Infamous Image of Secret Service Agent Climbing President Kennedy’s Limousine
“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” ~ Haile Selassie
Warning: Free-thinking female liberal on a rant . . .
While perusing Andrew Sullivan’s “Daily Dish,” one of my political blogs, I came across a reference to an article by Mark Warren of Esquire. I clicked on the link to the article, which deals with the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and certain parallels to today’s society.
The article, entitled “On the Anniversary of Kennedy’s Death, Extremism Lives On,” is a wonderful commentary on “the toxic atmosphere that holds in our current politics” with cries of socialism and communism at very turn. Warren then explains how he came across the following letter while doing research at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas. Initially, I was going to include only selected parts of the letter, but after rereading it, I realized that the entire letter deserves to be read, so here it is.
November 24, 1963
President Lyndon B Johnson
The White House
Dear Mr. President:
In this time of mourning and appreciating how very busy you are, I still must write about existing conditions here in East Texas, even if you are too busy to read this, because I feel it is my duty to do so. I wanted to write President Kennedy’s staff and try to get them to persuade him not to go to Dallas but unfortunately didn’t do it for fear of being that crank or busy–body. This time I will risk that appellation. I am frightened at conditions that prevail in East Texas.
Mr. President, the easy thing and what is desperately trying to be done [is] to convince a stunned nation and world that Mr. Kennedy’s murder was the work of some deranged crackpot, and while the trigger was pulled by such a one, perhaps the atmosphere that made it inevitable was the hatred of the people (I don’t mean every one of them but a big majority) who wanted Mr. Kennedy and any one connected with him out of the White House. A week ago this might have sounded ridiculous but subsequent events lend it credence, I believe. There is a virus of disrespect and hate spreading here very rapidly. And unless one lives right here with it, day in and day out, it is unbelievable how quickly and subtly it infects reasonably intelligent persons. This is not too hard to understand only if one recognizes the unremitting, deep, bitter religious and racial prejudice existing today in this section of our land — I don’t know if any of them are similarly infected in other sections, but I know personally of what I speak as regards East Texas. In fact, although nearly every one indignantly denies having any racial or religious prejudice to the point where he deceives even himself in this matter, after listening seriously to protestations of horror and shock one can almost hear a collective sigh in essence, “Too bad he had to die but after all a Catholic is no longer in the White House and this ought to set the ‘niggers’ back on their heels for awhile!” It is painful to some of us I know to give credence to such a condition so we blind ourselves and blame a mentally confused person — forgetting in our desire to remove the blame from ourselves that where religious and racial prejudice prevails, not just the killer but all are mentally confused. When this prejudice is played upon adroitly and exploited actively (as in our locality) by such groups as The American Fact-Finding Committee and many more [of] that ilk, for instance the John Birchers, etc., it soon fans into a situation as exists here, many, many citizens ridden by a vicious hate which inevitably erupts and expresses itself in violence — as in the case of Mr. Kennedy’s murder in Dallas.
A strong evidence of this was the recent demonstration of violence against Ambassador Stevenson in Dallas, and even more clearly by an article carried in the Dallas News (a 100% anti-Kennedy sheet) stating that Mr. Bruce Alger [then-congressman from Dallas, and the only Republican in the Texas delegation] advised the citizens of Dallas there was absolutely no need to feel apologetic about this incident — everyone being free to express his opinion. He neglected to specify the degree of violence of such expression. And the citizens vote for Bruce Alger! So what can one expect? I just heard the flash about Oswald being shot and also the theory that is was caused by mass hysteria. That is here, all night, but I think rather there are certain groups and individuals who wish to insure Oswald’s complete and continuing silence because, knowing the ‘temper’ of Dallas, I can’t believe a known police character of Ruby’s caliber would risk his neck through any feeling of patriotism or love for Mr. Kennedy — can you?
I don’t know if anything can be done about the festering sore of prejudice and hatred on our social structure here, but I doubt if you can know its deadliness unless you are in constant, daily touch, and I thought it my duty to mention it, in that case, even though you may consider I am an alarmist and am exaggerating. I only wish I were.
“You have been asking what you could do in the great events that are now stirring, and have found that you could do nothing. But that is because your suffering has caused you to phrase the question in the wrong way . . . Instead of asking what you could do, you ought to have been asking what needs to be done.” ~ Steven Brust
What an incredible find, not just for Warren but also for those of us who carry with us a deep-seated anxiety over the current state of politics in the U.S., those of us who wonder openly if President Obama has enough security, wonder if the Secret Service is doing enough, if they are taking seriously the hate-fueled threats against the sitting POTUS.
