The fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy is nearly upon us, so one would expect America's public intellectuals to be gearing up to present a series of sober and illuminating reflections about the tragedy's cultural and political legacy.
Of course, that's not going to happen. Any misty-eyed resonance that can be wrung out of JFK's death is already being exploited by our elite media gatekeepers to advance a political agenda.
To start things off, the New Yorker's George Packer has filed a dispatch about the "the potent brew of right-wing passions, much of it well organized and well funded—Bircher anti-Communism, anti-Catholicism [and] racism" that is apparently to blame for JFK's death. This is nonsensical on many levels. Racism is, of course, described as a "right-wing passion" though it is conveniently forgotten that at the time of JFK's assassination this odious legacy was exploited and enforced primarily by the Democratic party. And yes, Dallas may have been suffused with "Bircher anti-Communism" but that seems very much at odds with the identity of JFK's assassin who had spent time in the Soviet Union under mysterious circumstances.
A recent George Will column noted that Jacqueline Kennedy didn't seem too confused about who her husband's killer was. "He didn’t even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights. It’s — it had to be some silly little Communist," she said shortly after her husband's death. Also telling is the fact that a spokesman for the Soviet Union rushed to lay blame on "Barry Goldwater and other extremists on the right.”
Of course, this point about Oswald's motivations is so obvious that Packer can't ignore it. Try to follow the logic here:
Oswald was an avowed Marxist, which might seem to absolve the city’s right wing of any responsibility. But “Dallas 1963” places the assassin in context as a malleable, unstable figure breathing the city’s extraordinarily feverish air. Judge Sarah T. Hughes, who administered the oath of office to Johnson aboard Air Force One at Love Field, later said, “It could have happened anywhere, but Dallas, I’m sorry to say, has been conditioned by many people who have hate in their hearts and who seem to want to destroy.” ...
American politics today isn’t haunted by the same fear of sudden, shattering violence. But, as for nut country, it’s migrated from the John Birch Society bookstores to the halls of Congress, where angry talk of socialism and impeachment is almost routine. Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Louie Gohmert are the spiritual descendants of [billionaire oilman H. L. Hunt, the right-wing zealot General Edwin Walker]. Fifty years later, Dallas would like to move on from Dealey Plaza. This is normal and right. What’s holding it back is the Republican Party.
Senator Cruz, R-Bogeyman, has been blamed for many bad things in the past few weeks. But preventing America from healing after a presidential assassination that occurred years before the 42-year-old was even born seems like a stretch, to put it charitably. And Packer extends this blame-shifting to cover the entire state of Texas and, eventually, roughly half the country.
Still, it remains axiomatic among media types that all political violence in the United States is somehow a result of right-wing ideology, regardless of how reality complicates that simple narrative. (If it's appalling that unrepentant, left-wing murderers are appointed to teaching positions at Ivy League universities and Hollywood makes sympathetic films about left-wing terrorists, outlets such as the New Yorker don't waste much ink pondering the hypocrisy.) We even have major liberal organizations whose mission is manipulating the media to redefine benign conservative organizations as "hate groups."
As such, Packer will probably remain unmoved by the obvious logical problems, so I will appeal to the New Yorker writer's literary sensibility and note how passé all this is. Just last week Packer's colleague at the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik, advanced the same argument tying the JFK assassination to the Tea Party. In 2011, Frank Rich wrote a tortured essay connecting the same dots. This psuedo-conspiracy even has an impressive pedigree. Shortly after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, right as the media rushed en masse to wrongly pin it on the Tea Party, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claimed "Uncle Jack's" death was a result of right-wing talk radio in Dallas. Naturally, this leads RFK Jr. to not so subtly suggest the "hate merchants at Fox News" might bear responsibility for Giffords's death. (RFK Jr., however, feels no culpability for harming children with his widely condemned and very public campaign claiming that the government is poisoning children with vaccines.)
So long as we're pondering the effects of "breathing extraordinarily feverish air," it might behoove Packer and all his peers straining to explain JFK's tragic end to stop hyperventilating.