Via Leon Wolf, one of my favorite genres of lefty revisionism. Liberals have, I assume, been farting out pieces like this since the day Oswald’s political sympathies became publicly known, but semi-respectable left-wing pubs have been picking them up more frequently since 2009 in the name of bludgeoning Obama’s conservative critics. The “logic” runs like this: (1) Dallas 1963 was a very conservative, staunchly anti-Kennedy city; (2) JFK was murdered in Dallas; (3) ergo, very conservative, staunchly anti-Obama tea partiers are basically terrorists.
You could kinda sorta forgive this if the assassin himself had been right-wing. It’s unfair to smear peaceful political opponents with the worst acts of their fellow travelers, but both sides have had fun with that at times. (See, e.g., Bush assassination fantasies from the last decade.) Problem is, Oswald wasn’t conservative. He was an out-and-out communist, so far to the left that he defected to the Soviet Union before later returning to the U.S. That’s another reason why this cottage industry of “Dallas killed Kennedy” items has grown up lately on the left — not only is it a cudgel against Obama’s opponents, it’s a way for progressives to disclaim responsibility for an infamous murder committed by someone on their side of the spectrum, which makes the fingerpointing at righties a bit easier. And of course it’s a way to whitewash American history for the benefit of younger people who didn’t live through the Kennedy assassination and haven’t studied it. They’re taking the “hard sell” approach here: Repeat “Dallas killed Kennedy” often enough and some ignoramuses out there will take you at your word, without bothering to check. And so the truth gradually vanishes, like the commissar in that famous photo with Stalin.
The right-wing hatred for John F. Kennedy was in some ways as extreme as the hatred for Barack Obama and nowhere was it more energized than Dallas in 1963. Three years earlier, right-wingers in the city had signaled their anti-Kennedy zeal by turning on its native son, Lyndon Johnson, after he accepted the nomination for vice president. He and his wife, Lady Bird, were accosted by a shrieking mob of conservative women in front of their hotel armed with signs saying he’d sold out to “Yankee Socialists.” It was downhill from there. Over the next three years the simmer burst into a full boil as various luminaries of the John Birch Society such as millionaire oil man H.L. Hunt and the anti-communist fanatic Gen. Edwin Walker, a zealot so far to the right that he even believed Eisenhower was a communist, fanned the flames of anti-Kennedy hatred.
Walker was at the center of the plot against Adlai Stephenson to which Mrs. Doyle referred in her letter. He had exhorted his followers (some of whom belonged to group that unironically called itself the “National Indignation Convention”) to confront the U.N. ambassador when he came to town and they did, hitting him with signs and spitting in his face before he could be rescued by the police. At the scene he famously asked, “Are these human beings or are these animals?”…
Travelers from other nations who come to Dealey Plaza to pay their respects are undoubtedly startled to see yahoos carrying guns and passing out extremist literature very much like the literature that was distributed in Dallas in the fall of 1963. In most places in this world such contempt for national hallowed ground would be frowned upon by decent people. But in America, armed men and women marching around spouting hatred for the president at the very spot where a former president was assassinated is business as usual. We are “free” here to carry guns in public and dare others to argue with us. But that doesn’t make it any less vulgar and profane to do it in a place of national grief — and what should be a monument to right-wing ignominy.
Once you know which way Oswald went politically, the thesis not only falls apart but the evidence tends to prove the opposite of what it’s supposed to illustrate: The nasty criticism of Kennedy from some quarters of the right in Dallas actually didn’t lead to a right-wing attempt on the president there. And yet this genre is evergreen. The best known piece from the last few years is Frank Rich’s essay for New York magazine a few years ago, but that piece was an outlier insofar as Rich actually mentioned Oswald. Believe it or not, it’s common for a “Dallas killed Kennedy” argument to omit his name entirely. Which makes a certain type of sense — when you’re assigning collective responsibility for the actions of a single man, especially a man who, er, wasn’t a member of that collective, it’s easiest to write him out of the story entirely. It’s pure Orwell, but then this is an Orwellian exercise. A Media Matters “Dallas killed Kennedy” post from 2009 didn’t name Oswald. Neither did an item by Robert F. Kennedy Jr for the Huffington Post two years later. Yesterday’s Salon post not only doesn’t name Oswald but, as Michael Moynihan pointed out, it does mention Gen. Edwin Walker — albeit without also mentioning that Oswald tried to assassinate Walker too because Walker was staunchly anti-communist. At the rate we’re going, by the centennial of the assassination, lefty websites will be claiming that it was Walker who fired at JFK from the Texas Schoolbook Depository before being apprehended by the heroic Officer Oswald.
Exit question: If lefties are eager to disclaim responsibility for Oswald, why not just emphasize that communism isn’t liberalism, i.e. that he doesn’t belong to their collective either? That’s a much stronger argument, yet writers in this genre seem reluctant to make it. I wonder why.