To be perfectly candid, the anxiety over Obama’s safety is something that has plagued me since the campaign. After attending on of candidate Obama’s rallies, and seeing how open he made himself, I was immediately reminded of another president who wanted to make himself open to the American people: John Kennedy.
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” ~ John F. Kennedy
The other parallels between these two men have been discussed in just about every forum, but they bear noting: both men were accused of being communists because of their liberal politics. Both men were accused of dragging the country into socialism because of their desire to implement social change in a country that still treats part of its population as less than equal. Both men were questioned because of their ideologies, their backgrounds, their religious affiliations (or in the case of Obama, his supposed affiliations).
And the most worrisome parallel between the two men rests not in the men themselves, but in the reactionaries who shout to the rafters about these two Presidents, separated by 46 years, generations, wars, and social change. In some of the more fanatical (and ignorant) quarters, President Obama’s plans for national healthcare are being compared to Nazi Germany. Take Rush Limbaugh: “Obama’s got a health care logo that’s right out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook . . . Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate.” Or how about former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey with her death panel lie: “Congress would make it mandatory—absolutely require—that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” And then there is Louie Grohmert, a Republican representative from Tyler Texas, who claims that the president’s healthcare bill will “absolutely kill senior citizens. They’ll put them on lists and force them to die early.”
What is truly amazing is that people really believe this idiocy. Death panels? Killing senior citizens? Nazi Germany? What are these people putting on their Wheaties?
Then there are the comments that defy categorizing: “This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, for the white culture . . . I’m not saying he hates white people (uh, you just did you moron). This guy has a problem. He has exposed himself as a racist,” this according to pompous ass Glenn Beck. Or how about John Boehner, the House minority leader, who declared that Obama’s stimulus package was, “one big down payment on a new American socialist experiment.”
“No government can help the destinies of people who insist in putting sectional and class consciousness ahead of general weal.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt
Of course, President Obama is not the first president to be accused of being a socialist or a communist. Any president who goes in as a reformer, that is, someone who takes on the status quo to improve the lives of the majority, is usually labeled as such. Consider FDR: The American Liberty League called Roosevelt both a fascist and a socialist (what?). When JFK and Lyndon Johnson tried to pass Medicare—a system that has become a staple of American society—they were accused of trying to convert this country to socialism. The American Medical Association denounced proposed medicare, sending out a letter to its members, “Doctor, now is the time for you and every other ethical physician in the United States to individually and voluntarily pledge nonparticipation in HR-6675, the socialized hospitalization and medical care program for the aged.”
In 1961, Ronald Regan made a ten-minute plea on an LP for the AMA, concluding by saying that if Medicare passed, “one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.” Barry Goldwater, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole—all fought against Medicare because it would cause the U.S. to become a socialist nation.
Unless I am seriously mistaken, the U.S. did not become socialist after the New Deal, or after Social Security, or after Medicare, or even after Earned Income Credit (thank Ronald Reagan for that on), all of which were supposed to take us on that long dark road to socialism and the end of our country as we know it.
“What experience and history teach is this—that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles.” ~ George Wilhelm Hegel
But as usual, I digress. What first struck me when I began writing this post is how both JFK and Obama took office as reformers, and how both men really caused an upheaval in conservative parts of the nation with their supposed radical ideas for change. I won’t delve into a detailed analysis of how these two men differ or ar similar as that is not the point of this post.
Kennedy did not listen to his advisors and went to Dallas on November 22, 1963. Kennedy also made the fatal mistake of telling Secret Service agents that he did not want them to ride on the small running boards at the rear of his open convertible. We all know what happened on that fateful day. Even those of you who are not old enough to remember that day in November still know all about it. History also tells us that many in this country, politicians included, believed that Kennedy got what he deserved.
What kind of climate fostered such animosity against the president 46 years ago? The same kind of climate in which we currently find our country: hate-filled speech, hyperbolic statements likening the POTUS with Adolf Hitler, calls to arms, bold statements by those in the public eye that perpetuate this climate of fear, hatred, racism, and paranoia.
But what we need to remember is what happened as a result of the pervasive unrest then could happen now. Those who are being churned into a collective frenzy in their hatred for the man who currently sits in the Oval Office include individuals who only need a push in the right direction to carry that hatred into an act of senseless violence.
It’s all well and good for me to include examples of extreme ignorance, such as the smiling woman with the stupid poster, because I know ignorance when I see it. I also know racism and hate when I see and hear them. But there are people out there who suck up this kind of thing like milk and honey. It nourishes and sustains the hatred that is already part of their make up, and it is precisely this segment of the population that scares the living crap out of me.
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana’s quote is often repeated with variations, but the fact remains that Charlotte Essman’s letter could have been written yesterday.
More later. Peace.
Jann Arden and Jackson Browne singing “Unloved”