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JFK, Gabrielle Giffords, and the Return of the End of Camelot

Posted on January 11 2011 8:00 am
Seth Mandel is the former managing editor of four New Jersey-based newspapers, where he won awards for his coverage of the Middle East and Russia. He has appeared on Shalom TV's current affairs roundtable. He is currently based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @SethAMandel
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The pretrial killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby did sustained and perhaps irrevocable damage to the liberal movement in American politics. That’s because, as perceptively noted by James Piereson in 2007:

“If Ruby had not intervened, Oswald probably would have tried to stage some kind of ‘show’ trial in which Kennedy’s policies in Cuba would have been raised as a central issue. Oswald proudly acknowledged that he was a Communist. If the case had been brought to trial, Oswald would have certainly been convicted. In that case, it would have been far more difficult for liberals and the Kennedy family to maintain that JFK was killed because of his support for civil rights. There would have been less talk of conspiracies; less anti-Americanism from the left; perhaps it would have further reinforced the anti-communism of post-war liberalism. There is no question that Ruby changed the equation a great deal.”

In the wake of the attempted assassination of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, commentators on both the left and the right have noted the parallels to the Kennedy assassination. On the left, claims about “right-wing” speech creating an atmosphere of danger cropped up immediately. On the right, it was noted that this was exactly what the left did after Kennedy’s death, and that in both cases there was no evidentiary standing for the claim.

Far more important to the story is the way in which the tragedy revealed not how leftists feel about the right—that much we know by the multitude of times well-known leftists publicly wished death on prominent Republicans—but how they feel about this country. Piereson, author of Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism, noted that because to liberals the nation at large was responsible for the death of the president, the tragedy revealed the evil lurking beneath the surface of the American people.

And nothing, not even the Sept. 11 terror attacks, could dent the armor of disdain liberals wore when talking about the United States:

“In particular, some felt that the attacks might drive out of our politics the tone of anti-Americanism that had been a key feature of the American Left from the 1960s forward. That did not really happen. The liberal movement today remains far more the product of the 1960s than of the terrorist attacks and their aftermath. Indeed, the terrorist attacks now seem to have had very little effect on the thinking of American liberals who view the war on terror and the war in Iraq through the lenses of the Vietnam War. That is not true of conservatives. In that sense, the terrorist attacks have simply deepened the divide between liberals and conservatives. What is surprising, then, is what little enduring effect the terrorist attacks have had, particularly for liberals.”

The left has thus far strenuously avoided seeking the shooter’s true motives because, at an elementary level, the left doesn’t really blame the shooter. They blame the “aura of hate,” as New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell described it, then despicably implicating Fox News in an interview with the Bergen Record. And no, leftists are not only faulting Republicans when they talk this way. After all, a recent Gallup poll showed that more than 50 percent of the tea party’s members are not registered Republicans.

That doesn’t mean they are not conservative on some issues, as Greg Sargent correctly noted, but that’s the point. Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas put a bulls-eye on Giffords precisely because she’s a moderate Democrat. (This in no way should be taken as implicating Markos in what happened to Giffords; I’m simply illustrating that moderate Democrats are not exempted from liberal fury.)

This, at least in part, explains the reaction from the left at the suggestion of American Exceptionalism. When National Review published a cover story on the concept, The New Republic reacted with horror, advising that, as they understood it, the NR article’s premise “should disgust all historically informed citizens.” When Marco Rubio won his Florida Senate seat trumpeting American Exceptionalism, Peter Beinart ranted about such a “lunatic notion.” The Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson got a chuckle out of Michael Kinsley’s Politico column titled “U.S. is not greatest country ever.” (Take that Senator Rubio.)

The left simply doesn’t much care for the idea that the U.S. is essentially a source of good in the world, because most leftists believe the opposite: the U.S. is innately malevolent. The left doesn’t actually oppose creating a “climate of hate,” as long as the hate is directed at the right person or institution. As if to underscore this point, and the statement by Piereson that even in the wake of 9/11 liberals have remained unchanged, in 2004 The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait wrote a column called “The Case For Bush Hatred.” He was admittedly attempting to create an atmosphere of hate.

Aside from being the magnum opus of leftist anti-intellectualism, Chait’s article was a perfect example of why the left’s accusations in the Giffords shooting were so disingenuous.

Before he passed away, Ted Sorensen, the late speechwriter for John F. Kennedy, named Barack Obama as heir to his former boss. His comparisons were actually quite reasonable, but the description of Sorensen as he spoke to the U.K. Telegraph caught my attention (emphasis mine): “Ted Sorensen, 79, Mr Kennedy’s chief speechwriter, slipped into the present tense as he was transported back to 1960, when another youthful senator espousing hope and change was being written off by the Establishment.”

For the left, it is always the 1960s. And it is always America’s fault.

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