Via pretty much everyone in my Twitter feed, I ran across a remarkably silly piece in the New York Times this morning about “Dallas’ Role in Kennedy’s Murder.” It’s peppered with a sort of liberal self-loathing—James McAuley is taking to the newspaper of record to slag his ancestors and demonstrate to his peers that he is not like them no siree bob! as much as grapple with Dallas’ “role” in the assassination—as well as the typical liberal notion that Dallas served as a special cauldron of hate, the toxic brew of which contributed to Kennedy’s killing.
It’s telling that the only time the word “communist” is used in McAuley’s piece is in this sentence:
Those “men of Dallas” — men like my grandfather, oil men and corporate executives, self-made but self-segregated in a white-collar enclave in a decidedly blue-collar state — often loathed the federal government at least as much as, if not more than, they did the Soviet Union or Communist China.
The name “Lee Harvey Oswald” goes entirely unmentioned. As does the name “General Edwin Walker,” an arch-conservative Oswald tried to murder. As does the phrase “Russian defector,” which is what Oswald was. No no. The fact that Kennedy was killed by a communist is not worth mentioning at all; rather, McAuley chooses to pronounce that the people of Dallas hated Kennedy even more than they did “the Soviet Union or Communist China.”
The kind of cognitive dissonance it takes to write something so remarkably foolish long ago lost the power to surprise. James Piereson, in his remarkably smart book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism, laid out the myriad ways in which the left has been trying to cope with the killing these last 50 years. Wrote Piereson:
President Kennedy’s assassination stalled the advance of twentieth-century liberalism, then the nation’s reigning public philosophy and, in the opinion of historians at the time, our only genuine public philosophy. It did this in several ways: first, by undermining the confidence of liberals in the future; and second, by changing their perspective from one of possibility and practical reform to one of grief, loss, and frustrated hopes. It also compromised their faith in the nation because many concluded, against all factual evidence, that in some way the nation itself was responsible for President Kennedy’s death. A confident, practical, and forward-looking philosophy, with a heritage of genuine accomplishment, was thus turned into a pessimistic doctrine—and one with a decidedly negative view of American society and its institutions.
McAuley, of course, is just the latest in a long line of writers at the Grey Lady to deflect blame for Kennedy’s murder from the left and try and pin it on the right. Indeed, immediately following the assassination, James Reston penned a remarkably ugly and stupid piece entitled “Why America Weeps: Kennedy Victim of Violent Streak He Sought to Curb in Nation.” Wrote Reston,
The indictment extended beyond the assassin, for something in the nation itself, some strain of madness and violence, had destroyed the highest symbol of law and order. … From the beginning to the end of his administration, he was trying to tamp down the violence of the extremists from the right.
Liberals were so perturbed by the fact that a man of the left had killed Kennedy that they simply waved away the inconvenient truth like so much smoke. It wasn’t left wing ideology that killed our dear prince but the meanies on the right who created a culture in which something so senseless could happen.
You see this attitude not just in news reports but popular culture as well. In his book about a man who goes back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination, 11/22/63, Stephen King compared the city of Dallas to the fictional city of Derry, which some of you will remember as the hate-filled pit that served as the home of the child-eating Pennywise in It. Here’s the protagonist of 11/22/63, deciding that he will move out of Dallas until closer to the assassination:
I could move out from beneath the suffocating shadow I felt over [Dallas]. I could find a place that was smaller and less daunting, a place that didn’t feel so filled with hate and violence. In broad daylight I could tell myself I was imagining those things, but not in the ditch of the morning. There were undoubtedly good people in Dallas, thousands upon thousands of them, the great majority, but that underchord was there, and sometimes it broke out. As it had outside the Desert Rose. Bevvie-from-the-levee had said that In Derry I think the bad times are over. I wasn’t convinced about Derry, and I felt the same way about Dallas, even with its worst day still over three years away.
Simply put, the Kennedy assassination drove the left kind of batty. And it obviously hasn’t stopped doing so 50 years later.