What’s wrong with the right-wing take on JFK

The notion of JFK’s assassination was a turning point is a touchstone of American culture. From the Blabbaholic Right (that would be Rush Limbaugh) to the Latte Sipping, Obamacare-Loving, Liberal Left (that would be me), we agree that things changed on November 22, 1963.

Here’s what Rush said the other day:  The America of the JFK Era Died with him – The Rush Limbaugh Show.

For Limbaugh, and the intellectual right in general, there are two keys to the JFK assassination story.

The first is Oswald’s identity as a communist and man of the left. That proves both the treachery of the left. Oswald embodies the threat that leftism and liberalism poses to all that was good and American. And JFK, now that he’s dead, is one of things that is good and American.

When he was alive, of course, President Kennedy was reviled as threat to all things good and American by the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O’Reillys of the early 1960s. On the right Kennedy was viewed as an effeminate, nigger-loving, liberal dupe of Moscow who preferred riding Caroline’s tricycle to leading the Free World.

The right-wing interpretation of November 22, 1963, usually omits mention that JFK’s murder was greeted with cheers in many places in the South and West. When Vince Salandria went to Dealey Plaza for the first time in 1965, a stranger reminded him that the area had been built during the New Deal. “A socialist president got killed in a socialist plaza,” the man said, pleased with the ways things worked out on November 22. The conservatives who lionize JFK today rarely talk about how the political right violently loathed JFK with the same fervor now directed at the anti-colonialist socialist weakling tyrant who now lives in the White House.

A second common feature of the right-wing interpretations of November 22 is the claim that the liberal response to JFK’s assassination also reveals something essential about liberalism: its decadent and corrupted state. This is Limbaugh’s theme. He’s a gasbag but others make the point more coherently. The looney left of JFK conspiracy theorists embodies something that is wrong with liberalism. In the work of a thoughtful conservative writer like Thom Mallon or a generally conservative Hollywood mythmaker like Tom Hanks, a disdain for JFK conspiracy theorists is part and parcel of a disdain for moralistic liberalism.

The problem with this theme is mostly factual.

First the leading leftist writers in my lifetime  (I.F. Stone, Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, the young Christopher Hitchens) were all adamantly anti-conspiratorial in their understanding of the JFK story. Liberal intellectuals who are open to the idea of a JFK conspiracy (historians Arthur Schlesinger, Douglas Brinkley and Garry Wills for example) are usually not vocal in their belief.

Second, opinion polls have shown that belief in JFK conspiracy theories is common across the political spectrum. And that matches my experience.The liberal left is well-represented in the JFK research community — but so are libertarians. In my experience, many people interested in the JFK story describe themselves as independent, moderate, or middle of the road. This fact will never penetrate the closed mind of a John McAdams, but it is a fact.

Third, there were plenty of highly conservative, non-liberal, steely-eyed political realists on the right who believed JFK had been killed by his enemies. When we speak of Lyndon Johnson or Fletcher Prouty or Win Scott, the label of “looney left” is risible.

Johnson was a corporate Democrat par excellence. Prouty, chief of Pentagon Special Operations in 1963, was an anti-JFK military man. Win Scott, the CIA’s Mexico City station chief, was “to the right of George Wallace,” his assistant Anne Goodpasture told me. Johnson, Prouty, and Scott all came to the conclusion that Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy of his enemies. Liberalism or leftism cannot explain their views.

That’s what’s wrong with right-wing take on JFK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

28 comments

  1. Mark Barsotti says:

    Morbid curiosity, perhaps, led me to click on this link. “El Rushbo’s” assertion that, “…you’ll see in (mainstream) news anniversaries of JFK that it was the conservatives in Dallas that did it… (the assassination)” proves Mr. Limbaugh is, if nothing else, a model of consistency. He knows as little about the media’s latter day take on Dallas as he does about everything else.

  2. In my experience, many people interested in the JFK story describe themselves as independent, moderate, or middle of the road. This fact will never penetrate the closed mind of a John McAdams, but it is a fact.

    You are denying the simple fact, Jeff, that the world of active adamant JFK assassination “researchers” and people intensely interested in the issue leans heavily left.

