1. Camelot. The brief Kennedy years represent for many in the media their own golden moment. JFK was their royalty, their idol, their ideal, their handsome and rich young war hero. Jackie Kennedy was their queen.
And then it was all cut short, like a Shakespearean tragedy or fairy tale. The mythic Camelot fell to lust. The American Camelot fell to an assassin. For those of us who grew up after JFK, it’s all so much history. I grew up around Dallas and heard about the assassination any time I visited anywhere else as a child, and later on I visited the Sixth Floor Museum. It’s haunting but it’s history. For many in that generation, which was mostly born after World War II and then ended up losing Vietnam, JFK provides a meaningful anchor point, or at least a point that they have infused with meaning. Don’t bring up his womanizing or how the Kennedy patriarch behaved toward the Nazis. None of that has any place in the myth.
2. It provides them a chance to bash handy villains they already hate: Dallas, Texas, and the South. Not a JFK anniversary goes by without the New York Times publishing at least one piece blaming the assassination on Dallas, and more broadly on Texas and the South. The fact is, while Dallas had its share of mainstream Kennedy-haters, none of them fired a shot. Texas went narrowly for Kennedy in 1960. Dallas citizens actually turned out on November 22, 1963, to greet the Kennedys warmly. Even the horrible Zapruder film shows happy, cheering crowds lining the streets in Dealey Plaza just to get a glimpse of the First Couple.
One lone nut can change all that, and did, which is unsettling to the point of horror. But Dallas was not and is not to blame, any more than Ford’s Theater is to blame for Abraham Lincoln’s killing. Texas is not to blame. The South is not to blame. But many on the left would rather blame their preferred villains than look at the truth.
3. The truth is more horrible than the fiction. The truth is, the assassination of John F. Kennedy is the killing of one of life’s genetic lottery winners by a small-time loser. If JFK was larger than life, his killer was much smaller than life. The JFK assassination could have been a conspiracy, but it probably wasn’t. The evidence points directly at one man whose ideology, coupled with his combination of grandiosity and mediocrity, led him to kill the president in order to elevate himself.
Lee Harvey Oswald was a Communist who had defected to the Soviet Union, become disillusioned, returned to the U.S., and then supported the Communist Castro regime in Cuba against the United States. He wanted to be a big man. Kennedy, the president of the United States, fit the definition of a Big Man perfectly. He was a resolute anti-Communist. Oswald was a traitor who put his ideology above his country. He was also barely employable because he had no skills apart from rabble rousing. He knew how to use a rifle, and that was the extent of his abilities. Ideologically he may have been the first Occupier. He was someone whose outsized self-esteem frustrated and bedeviled him. It destroyed his marriage. It ultimately cost him and police officer J. D. Tippit and President Kennedy their lives. The killing had no broader meaning. It was the act of a madman taking revenge on the leader of the world because he failed and never fit in. But because he killed a man that the media and left idolized, they infuse his madness with deeper meaning.
But supposing the conspiracies have any truth in them, the villain still is not Dallas or Texas or the South. The villain then is the very government that the left wants to grant more and more power. Oswald is either just a willing participant in a grander scheme, or maybe even a victim himself.
4. What might have been… On CNN, Gerald Posner made this somewhat gruesome point: Kennedy is remembered as “great” mainly because he didn’t have enough time to make too many mistakes.
Would JFK have prevented the Vietnam debacle? We’ll never know? Would the wasteful Great Society programs have happened on his watch? We’ll never know. Would Kennedy have been as effective on civil rights as LBJ turned out to be? JFK’s assassination resonates for the same reason that Marilyn Monroe’s image still sells posters. Their youthful image is all we have, and we can dream and speculate about what might have been, because we were robbed of the reality.
The two most lionized assassinated presidents are very different in this respect. Abraham Lincoln is lionized because of what he did in office. He existed before the media age, when image was far less important than thoughts and action. The first Republican president preserved the Union, he freed the slaves, he was a self-made man and profound thinker and writer and debater who handed down thoughts that we still study and recite today. We just passed the 150th anniversary of his Gettysburg Address, arguably the most important address ever delivered by an American president. In that brief address Lincoln gave meaning to the bloody Civil War that still raged, calling America to a “new birth of freedom, under God” to preserve liberty for future generations.
John Kennedy, on the other hand, is the first media age president. He is lionized mainly due to the possibilities lost because his time was cut tragically short, and because the image of the man is forever young and vigorous.
The two other American presidents who were assassinated while in office, James Garfield and William McKinley, both Republicans, are mostly forgotten.
5. They (we) love a conspiracy theory. For all the left’s talk of devotion to logic and facts, they love to craft and sell conspiracy theories. As soon as a conservative comes along to fund causes they believe in, the left will craft wheels within wheels to explain it all. They will turn the new funder into a boogeyman, an enemy of the state. When a liberal policy fails it’s not their fault, it’s the Republicans’ fault. Barack Obama is particularly fond of that one. The Warren Commission, LBJ’s corruption, the “magic bullet,” Oliver Stone’s JFK — it’s all fertile soil for conspiracies to grow left, right and center. The JFK assassination affords the opportunity to gaze wistfully at a perfect past that never really was, and to blame the usual suspects — the CIA, the military-industrial complex, the South, Republicans — for its demise.
6. He was a Democrat. This is the shallowest reason that Kennedy is still lionized in the media, but it’s a fact that three of the four assassinated presidents were Republicans, yet Kennedy is the only one so revered. Part of that has to do with his timing. Kennedy came after a pragmatic and unglamorous Republican president, Eisenhower, and ahead of a corrupt machine Democrat and then a disgraced Republican. By comparison to the surrounding presidents, JFK was young and glamorous and lost too soon. His spot in history also comes at the dawn of the media age, before the onset of Vietnam, the drug culture, the dissolution of the family and the decline of Western confidence, and before Reagan’s restoration of the latter. In terms of policy, he opposed Communism, sought to keep the Soviets in check, and cut taxes, putting him on the center-right in today’s politics. The fact is, the Bush family is strikingly similar to the Kennedys — wealthy, powerful, producer of dynastic political power — but will never be as lionized by the media, both because of the tragedies that befell the Kennedys, and because the Kennedys are Democrats.
About 90% of the media vote Democratic. When they seek subject matter experts, they tend to gravitate toward fellow liberals and their own institutions. It’s only natural that the same media would lionize Democrats past and present, shielding Obama now, making a statesman out of Bill Clinton, glossing over the failures of the Carter years while whittling away at the successes of the Reagan years. We never hear much about the efficiency of the Eisenhower years or his record on civil rights, but you can’t get Doris Kearns Goodwin to stop talking up how “great” Johnson was despite his obvious corruption.
John Kennedy was a chiseled Democrat who had it all, cut down in his prime. The media mythologize him because they just can’t help themselves.