squirm:

This tendency to justify violence by pointing to policies one disagrees with symbolizes more than anything else the rejection of the democratic process by a significant number of students on the Left. They, and many who listen to them, seem to have developed an essentially Latin American conception of what the democratic process is all about. They think democracy is fine so long as it works, which of course means so long as the policies they favor are adopted, but reject it when they don't like the results.

John F. Kennedy's great friend, the Pulitzer Prize winner (and JFK liberal) Theodore White, author of the classic The Making of the President series, gradually, to his evident shock, came to this conclusion himself. In his later years White, who died in 1986, would recall talking to a black, leftist reporter for an unidentified New York paper (hmmm) in 1964. The subject: the news that leftist demonstrators were considering blocking physical access to the opening of the 1964 World's Fair in Flushing Meadow, New York. The story was much in the news, the World's Fair set to become a considerable tourist attraction. President Lyndon Johnson would be attending along with a parade of dignitaries. Said the leftist reporter to White of the chaos that could ensue, endangering lives:

You don't understand. If a thousand innocent people have to be killed…if that's the way it has to be, well, that's the way it has to be.

It was a snapshot of the Left's attitude towards political violence, just as Keene would note several years later in his testimony on the Left's political violence on what were, after all, college campuses run by left-wing academics. Whether it was the left excusing the 1965 Watts riots by leftist blacks in Los Angeles or Krugman's own New York Times excusing the 1992 riots in Los Angeles as being brought about by "decades of rage" or the repeated excuses for campus violence or anti-war violence -- if there was leftist violence to be had it was always because policy or politician X was at fault. The perpetrators themselves were blameless.

This attitude, refreshed these last several days by the New York Times and Times columnist Krugman and the MSNBC cast among others, is what political professionals eventually realized was turning "Kennedy Democrats" into "Reagan Democrats."

It should not be forgotten that just three years after JFK's murder, California Democrats helped Ronald Reagan to a landslide as governor in 1966. In 1968 they swarmed to Bobby Kennedy in the California Democratic presidential primary -- for the same reason. It is forgotten that RFK was perceived in the day as was Reagan and JFK -- the champion of working class Americans.

This perceived Kennedy strength brought Reagan Democrats back into the fold to help him to his last presidential primary victory -- a victory that came just moments before Kennedy was himself slain by -- yes -- another violent leftist, this time the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel Sirhan Sirhan. Not long afterwards, at a gathering of the leftist Weathermen at a "National War Council" the group chanted "Sirhan Sirhan power" in hall decorated with a cardboard machine gun. Further down the political road, in 2008, Sean Hannity obtained a rare copy of a 1974 book by Obama friend Bill Ayers -- he of the terrorist Weather Underground -- dedicated to: Sirhan Sirhan. Robert Kennedy's assassin. 

There is a direct line running straight from Marxist Lee Harvey Oswald's rifle scope in the Dallas of 1963 to the 1960's leftist black riots in Watts (Los Angeles), Newark and Detroit, the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy; and the leftist student violence at institutions like Columbia University and Harvard. And beyond to the ACORN intimidation tactics of recent vintage. And the excuse-making for that violence and intimidation exhibited then and now.

In answer to Krugman's astonishingly misleading line that "violence and eliminationist rhetoric encouraging violence has become all too common these past two years" columnist Michelle Malkin has put together a thorough recalling of how this leftist mind set has functioned for the first decade of the 21st century. The targets for what Krugman calls "violence and eliminationist rhetoric" were -- no surprise -- George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin.

It's ugly.

But it's a serious mistake to think it new.

AS JOHN F. KENNEDY IS REMEMBERED this week, it is worth noting that the American Left's descent into madness began when a leftist -- a Marxist who had tried to defect to both the Soviet Union and Castro's Cuba -- pulled the trigger that killed the anti-Communist JFK. JFK was not martyred because of his views on civil rights (views of a color blind society that today would make him, along with Dr. King, yes, right-wing Republicans) or heated political rhetoric.

Rather, the assassination of John F. Kennedy became the spectacularly horrific example of "left-on-left" violence, with the rest of the country looking on horrified. Becoming a nation appalled, deeply hurt and furious. And, it must be noted, all of this doing real damage to the real life family that was and is still "The Kennedys," with various family members plunged into ordeals with alcohol and drugs.

Left-on-left violence became the dirty little secret of the left-tilting national media. It is never mentioned, still ignored as an unpleasant truth by such as Paul Krugman and the purveyors of left-wing ideological pornography at MSNBC. It is also, most embarrassingly, never honestly discussed by JFK's descendants when the surely still-painful subject of the assassination arises. Today, were he alive, Lee Harvey Oswald would surely be treated by the left as is Robert Kennedy's killer -- a celebrated "political prisoner" honored, as was Sirhan by Obama friend Bill Ayers, for his murderous deed.

Make no mistake.

The poisoning of the public debate that has taken place this last week since the Giffords' shooting, led by Mr. Krugman, is a reminder of the violent tendencies of the American Left. Mr. Krugman's idea of what "constitutes justice" for the Left is a reminder in spades. A sharp reminder of just when and how America was dragged in the first place from the stirring JFK call to "ask what you can do for your country" to violent, angry leftist fantasies featuring Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin or George Bush or Dick Cheney.

Krugman's column, Bobby Kennedy Jr.'s piece and the slurs out of Matthews and the rest at MSNBC are a reminder of a very alarming reality, a reality that JFK himself mentioned the very last day of his life.

 "We're heading into nut country today," President Kennedy said to his wife on the morning of November 22.

As it turned out, President Kennedy had no idea how right he was.

America entered nut country that November 22. The nut country of left-wing violence and its left-wing media enablers from the New York Times to MSNBC to commentators Matthews, Krugman, Kennedy, Frank Rich and the violence celebrated by such as the poster "Blueboy" at the Daily Kos (the latter of whom posted of Gabrielle Giffords before the shooting: "My CongressWOMAN voted against Nancy Pelosi! And is now DEAD to me!").

The door to nut country was opened barely three years after John F. Kennedy was inaugurated with such glittering hope. That door was opened by Lee Harvey Oswald. A Marxist. A man of the Left. The American Left in this instance. Waiting in the shadows of the immutable trademark violent tradition of leftists in America and around the globe.

An American leftist targeting the most famous American liberal of the day pulled the trigger that killed John F. Kennedy. Murderously ending a presidency that began with such golden promise fifty years ago this week.

The American Left's descent into madness had begun.

Disturbingly, as Paul Krugman, Chris Matthews, Frank Rich, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others in the liberal media have so vividly and recently illustrated, many who should know better have gone along for the ride.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.