    Public opinion polls, which register people with only a casual interest in the topic, can’t reflect this.

    The clearest evidence of this is the paucity of conspiracy theorists who believe Castro or the Soviet Union did it.

    The main suspects are the bêtes noires of the left: the CIA, the FBI, anti-Castro Cubans, Texas oil millionaires, and such.

    But the evidence against Castro is just as strong as the evidence against people the left hates — which is to say, pretty much nonexistent.

    It’s true that the world of JFK conspiracy theorists is “scruffy left,” and excludes the liberal mainstream media and the hard semi-Marxist left.

    But that it learns left is hard to deny.

    • Bill Pierce says:

      McAdams writes:
      “But that it learns left is hard to deny.”

      No! It’s the “rational” position.

      And labeling has reached the point of absurdity. Example . . .

      For decades US citizens have been forced to tolerate a failed economic system called neo-liberalism. Originally it was called Reaganomics. Deregulation, privatization and tax relief for the wealthy are its goals. Presumably Reagan is considered conservative. Neo-liberalism (supply side) was actually the wet dream of soulless libertarian Milton Friedman.

      Self-avowed Republican-libertarian Greenspan is a rabid advocate of neo-liberal policies. DINO Clinton pushed those policies too, signing off on NAFTA and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act which was overlorded through congress by Republican ghoul Phil Gramm. Islamo-fascist-commie-Marxist Obama is on the same neo-lib train.

      So how do you tell who’s left and who’s right?

      • Thank you for making my point for me.

        • JSA says:

          I disagree that most JFK conspiracists are “scruffy left”. I would say instead that most people in the Establishment: Left, Right and Center, are less prone to think there was a conspiracy, especially involving CIA. But even among those people in the Establishment, I heard my dad say that he always suspected LBJ. He was hardly a hippie protestor as he sported a Haldeman-style crew cut long after they went out of fashion, and was proud of his Cold War related defense work. Prior to voting for JFK in 1960 he told me he had always voted for Republicans, and used to joke about “to err is Truman.” After JFK was gone, he called himself an “independent” voter. I think it’s the baby boomer conservatives who are trying to lump everyone into the same category, in a revisionist, post-modern rewrite attempt of history.

    • Paulf says:

      The reason there is a paucity of theorists who blame Castro is because there is no evidence in that direction! Plus, the fact that elements in the intelligence community were trying to pin the blame on him almost immediately is evidence that they were at the very least trying to use the assassination rather than solve it, and at the most were trying to cover their own tracks,

      Anybody who thinks we have a liberal media today is not living in reality.

      • The reason there is a paucity of theorists who blame Castro is because there is no evidence in that direction!

        Actually, there is, but it’s of the same (weak) sort as evidence against the CIA, the anti-Castro Cubans, etc.

        Plus, the fact that elements in the intelligence community were trying to pin the blame on him almost immediately

        Actually, no. Jeff seems to assume that the DRE were acting at the explicit direction of the CIA, but his own essay shows that the CIA told them to hold off blaming Castro.

        Jeff’s own book shows that, in Mexico City, both Phillips and Win Scott were reticent to blame Castro — critical of the Alvarado claims, for example.

        • anonymous says:

          J. McAdams: “but his own essay shows that the CIA told them to hold off blaming Castro.”

          But the CIA didn’t tell the DRE to Not blame Castro – just hold off.

    • Neil says:

      It seems like most 1st Generation JFK assassination researchers were Liberal. However, I have to agree with Jeff. Belief in a conspiracy to murder Kennedy today spans the entire political spectrum.

      Likewise, there are as many vocal Leftist personalities today who mock the idea of a conspiracy(Max Holland, Vince Bugliosi, etc).

  3. Allen Lowe says:

    as usual John McAdams writes with an absence of fact- I could say he uses factoids, but, for reasons of good taste, will not – because most of those that I know who populate the pro-conspiracy side are traditional and very moderately-oriented liberals; the ‘scruffy left,” as he likes to call it, has virtually, to it’s own detriment, no interest in the assassination.

    • So you’re admitting the JFK conspiracy culture leans left.

