Friday, November 22, 2013

Dallas, the Valley of Death

Half a century is a good, long time. It is a generation and an half. It is a rarity to live doubly, so much so that the actuary tables stop just before it is reached, at least it was so when i checked last. At 99 years, less than half reach the next year.

I have written these points before. When i was young, many were the homes that had a portrait of our pope John, and our president John. Fifty years ago to-day, sainted John XXIII had been dead for almost six months. And John Kennedy had that unique day which all have only once, the day (as the old wills used to have it) that he was both living and dead. It was an historic moment for our world. What both Johns represented was the hope for a better world. Both men were loved by the world far more so than either their predecessor, or their successor, and that is not meant to detract from those men, but to show the brilliance of the presence of those two men on the world stage.

Now, no person of good will or sound opinion would cast a stone against Pope John; but Kennedy in his private life made great transgressions, and the most obvious were against his wife. But on that last day, it was very apparent Jacqueline loved John. Now of course, in the United States there was a great hatred from the founding against Catholics. Now, there is also partisan politics, and the Republican hatred for Democrats has only grown. Before the drugstores and supermarkets were filled with several tabloid papers of prurient and scurrilous interest geared to sensationalism, and uninterested in decorum, and honesty. In the 1970s and beyond they ran many stories against all the Kennedys. As Catholics became Republicans, the Kennedys became more despised for their politics, and defined as bad Catholics by Republicans whom considered themselves Catholics. These Republicans drank deeply the poison of hatred, and their thirst has not been slaked. Before John Kennedy became president, there were public and private organising against him by Protestants, and foremost were Billy Graham (albeit sub rosa) and Norman Vincent Peale. The John Birchers and other far "right" extremist groups created charges and fictions against Kennedy*. These 'conservative' interests only grew, and merged together. So now, the richer and more publicly religious one has become, the tendency towards greater antipathy to the Democracy. The tipping point came under the reaganistas, and their allies led by the Jerry Falwells.

And Dallas in particular was a city where the establishment (which included the orwellian named Dallas Citizen's Council, which last supported a Democratic presidency in 1932), and other para-political organisations were especially venomous to democracy and Kennedy. The roll call was deep beginning with Major General Edwin Anderson Walker who had been told to resign by Kennedy in 1961 for calling Harry Truman and Mrs. Roosevelt "pink" (meaning soft on communism, or 'fellow travellers') and enforcing his John Birch Society propaganda onto men under his command. Walker made Dallas his home, in 1962 he ran for Texas governor, and lost. He led race riots at the University of Mississippi against the student James Meredith. His commercials on radio included these words:
Mississippi: It is time to move. We have talked, listened and been pushed around far too much by the anti-Christ Supreme Court! a stand beside Governor Ross Barnett at Jackson, Mississippi! Now is the time to be heard! Thousands strong from every State in the Union! Rally to the cause of freedom! The Battle Cry of the Republic! Barnett yes! Castro no! Bring your flag, your tent and your skillet. It's now or never! The time is when the President of the United States commits or uses any troops, Federal or State, in Mississippi! The last time in such a situation I was on the wrong side. That was in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957-1958. This time -- out of uniform -- I am on the right side! I will be there!
On October 24th of 1963, UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson gave a speech in Dallas. Walker arranged a riot of his supporters to heckle Stevenson, and Stevenson was spat upon and struck by a sign, and did not finish his speech. In this, Walker and his allies were supported by the richest man in Texas, H.L. Hunt, the owner of much of the East Texas oil fields.

The pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas was W.A. Criswell from 1944. In 1953 Billy Graham joined his flock. Criswell wrote against Kennedy (and all Catholics) in 1960, for "Roman Catholicism is not only a religion, it is a political tyranny". Criswell was president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1968 to 1970.

