BAYHAM: America’s Kennedy Assassination Fixation, 50 Years Later

The other day I received a rather odd email from the NFL with the subject line, “NFL Media Recognizes the 50th Anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s Assassination.”

The press release detailed several tangential connections between the league and football in general to what happened on November 22, 1963 and the Kennedy family’s “love of the game.”

A few days later President Barack Obama visited Kennedy’s grave at Arlington Cemetery to pay tribute to the man whose younger brother and daughter provided critical support in his quest for the Democratic nomination.

Obama was joined by former President Bill Clinton, who packaged his White House candidacy as the Baby Boomer heir apparent to Kennedy.

To further that end, Clinton’s presidential campaign aggressively pushed a picture that was taken of him young man as a meeting JFK.

Television programming about the assassination and the conspiracy theories that developed around Kennedy’s murder have flooded the airwaves.

Why is there so much interest in the death of a president a half century later?

Emotional Attachment: Kennedy was truly the first president made for television. America has had celebrity presidents before (primarily military figures) but we had never had a glamor president. The handsome and charismatic Massachusetts politician was not shy about running on his looks. His standard campaign poster from 1960 featured his picture as did his bumperstickers and campaign hats.

Kennedy further pushed the glamor angle by putting a spotlight on his stylish and elegant wife. Jack and Jackie went from being a public servant and a hostess to becoming cultural fixations. In a way, the Kennedys became America’s first reality show, though with a generous amount of airbrushing by a compliant media.

People went from holding White House occupants in reverence to developing an unhealthy emotional attachment to them. They were the beaux ideal of the nation. America respected the Eisenhowers; they loved the Kennedys. Through this appeal to people’s emotions, the Kennedys would change politics forever, as connecting with the public raised in importance over capacity to perform the job or philosophy.

Thus Kennedy’s death was not just that of a national leader but felt by many as a personal loss, like that of a son or boyfriend.

Virtual Witnesses: Though most of Kennedy’s contemporaries have died, there are plenty of people still around who, as school kids, were hastily assembled in school gymnasiums on November 22, 1963 to learn that the president had been shot.

For Baby Boomers the Kennedy Assassination was their first “remember where I was moment”, perhaps the first instance their young minds had ever processed a matter so serious and marked a collective loss of innocence. The Kennedy Assassination would emotionally scar a generation and contribute to turbulent changes in American society in the late sixties and early seventies.

The Fog of Murder: We know that Abraham Lincoln was killed by a Confederate sympathizer, James Garfield mortally wounded by an angry office seeker from a competing intraparty faction and William McKinley was shot by an anarchist. The assassinations were carried out at close range and in each case the gunmen announced their deed with great flourish. There was no mystery or doubt about the true identity of the assassin.

Kennedy was shot from a distance with a rifle by a hidden gunman, with the person arrested turning out to be a far more complicated figure than the other presidential assassins.
Lee Harvey Oswald was a former Marine who moved to the Soviet Union, took a Russian wife and then became disenchanted and returned to the US.

That the Soviets would take him in and then let him go is odd. That America would let him back in might appear that much more strange, though Oswald right to return was legally protected.
Oswald’s political activities and personal associations are curious; his ability to execute the shots on Kennedy’s motorcade questionable; and his own public murder at the hands of Dallas night club operator Jack Ruby reeking of a cover up.

Adding fuel to the conspiracy fire is a bizarre statement Ruby delivered to the press in which he declared “The world will never know the true facts, of what occurred, my motives.”

There has been much speculation about potential beneficiaries from and accessories to Kennedy’s assassination, including the Soviets, Fidel Castro, the military industrial complex (see Oliver Stone), J. Edgar Hoover, LBJ, the Teamsters and organized crime.

The Mob Museum in Las Vegas has an exhibition exploring mafia connections to the president and their possible involvement in his death.

The complexities of the murder and the future release of sealed documents related to it will sustain considerable interest for many years to come.

Political Exploitation by the Left: Using funeral pyres as soap boxes is nothing new, though the Democrats tend to have less reservations about doing so than Republicans (see the Carnahan, Wellstone funerals in the 2000s).

Martyrdom tends to make individuals greater than they truly were. Though the Kennedy Administration was relatively short on substance, there’s no denying his spirit was channeled to advance Lyndon Johnson’s political ambition and his agenda.

Decades removed from the 60s, Kennedy the Legend is still a formidable force, even if the substance of his words don’t penetrate what passes for modern Democratic policy initiatives (RIP, Don’t Ask What Your Country Can Do For You). Kennedy remains a lionized figure and a hero to a party he would hardly recognize.

But the Left has gone beyond hero worship and into vilification by trying to place the TEA Party on the political grassy knoll.

NewsBusters reported on a recent Washington Post article with the title “Tea Party has roots in the Dallas of 1963”, where the writer, University of Texas professor Bill Minutaglio, attempts to link the right wing extremism that was present in Dallas on that fateful day with the grassroots conservative movement that opposes government interference in people’s lives and unsustainable spending.

Fifty years later millions of Americans choose to see in November 22, 1963 what they wish to see: a personal loss or a tragedy that could be used for political gain, a murderous conspiracy of soulless self-interested concerns or the lone violent act of a narcissistic crazy man.

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