Friday 18 September 2009
President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. (Photo wikimedia commons)
That being John F. Kennedy, who was gunned down in Dallas, of course.
I've been thinking a lot of Kennedy and Dallas as I've watched the increasingly violent rhetorical attacks on Obama be unfurled. As Americans yank their kids of class in order to save them from being exposed to the President of the United States who only wanted to urge them to excel in the classroom. And as unvarnished hate and name-calling passed for health care 'debate' this summer.
The radical right, aided by a GOP Noise Machine that positively dwarfs what existed in 1963, has turned demonizing Obama--making him into a vile object of disgust--into a crusade. It's a demented national jihad, the likes of which this country has not seen in modern times.
But I've been thinking about Dallas in 1963 because I've been recalling the history and how that city stood as an outpost for the radical right, which never tried to hide its contempt for the New England Democrat.
Now, in this this month's Vanity Fair, Sam Kashner offers up in rich detail the hatred that ran wild in Dallas in 1963. To me, the similarity between Dallas in 1963 and today's unhinged Obama hate is downright chilling.
Kashner's fascinating cover story actually chronicles the professional struggles of writer William Manchester who was tapped by the Kennedy family, after the president's assassination, to write the definitive book about the shooting. The Vanity Fair articles details the power struggles, and epic lawsuits, that ensued prior to Manchester's publication.
But this unnerving passage from VF caught my eye. In it, Kashner retraces Manchester's step as he researched his book. It's unsettling because if you insert "Obama" for every "Kennedy" reference, it reads like 2009:
Manchester also discovered that Dallas "had become the Mecca for medicine-show evangelists … the Minutemen, the John Birch and Patrick Henry Societies, and the headquarters of [ultra-conservative oil billionaire] H. L. Hunt and his activities."
"In that third year of the Kennedy presidency," Manchester wrote, "a kind of fever lay over Dallas country. Mad things happened. Huge billboards screamed, ‘Impeach Earl Warren.’ Jewish stores were smeared with crude swastikas.…Radical Right polemics were distributed in public schools; Kennedy’s name was booed in classrooms; corporate junior executives were required to attend radical seminars."
A retired major general ran the American flag upside down, deriding it as "the Democrat flag." A wanted poster with J.F.K.’s face on it was circulated, announcing "this man is Wanted" for—among other things—"turning the sovereignty of the US over to the Communist controlled United Nations" and appointing "anti-Christians … aliens and known Communists" to federal offices.
And a full-page advertisement had appeared the day of the assassination in The Dallas Morning News accusing Kennedy of making a secret deal with the Communist Party; when it was shown to the president, he was appalled. He turned to Jacqueline, who was visibly upset, and said, "Oh, you know, we’re heading into nut country today."
Manchester discovered that in a wealthy Dallas suburb, when told that President Kennedy had been murdered in their city, the students in a fourth-grade class burst into applause.
Today, conservatives are expressing outrage that Rep. Nancy Pelosi had the nerve to raise concerns about the onrush of violent political rhetoric. The Noise Machine claims it has no idea what Pelosi's talking about. But the truth is, America's most famous bouts of political violence (i.e. JFK, Oklahoma City, etc.) have always been accompanied by waves of radical, right-wing rhetoric. Given that history, the GOP's insistence that the hate now filling the streets couldn't possibly inspire violence seems woefully naive.