      By “scuffy” I mean non-establishment liberals, as opposed to the people who run the mainstream (liberal) media, or the liberals who are history professors. As for “moderate:” perhaps a bit idiosyncratic — compared to those two groups — but still leaning clearly left.

      Another way to think about it would be “those who are in thrall of Camelot.” While people I would call “mainstream liberals” now recognize some of Kennedy’s faults and limitations (reckless sexual behavior, slowness getting on the Civil Rights movement) and his strongly hawkish views on foreign policy, the Camelot crowd doesn’t.

      • RJ says:

        Somehow I don’t equate support of a united Congo, or expressed interest in a trip to Indonesia as a guest of Sukarno (just to name a few examples) with a hawkish foreign policy, especially not in the late ’50’s-early ’60’s.

        Hawkish policy advocates were strongly urging direct US intervention in Cuba and/or Laos in 1961, let alone during the missile crisis in 1962. Calling JFK a hawk is a flatly incorrect analysis of his policies.

        • Well if you compare him to Goldwater you can make him out to be a dove. But if you compare him to McGovern or Carter, it’s a different matter.

          You might look at some of his rhetoric here:

          http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/goldzwig.htm

          Then you might remember the “missile gap,” and look at his speeches in Texas, where he bragged about his military buildup.

          • Neil says:

            Didn’t Kennedy later admit to people close to him that he exaggerated the Missile Gap for political expediency?

            Either way, I dont think the Missile Gap issue, nor Joe Kennedy’s personal friendship with Joe McCarthy is strong evidence to support the claim that JFK wasn’t a Liberal Dem.

        • Bill Clarke says:

          RJ October 28, 2014 at 5:44 pm

          RJ; “Calling JFK a hawk is a flatly incorrect analysis of his policies.”

          Would “militant dove” feel better for you?

          “In the past 3 years we have increased the defense budget of the United States by over 20 percent; increased the program of acquisition for
          Polaris submarines from 24 to 41; increased our Minuteman missile purchase program by more than 75 percent; doubled the number of strategic bombers
          and missiles on alert; doubled the number of nuclear weapons available in the strategic alert forces; increased the tactical nuclear forces deployed in Western Europe by over 60 percent; added five combat ready divisions to the Army of the United States, and five tactical fighter wings to the Air Force of the United States; increased our strategic airlift capability by 75 percent; and increased our special counter-insurgency forces which are engaged now in South Viet-Nam by 600 percent. I hope those who want a stronger America and place it on some signs will also place those figures next to it.” ——-John F. Kennedy, November 22, 1963.

          • JSA says:

            I admit that I liked JFK too, but I also suspect him and his brother of playing dirty politics, especially in West VA in the primaries in 1960, against HHH. Also, just as FDR did some unseemly things like intern the Japanese-Americans in WW2, that doesn’t mean he was all bad or that you could neatly place him in a box. JFK had flaws, and he was a politician who bended his speeches to fit the group he was talking to. So did George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, for that matter. I’ve read the entire Lincoln-Douglas debates, and you can read hypocrisy in what Lincoln said about slavery in northern Illinois vs. downstate. That’s just what politicians say.

            Kennedy’s actions were not entirely hawkish however. His speeches could be, no doubt about that. But his lack of commitment in Berlin while the wall went up, his unwillingness to go along with CIA and launch air strikes in Cuba, then again in 1962 during the crisis when his own generals called him a traitor (on tape!!) makes me think painting him as a “militant dove” is a bit too simplistic.

      • Jonathan says:

        Intellectual and political frameworks for analyzing the JFK assassination are parlor games.

        The assassination boils down to bluntly simple questions. Such as, are the extant x-rays supposedly of JFK’s skull genuine or not? Such as, is the Z-film a believable record of what happened in Dealey Plaza?

        JFK Facts ought focus on these bluntly simple questions, IMO. And avoid issuing any invitation to discuss the assassination in Left-Right terms, which as John McAdams proves is just a distraction.

      • lysias says:

        I can’t remember the last time I read anybody denying that JFK was reckless sexually. It must have been a long time ago.

        • I can’t remember the last time I read anybody denying that JFK was reckless sexually. It must have been a long time ago.

