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The JFK Assassination’s Continued Importance
It shocked the world and soured American liberalism.


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Daniel Pipes

In three main ways, the JFK murder still has repercussions for Americans and the world. It also has a unique place in my life.

First, had the assassination attempt not succeeded, arguably neither the Vietnam War nor the Great Society expansion of government would have afflicted the United States as they did. The Virtual JFK: Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived project concludes that “JFK would have continued to resist a US war in Vietnam. Even though the Saigon government, weak and corrupt, was destined for the dustbin of history, he would have resisted those calling on him to send US combat troops to Vietnam. He might have ended all military involvement.”

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As for government expansion, American historian Don Keko writes that Kennedy “lacked Lyndon Johnson’s legislative abilities which would have doomed much of what became known as the Great Society. . . . Without the Great Society, the nation does not experience massive budget deficits and the economy would have been stronger.”

Second, Kennedy’s assassination profoundly impaired American liberalism. James Piereson’s 2007 book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution (Encounter) establishes how liberals could not cope with the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald, a Communist, murdered Kennedy to protect Fidel Castro’s control of Cuba. Kennedy died for his anti-Communism; but this wildly contradicted the liberals’ narrative, so they denied this fact and insisted on presenting Kennedy as a victim of the radical Right, reading Oswald out of the picture.

Piereson ascribes much of American liberalism’s turn toward anti-American pessimism to this “denial or disregard” of Oswald’s obvious role in the assassination: “The reformist emphasis of American liberalism, which had been pragmatic and forward-looking, was overtaken by a spirit of national self-condemnation.” Blaming American culture writ large for Kennedy’s demise changed liberalism’s focus from economics to cultural equity (racism, feminism, sexual freedom, gay rights), and that led liberals to identify with the countercultural movement of the late 1960s. The result was what Piereson calls a “residue of ambivalence” toward the worth of traditional American values.

Liberals remain trapped by this distortion, as manifested by, for example, Michelle Obama‘s 2008 remark that with her husband’s ascent, “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country,” or by a New York Times article this week that blamed Dallas conservatives, rather than a hard-left drifter, for the JFK assassination.

Third, the Oswald-Ruby catastrophe created an abiding fascination with crazy conspiratorial ideas among otherwise sane people. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll asked, “Do you think that one man was responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy, or do you think that others were involved in a conspiracy?” In reply, 61 percent said others were involved and only 30 percent said one man.


JFK Remembered
As the nation remembers the presidency of John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his death on November 22, here’s a look back at images of Kennedy from his 1960 campaign and during his time as the 35th President of the United States.
THE CAMPAIGN: Kennedy arrives at Los Angeles International Airport on his way to the Democratic Party convention.
Kennedy announces his candidacy for president to convention delegates at the Los Angeles Coliseum, July 15, 1960.
Kennedy aboard his campaign plane.
Kennedy talks with a farmer during a campaign visit to Fort Dodge, Iowa.
Kennedy speaks to garment workers at a factory in downtown Los Angeles, Calif.
Kennedy with Republican nominee Richard M. Nixon during one of their historic presidential debates.
Kennedy (lower right) greets a rally of some 20,000 supporters outside a hotel in Minneapolis, Minn.
John and Jacqueline during a ticker-tape parade in New York City.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE: Kennedy delivers his inaugural address in Washington, D.C.
John and Jacqueline share a moment in the Capitol Hill rotunda shortly after he was sworn in as president.
The First Couple attend the inaugural ball.
Attorney General Robert Kennedy and President Kennedy talk during escalating tensions with the Soviet Union over missile emplacements in Cuba.
Kennedy stands before a large map of Laos during a televised news conference on foreign policy.
Vice president Lyndon Johnson (left), President Kennedy, and Jacqueline stand in the White House secretary’s office as they watch news coverage of astronaut Alan Shepard becoming the first American in space.
News crews fill the Oval Office for a presidential address on Kennedy’s talks with Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev and French President Charles de Gaulle.
Kennedy at his desk in the Oval Office after signing a presidential proclamation concerning the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Kennedy with Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev at the Vienna Summit in Austria.
Kennedy speaks to a cheering crowd at City Hall in West Berlin, Germany.
Kennedy delivers his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in West Berlin, Germany.
Kennedy (third from right) meets with civil rights leaders prior to the March on Washington in August, 1963. The Reverend Martin Luther King is seen at left.
FAMILY MAN: The First Family and their dogs at Hyannis Port, Mass.
Kennedy in the Oval Office with Caroline and John Jr.
Kennedy and three-year-old daughter Caroline exit a White House elevator.
John and Jacqueline watch the 1962 America’s Cup competition aboard USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., off Newport, R.I.
The Kennedy Clan (from left): Robert, Edward, and John Kennedy in Washington, D.C.
PRESIDENTIAL AFFAIRS: Kennedy on the tarmac in West Palm Beach, Fla., on his way back to Washington after a tour of Latin America.
Kennedy with Mexican president Adolfo Lopez Mateos during a ticker-tape parade in Mexico City.
Kennedy greets residents of Galway during a visit to Ireland.
Kennedy inspects the Friendship 7 Mercury-program space capsule with astronaut John Glenn (left) and Vice President Johnson at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Kennedy watches a Polaris missile launch in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Kennedy prepares to throw the ceremonial first pitch in Washington, D.C.
Kennedy speaks at a Democratic Party dinner at the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C., in front of a birthday cake in his honor.
Kennedy in the Oval Office.
A 16-year-old Bill Clinton shakes Kennedy’s hand during an American Legion Boys Nation event.
Kennedy cracks a smile during an interview with CBS Television.
Kennedy jokes with reporters in the White House Rose Garden.
The Kennedys greet well-wishers at Houston International Airport before travelling to Dallas the next day.
The Kennedys arrive at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.
The Kennedys, joined by Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, depart Love Field in the presidential motorcade, November 22, 1963.
Updated: Nov. 21, 2013

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