Based on the advance news clippings, Dallas was a very bad place for John F. Kennedy to visit that day. Based on crowds that were beyond adoring, the clippings were wrong and the moment was very right.
Then, gunshots. Mortal wounds.
Dallas survived, but its convalescence would be excruciating. Few were willing to give it a fair hearing, charged as it was as being Lee Harvey Oswald’s accomplice.
After all, there were those news clippings.
Those clippings, including a hate-filled advertisement in The Dallas Morning News, remained long after Air Force One carried the body away.
Today the question I ask is one that escaped Americans at the time, and still does: Why the hate?
The full-page ad in question, paid for by a group headed by Dallas oil heir Nelson Bunker Hunt, made a slew of conspiratorial claims addressed to Kennedy, principally that he was a pawn of communists.
“Why have you ordered or permitted your brother Bobby, the Attorney General, to go soft on Communists, fellow-travelers, and ultra-leftists?” it spewed.
For the visit, the John Birch Society distributed pamphlets picturing JFK above the words, “Wanted for Treason.”
Among the charges: that Kennedy “consistently appointed anti-Christian officials to federal office,” and that he was complicit of “support and encouragement to Communist-inspired racial riots.” (Most Americans now refer to the latter as the civil rights movement.)
Long a Bircher hotbed, Dallas indeed had an extreme case of extremes. A throng accosted Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson outside the Adolphus Hotel in 1960, screaming and spitting at them for his having joined JFK’s ticket. A crowd treated U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson similarly shortly before Kennedy’s arrival in 1963 — one woman clocking Stevenson over the head with her sign.
This is not an attempt to psychoanalyze Dallas all over again, something that was never necessary. What occurs to me, 50 years this month after the horror, is this question:
Why such hate anywhere? And directed at any such man?
John Kennedy as a conduit of communism. Wow. Promoting “Communist-inspired racial riots.” Really.
By any political yard stick, Kennedy was a pragmatist. On social justice of all stripes, he was decidedly incremental. His boldest domestic move wasn’t about elevating people of color but sending Americans up in space suits.
The ideological viciousness which littered Dallas’ streets, ignored by most, makes one wonder about conditions today.
Historian Darwin Payne, a Dallas newspaperman when JFK was shot, said this in a recent Dallas Morning News retrospective about Nov. 22, 1963:
“When I hear some people express hatred for (President) Obama, it feels the same.”
I don’t want to assume it to be so, but how does it feel to you?
For five years, the frothy right has been like a pock-marked 45 rpm recording. “Socialist.” “Communist.” It has tried to convince Americans that President Obama (“Hussein” is his middle name!) is not one of us.
When Ted Cruz’s father told a crowd that the president should “go back to Kenya,” the senator said it was just a joke. To that claim, we award one yuck.
“Obama’s no Christian,” goes the warped and crackling appeal. He’s a madrassa baby, Baby.
It’s been tried before, folks. One of the claims in the anti-Kennedy John Birch Society pamphlets in Dallas was that he had been married once before — and not just to anyone, to a German.
Well, Brother John B.: That fellow traveler, John Kennedy, was one of us.
I know, as you pointed out repeatedly, he was a Catholic. When JFK was seeking the presidential nomination, Hunt’s father H.L. — paid to reprint a sermon by W.A. Criswell of First Baptist Church of Dallas warning that under a Kennedy presidency the pope would dictate U.S. policy. Oh, yeah.
And you know? Americans just wouldn’t listen.
History tells us that they were either much smarter, or much weaker, than the professionally irate among them.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: email@example.com.