Forty-three years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the crime is no longer the stuff of automatic annual remembrance, yet most Kennedy myths live on, stronger than ever.
Forty-three years ago yesterday, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States of America, was felled in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald, a communist, dishonorably discharged, ex-marine.
For most of my life, November 22 was always commemorated as one of the darkest days in American history. In recent years, such commemoration seems to have been fading.
President Kennedy was riding that day in a motorcade with his wife, Jackie, Texas Gov. John Connally and the latter’s wife, Idanell, and Texan Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Kennedy had come to Texas to shore up a rift among Texas Democrats.
As soon as she saw her husband had been hit with gunfire, Mrs. Kennedy showed herself willing to sacrifice her own life, to save her husband’s. She threw herself across her husband, to shield his body from further gunfire with her own, as if she were a secret service agent, rather than America’s First Lady. Alas, it was too late.
Gov. Connally also was wounded, and his wife, Idanell Brill "Nellie" Connally, helped save his life by “pull[ing] the Governor onto her lap, and the resulting posture helped close his front chest wound (which was causing air to be sucked directly into his chest around his collapsed right lung).”
Later that day, aboard Air Force One, Vice President Johnson was sworn in as America’s 36th President.
On April 10, Oswald had attempted to assassinate rightwing Army Gen. Edwin Walker; one hour after assassinating the President, he murdered Dallas Patrolman J.W. Tippit, before being arrested in a Dallas movie theater, after trying to shoot yet another policeman. Two days later, Oswald was himself murdered by Jack Ruby, as lawmen sought to transfer Oswald from police headquarters to the Dallas City Jail.
Jack Kennedy has become, like his ersthwile fling, Marilyn Monroe, a Rohrschach Test, onto which people (particularly leftists) project their preoccupations. Thus do conspiracy obsessives project the notion that the President’s assassination had issued out of a conspiracy so immense, including at least two assassins, with the identity of the specific participants – the Cosa Nostra, the CIA, Fidel Castro, et al. – depending on the imaginings of the obsessive in question.
Likewise has Kennedy’s presidency been fetishized by leftwing obsessives and family retainers, who have turned him into a socialist demigod, who supported massive economic redistribution and radical “civil rights.”
The best way of summing up the real JFK versus the fantasy version propagated by the Left and by Kennedy courtiers since his death, is by comparison and contrast to President Richard M. Nixon, Kennedy’s opponent in the 1960 election.
Kennedy has been portrayed as a leftwing saint and Renaissance man, who gave us or supported (or would have, had he lived) the War on Poverty, civil rights for blacks, and utopia. Nixon, by contrast, was a rightwing Mephistopheles (“Tricky Dick”), and a crude, racist, fascist warmonger.
Politically, Kennedy and Nixon actually had much in common. Both were unapologetic anti-communists in matters domestic and foreign. Nixon successfully prosecuted for perjury the traitor and Soviet spy, Alger Hiss (which inspired the Left to work tirelessly thereafter for Nixon’s destruction), while Kennedy (“Ich bin ein Berliner.”) was an unequivocal supporter of West Berlin against Soviet imperialism, and risked nuclear war, when he faced down the Soviets during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. (Due to the statute of limitations, Nixon could not prosecute Hiss for treason or espionage.) On the negative side of the ledger, Kennedy betrayed the Cuban insurgents who carried out the Bay of Pigs invasion, by withholding promised air support, thus turning the invasion into a fiasco.
Domestically, at least in fiscal matters, Kennedy was considerably to the right of Nixon. Early in Kennedy’s administration, he signed off on what was then the biggest tax cut ever, and which set the economy on fire. In light of Kennedy’s fiscal conservatism and belief in self-reliance (“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”), it is highly unlikely that he would have signed off on a program for massive government welfare programs. The War on Poverty was the idea of Lyndon Johnson, who exploited the nation’s mourning for JFK to ram his programs through Congress.
By contrast, Nixon introduced price-and-wage controls, a move that was far to the left economically of the Democratic Party, even after Kennedy. And it was Nixon, the hated “racist,” not Kennedy or even Johnson, who institutionalized affirmative action. Note that over 30 percent of blacks voted for Nixon for president, over three times as high a proportion than ever would vote for George W. Bush for president.
For over thirty years, leftist Democrats have sought to tar and feather Nixon as a “racist” for his “Southern Strategy” of appealing to Southern whites with promises of “law and order.” The presuppositions of the leftist critics are: 1. If one is not a leftist, one may not campaign for the votes of groups that may potentially vote for one, but rather must hopelessly chase after the votes of people who will never vote for him, thereby guaranteeing his defeat; and 2. Because the explosion in crime was primarily the fault of blacks, no politician may ever campaign on behalf of “law and order” (in other words, see #1).
Since leftists have long controlled the media and academia, no successful counter-movement has ever been waged against the Democrat Northern Strategy that continues to this day inflaming and relying on racist blacks for their votes and their violence.
