Parallels with JFK

Rebecca Onion reminds us that this flier was making the rounds in Dallas, Texas in the days before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

It is hard to avoid the parallels to what we are witnessing today. The one big difference is that we’re not just hearing that kind of thing from fringe groups – it is coming directly from the Republican presidential nominee.

That prompted me to go back and re-read something Frank Rich wrote back in 2011 titled, “What Killed JFK: The hate that ended his presidency is eerily familiar.”

But if the JFK story has resonance in our era, that is not because it triggers the vaguely noble sentiments of affection, loss, and nostalgia that keepers of the Kennedy flame would like to believe. Even the romantic Broadway musical that bequeathed Camelot its brand is not much revived anymore. What defines the Kennedy legacy today is less the fallen president’s short, often admirable life than the particular strain of virulent hatred that helped bring him down. After JFK was killed, that hate went into only temporary hiding. It has been a growth industry ever since and has been flourishing in the Obama years. There are plenty of comparisons to be made between the two men, but the most telling is the vitriol that engulfed both their presidencies.

One has to wonder if this kind of hatred is endemic to the “American experiment” or if it is something we will eventually overcome. Luckily, it is not embraced by a majority of people in this country. But based on what we have been witnessing over these last 8 years, it is obviously still alive and well in some quarters and is being exploited by a narcissistic bully in this presidential election.

I’ve been thinking lately that I don’t mind the idea that Republicans disagree with President Obama or Hillary Clinton on policy issues related to things like the size of government and the role of this country around the globe. Those are things that we can discuss. What is unacceptable are accusations like the one’s contained in that flier about “treason;” when opponents suggest that Democratic leaders aren’t patriotic and are accused of giving aid and comfort to the “enemy” (no matter how that is defined). That isn’t about political disagreement – it is about hatred being exploited by leaders in order to gain power. I suppose that as long as citizens in this country are willing to be exploited in that way…the hatred will continue.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.