          Then you might read this:

          http://www.ctka.net/pr997-jfk.html

          • lysias says:

            I’ve only skimmed that piece, so perhaps I haven’t understood it fully, but, as I understand it, DiEugenio complains that critics of JFK concentrate on his sex life, not because JFK was not reckless sexually, but because he thinks his sex life is basically irrelevant to the real issues and is a standard discrediting technique.

          • JSA says:

            Being “sexually reckless” could cover so many political leaders as to be a laughable charge. The same charge was published against Thomas Jefferson by Alexander Hamilton. It’s as old as the Republic. I guess if it works against your opponent to score points, it will continue to be used. As for myself, I don’t turn away from this kind of gossip, but I also don’t find it to be very useful in measuring whether a leader is effective or not.

  4. Ronnie Wayne says:

    Excellent Mr. Morley! I endure a otherwise “good” boss daily, but he listens to rush and it makes me sick, but I bite my tongue.

  5. Eddy says:

    I think there are three, not two sides to the debate as Mr Morley alludes to. Left, Right and those more driven by a desire for democratic government.
    The phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ sometimes clouds the issue. There are nuts who are fascinated by the ghoulish mechanics of the assasination, but to me of far more importance is the distortions and cover-ups after the fact. It is the secondary conspiracy that America must resolve. The secondary conspiracy may or may not have involved people from the right, but the ongoing damage to democracy is the main issue in my view.

  6. Reber says:

    The Author uses LEFT and LIBERAL interchangeably. That may be understandable in our day, but it is revisionist to extend that back in time to the 1960’s. A Liberal of the 1960’s would be shocked to hear that Liberal and Left were not in fact enemies. JFK was a Liberal, but was not LEFT. Indeed his primary fight in life after fighting Japanese fascism physically and Nazism Intellectually (i.e. his booklet “While England Slept”) was to fight the Left. He confronted and denounced all the major world personalities of the Left as enemies of Freedom and Liberal Society. All his military interventions were against leftist regimes. His idea of freedom was not our new notion of economic freedom at the expense of Liberty. His idea of free speech left no room for today’s college campus speech codes. His support of Israel was a liberal necessity, but the left has the opposite view of Israel. In his day unions were anti-Communist. Joe Lieberman is a lonely relic of JFK’s idea of a liberal, but who would say Lieberman is left? Does any of this make him a republican? No. But who would say today his positions sound more like the Democrat platform? The country would be more united if his party had retained his values.

  7. Mariano says:

    The Right Wing take on JFK is largely a propagandist attempt to take some of the heat away from the many right wing political failures of the 1960’s. JFK was seen by his powerful philosophical opponents to be the antithesis of what they stood for and supported. He was seen as a threat to the aggressive/ non conforming intelligence agencies, corrupt and powerful corporate and military sector interests, and the vehemently anti-communist elements of society.

  8. CAROLYN webb says:

    Every leader of every nation is NEVER popular with ALL the people in his or her nation and that is why every leader has had their lives threatened by people on BOTH sides of the political fence (Left AND Right Wingers) and when people who hate a national leader (both Left AND Right Wingers) that people from BOTH sides may form a conspiracy because of their common cause and common goal-assassinate the leader they oppose even though their reasons for doing so are not the same. I believe Lee Oswald had the gun in his hams and he was in the school text book depository building firing bullets at President Kennedy and it is likely that at least one of the bullets he fired was the fatal one but I do NOT believe he was the only person involved! I believe that the Texas Millionaire Oil Tycoons and the Religious Right Wing White Supremacists were the authors of the plot to kill JFK and they employed people like Lee Oswald to be their hit men. The Texas Millionaires who did not want their taxes increased to pay for social programs that help poorer people and the White Supremacists who did NOT want publi. Schools integrated and better job
    Opportunities and voting rights given to Black people, Mexican
    People and Native Americans felt they had the
    Most to lose by letting JFK live long enough to win a second term in office

    • “and they employed people like Lee Oswald to be their hit men.” ~CAROLYN webb

      And why would they hire someone who is clearly NOT a shootist? Someone with meager marksmanship to be one of the main assassins?
      I think the notion is preposterous given the choice of expert snipers available to those who obviously could afford the very best.
      \\][//

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