Sabato ventures where pundits fear to tread

Larry Sabato
Larry Sabato, professor, pundit and JFK author.

Most mainstream political commentators from Rachel Maddow on the left to Bill O’Reilly on the right have embraced the official theory of the assassination of JFK. Others have shied from the complexities and controversies of the subject.

Not Larry Sabato, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia and a prolific pundit with reliably moderate politics. His new book, The Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy, will be published next month.

In an interview with the University of Virginia Magazine Sabato promises he has something new to say about November 22, 1963.

The title of the book offers an approach that seems both ambitious and commensenical. Sabato is not looking solely at JFK’s presidency and he’s not looking solely at the assassination that ended it. Rather, he says he will be using the scientific method to put JFK’s presidency and assassination in historical perspective.

Excerpts from the Q&A interview with Sean Lyons:

Q. There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of books written about John Kennedy. Why would anybody bother reading anything more about him? What’s different about this book?

Sabato: “This is a totally different Kennedy book. It is not fundamentally about his administration or the assassination. It’s about the 50 years since the assassination. It examines the concept of legacy: what is it, how it applies to public office, how it is used to produce power for succeeding presidents. It looks at how presidents since Kennedy used his words and deeds to achieve their own goals.

“Legacy is life after death, and that’s what people have ignored when it comes to Kennedy. The more powerful your legacy is, and the longer it lasts, the more life you have. And there is no one—no one—in modern American history who has had more life after death than Kennedy. He’s the only president in American history that really translates well into the 21st century.

Q. A good chunk of the book focuses on the assassination and some of the related conspiracies, which have been covered a thousand times over. What could you possibly add to that debate?

Sabato: “Academics are steeped in the scientific method, and that can help in some new ways. It isn’t enough just to have a theory of some sort, with bits and pieces of evidence and conjecture thrown together. And with that phrase, I have just described most books on the assassination.

“You’re going to discover that our findings are quite different—and have some well-documented novel twists. But why bother to investigate it again at all? Because this is still an open wound, even after 50 years. A large majority of Americans does not believe the government has told the truth. The Warren Commission is part of the foundation of our modern cynicism, and it must be addressed. So we go through the assassination trail, I think, in a way that will give people a new perspective.”

You can pre-order the book on Amazon here.


7 thoughts on “Sabato ventures where pundits fear to tread”

  1. CIA officer John Whitten is reported to have attended the University of Virginia law school. Whitten resigned as head of the CIA investigation of the assassination in December 1963 when he learned that the information as to Oswald’s FPCC related activities had been withheld from the investigation. Whitten’s action in resigning seems principled, and is said to have cost him further promotion at CIA.

    1. It true. I told Whitten’s story for the first time in an article called “The Good Spy,” published in the The Washington Monthly. Whitten was put in charge of the CIA’s internal review of all information on Oswald.

      But in the first days of December [1963] , Whitten abruptly learned that [deputy director Dick] Helms had not been providing him all of the agency’s available files on Oswald. On Dec. 6, he and a colleague went to the White House to read a report the F.B.I. had been preparing on Oswald. When he finished, he walked out into the cold sunny morning, feeling stunned: The bureau, he realized, possessed information about Oswald’s past political activities that Helms had known but had never shared with him. “Oswald’s involvement with the pro-Castro movement in the United States was not at all surfaced to us [meaning him and his staff] in the first weeks of the investigation,” he later told investigators.


      1. It looks like Larry is getting tired of Charlottesville and wants to mine some of that JFK conspiracy gold. I see that he is heading up to Pittsburg next month.
        Well, so am I. Get ready , folks-for once the “research community” is going to escape the echo chamber.

        1. Photon, can I ask you a question? Is it only “mining for gold” when CT theorists dig for information, publish and charge fees? What about people who write to defend the Lone Gunman theory / Warren Commission? Or those who make movies and charge admission, like the producers of ‘Parkland’? Bill O’Reilly? John McAdams? Did they give their information away for free or did they make any money off of their books and films?

          Let’s be honest with ourselves. BOTH sides are making money off of this. Maybe not you or I. But many people ARE.

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