An Assassinated Mythology
The following passage from Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism struck me as relevant to the (thankfully abated) speculation of Barack Obama’s assassination:
On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. As if on cue, Dallas was christened “the city of hate.” A young TV reporter named Dan Rather heard a rumor that some Dallas schoolchildren had cheered when they heard the news of Kennedy’s death. The rumor wasn’t true, and the local Dallas CBS affiliate refused to run the story. Rather made an end run around the network and reported the story anyway.
Rather wasn’t the only one eager to point fingers at the right. Within minutes Kennedy’s aides blamed deranged and unnamed right-wingers. One headline proclaimed the assassination had taken place “deep in the hate of Texas.” But when it became clear that a deranged Marxist had done the deed, Kennedy’s defenders were dismayed. “He didn’t even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights,” Jackie lamented to Bobby Kennedy when he told her the news. “It’s — it had to be some silly little Communist.”
Or maybe not, the Kennedy mythmakers calculated. They set about creating the fable that Kennedy died battling “hate” — established code, then and now, for the political right. The story became legend because liberals were desperate to imbue Kennedy’s assassination with a more exalted and politically useful meaning. Over and over again, the entire liberal establishment, led by the New York Times — and even the pope! — denounced the “hate” that claimed Kennedy’s life. The Supreme Court justice Earl Warren summed up the conventional wisdom — as he could always be counted upon to do — when he theorized that the “climate of hatred” in Dallas — code for heavy right-wing and Republican activity — moved Lee Harvey Oswald to kill the president.
The fact that Oswald was a communist quickly changed from an inconvenience to proof of something even more sinister. How, liberals asked, could a card-carrying Marxist murder a liberal titan on the side of social progress? The fact that Kennedy was a raging anti-communist seemed not to register, perhaps because liberals had convinced themselves, in the wake of the McCarthy era, that the real threat to liberty must always come from the right. Oswald’s Marxism sent liberals into even deeper denial, their only choice other than to abandon anti-anti-communism. And so, over the course of the 1960s, the conspiracy theories metastasized, and the Marxist gunman became a patsy. “Cui bono?” asked the Oliver Stones then and ever since. Answer: the military-industrial complex, allied with the dark forces of reaction and intolerance, of course. Never mind that Oswald had already tried to murder the former army major general and prominent right-wing spokesman Edwin Walker or that, as the Warren Commission would later report, Oswald “had an extreme dislike of the rightwing.”
Amid the fog of denial, remorse, and confusion of the Kennedy assassination, an informal strategic response developed that would serve the purposes of the burgeoning New Left as well as assuage the consciences of liberals generally: transform Kennedy into an all-purpose martyr for causes he didn’t take up and for a politics he didn’t subscribe to.