If anything, Nixon was a stronger supporter of “civil rights” than Kennedy. When Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested during the 1960 presidential campaign, Nixon wanted to call King’s parents in support, but let his advisers talk him out of it. Conversely, Kennedy let his adviser, future senator Harris Wofford, talk him into calling “Daddy” King, which resulted in Kennedy winning the black vote.
In August 1963, the Poor People’s March, in which Martin Luther King Jr. would give his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, was almost shut down by the Kennedy Administration without King even getting to speak.
The march had been organized by A. Philip Randolph, the legendary socialist founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the nation’s first successful black labor union. Randolph was planning on giving a radical leftwing speech written by Stanley Levison, a communist advisor to both Randolph and King, but as historian David Garrow tells in his biography, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the President’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, acting in his brother’s name, threatened literally to pull the plug on the demonstration, were Randolph to deliver the planned speech. Randolph relented, and gave a considerably toned-down speech.
There is no record, to my knowledge, of Nixon ever censoring a political speech, much less one by a civil rights leader.
As for Southeast Asia, Kennedy got us involved in the War in Vietnam; Nixon got us out.
Kennedy repeatedly jeopardized national security, both as a naval intelligence officer during World War II, and while President, due to his obsessive womanizing. By contrast, even Nixon’s sworn enemies have failed to find any evidence of his cheating on his beloved wife, Pat.
And as for the two men’s intellectual status, Nixon was clearly superior. The notion that Kennedy was an intellectual was the product of a PR campaign engineered and financed by the future president’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. The elder Kennedy got his son’s undistinguished, pro-appeasement (echoing the elder Kennedy, who was a Nazi sympathizer) Harvard senior thesis, Why England Slept, published as a book, after having it rewritten by erstwhile family retainer, New York Times columnist Arthur Krock (whom JFK would later stab in the back, using future Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee as his tool of choice); later, the book Profiles in Courage was ghostwritten for JFK by another family retainer, Theodore Sorensen, in order to give the young senator the “gravitas” necessary for a run at the White House. Working on behalf of JFK and Joe Kennedy, Arthur Krock campaigned relentlessly, and succeeded in gaining them the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for biography, yet another fraudulent Pulitzer that has never been rescinded.
Children of my age were taught in so many so words, that Kennedy was a god-genius, and we learned to worship everything about him.
About forty years ago, when I was in second or third grade, my mom bought me a paperback copy of Profiles in Courage through the Scholastic Book Service. I read at least one of the eight profiles, but all I recall is that at one point, the author wrote a paragraph that wound on for over one full page. Since the author was supposedly JFK, and everyone knew that JFK was a genius, that meant (at least it did to my young mind) that writing endless paragraphs was a sign of genius.
In 1977, when I took my first course in philosophy, at Sullivan County Community College in the Catskills, my professor, Richard Magagna, bragged that he had the same talent for reading incredibly rapidly, by scanning left and right while heading down the middle of the page, that JFK had had. Well, perhaps Magagna had that talent, but I doubt that Kennedy did. More than likely, it was yet another JFK-as-genius myth. After all, had Kennedy been so brilliant, he could have written his own inept, over-one-page-long paragraphs.
Richard Nixon, on the other hand, really did write a series of important books on politics. But although Nixon was a true Renaissance man, he was a Republican, and so while the Kennedy hagiography of the press, Hollywood, and academia would slavishly promote the myth of Kennedy as Renaissance man, in the same parties’ corresponding demonography of Nixon, the last thing they were going to do was to give Nixon due credit for his very real intellectual accomplishments.
So, where does that leave us? Must we choose between the fictional but pervasive image of JFK as genius, socialist, and compassionate civil rights supporter, or Garry Wills’ revised version, in which Kennedy appears as a ruthless, pathologically lying sociopath?
If we jettison our illusions about the political leaders we support being compassionate, kindly, fatherly (or insert your romanticized cliché of choice) types, and admit that the ruthless, pathologically lying sociopath has been a frequent Oval Office type, that still does not free us from the obligation of weighing the virtues of this sociopath against that one.
While it is ludicrous to speak of a man who inhabited the office for only two years and ten months as a “great president,” John F. Kennedy had his moments. He gave us a tax cut of historic dimensions, stood up to the Soviets, founded the Peace Corps, and started the race to the moon that culminated in 1969, with Neil Armstrong’s world historical walk. And that ain’t chopped liver.
Award-winning, New York-based freelancer Nicholas Stix founded A Different Drummer magazine (1989-93). Stix has written for Die Suedwest Presse, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Middle American News, Toogood Reports, Insight, Chronicles, the American Enterprise, Campus Reports, VDARE, the Weekly Standard, Front Page Magazine, Ideas on Liberty, National Review Online and the Illinois Leader. His column also appears at Men's News Daily, MichNews, Intellectual Conservative, Enter Stage Right and OpinioNet. Stix has studied at colleges and universities on two continents, and earned a couple of sheepskins, but he asks that the reader not hold that against him. His day jobs have included washing pots, building Daimler-Benzes on the assembly-line, tackling shoplifters and teaching college, but his favorite job was changing his son's diapers.