The publisher and editorialist of the Dallas Daily News was Ted Dealey (Dealey Plaza was named for his father). His paper was against unions, social welfare, federal aid, the United Nations, and all that sort. He was a (Joe) McCarthyist who saw communists everywhere. Dealey in 1961 inside the White House read a speech to the audience "....We need a man on horseback to lead this nation, and many people in Texas and the Southwest think that you [John Kennedy] are riding Caroline’s tricycle."

Now many of these sort of Texicans called themselves "independent Democrats" at the time, since then they have all become Republicans. Bruce Alger was the Republican congressman from Dallas from 1955 to 1965. Being an elected Republican in the South was then a rarity. When Johnson was campaigning for the vice-presidency, Alger had the slogan  "LBJ Sold Out to Yankee Socialists" printed up. Alger was the only House member against the school lunch programme, Alger is still with us at 95.

John  Kennedy gave us hope. Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama both knew the value of hope for people. But all of these people were hated by those who were against hopeful people. That ugliness is in evidence throughout our land. Now, John Kennedy made mistakes, but he was learning from them, and separating himself from them. John Kennedy had not accomplished much as president, but he was on the cusp of delivering. Kennedy was becoming a better national, and world leader. Glancing at history there are many "what if" moments. We have accepted that this was an American Camelot.

Fifty years ago, the calendar was as it is now. The 22nd was a Friday, and the Thursday next was Thanksgiving. What thoughts were uttered in communal gatherings? There were relatively few Catholics who were "conservative Republicans", Catholic priests did not often take the pulpit to rage against Democrats. What words of sad regrets were said on Sunday the 24th? Monday the 25th was a National Day of Mourning for President Kennedy. Funerals were held that day for John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Officer J.D. Tippit, and Lee Harvey Oswald. John Junior was three years old that day. Does anyone recall a different feel to the short orations before the turkey meal on the 28th?

Dallas Texas† was a center of money, hate, paranoia, and the evil accident of the presence of Lee Harvey Oswald. It is true that Oswald was a lone madman that had his infamous moment on the world's stage, with a mail order twelve dollar gun, and an eight dollar scope. If Oswald was a different man than he was, or not existent, there was the environment for other potential assassins.‡ John Kennedy knew this, his press secretary Pierre Salinger quoted him saying, "If anyone is crazy enough to want to kill a president of the United States, he can do it. All he must be prepared to do is give his life for the president's".
*And we have seen as the Republicans took Tejas, the wretched figures it has thrust upon the American scene has steadily grown.
†Some of this paranoia directed at Kennedy is identical to the paranoia directed at Obama, the only real difference is that the majority of Republicans could publicly deny complicity, and say these 'ultraconservatives' were outside of the party, but to-day it is a rarity to find a Republican who is not infected with this madness.
‡Richard Pavlick was arrested in Florida, on the 15th of December 1960, in a Buick containing dynamite. He was shadowing Kennedy, and waiting for a ripe moment to detonate. [click], and [click].
postscriptum: The Texas trip was looking towards the 1964 election. Kennedy and Johnson were to campaign in Houston, San Antonio, Ft. Worth, and Dallas. That was the only domestic trip that John brought his wife. Kennedy barely defeated Nixon in 1960, but Nixon was defeated in 1962 for California governor. Nixon after that had no interest in running in 1964. He supported Barry Goldwater. The liberal Republican candidates (they existed then) had no chance in the early 1960s atmosphere. Barry Goldwater was going to be the candidate. Most of the country thought Barry Goldwater was too extreme. Anti-catholicism was weaker in 1963 than in 1960. The race and civil rights issue would cost southern votes, but the advantage of incumbency would be there. Kennedy would only have been in electoral jeopardy if he had a continuing cascade of political and economic disasters. I suppose there is always anxiousness for the next election, and the uncertainty of the future, but a Kennedy Goldwater election would have been won by the Democracy, even with a southern hemorrhage.

The crazy and vicious elements, that were evident in Dallas, were all beyond Goldwater. To-day, all those extremists exist. They are all solidly inside the Republican party. Barry Goldwater would have a difficult time making a place for himself in that party to-day.

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