An Anniversary and Warning about Extremism

This month marks the 46th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. We all remember that the assassin was a deranged, dysfunctional radical. But many — especially, of course, those of us born afterward — might not remember the hate and extremism that framed President Kennedy’s trip to Texas that November. Mark Warren, writing for Esquire, recalls it. And he worries about similarities to today:

“As I am from Texas, home over the years to some of the most wonderful and ridiculous members of congress, sometimes situated in the same person, I thought of my home delegation, and in my mind formed the image of the skinhead reprobate from Tyler, Louie Gohmert. Characterized chiefly by the blankness behind his eyes, Gohmert has the face of a hooligan and the politesse to match. Stinking of contempt, no greater reactionary is to be found in the Congress today. And certainly it is people like him who have abetted the toxic atmosphere that holds in our current politics. He has screamed that the president is a ‘socialist!’ perhaps louder and longer than anyone else in his caucus (which is quite a distinction), he is a birther who believes that Obama is an alien Muslim, and he has said that the president’s health care plan will ‘absolutely kill senior citizens. They’ll put them on lists and force them to die early.’

So as I thought about Congressman Gohmert, I decided that he is either a demagogue, a fool, or both. . . . [H]ere I suppose I am addressing the law of unintended consequences. If you with abandon promulgate such outlandish distortions of the truth, and feel it your duty to stoke the fires of our baser instincts to the point of hysteria over the utter destruction of the American system, do you bear responsibility when someone who ingests your bile responds violently?”

To be clear, Warren isn’t blaming President Kennedy’s murder that day on right-wing extremism. But he notes that such extremism was evident even in the reactions of some people to that horrible event. He also reproduces a letter from an East Texan to President Johnson two days later. The note is a poignant reminder that extremism is a dangerous infection bound by neither time nor place.

And that reminder becomes clearer when we recall that the Texas Republican Party feels it appropriate to have as its leader today someone who compares our nation’s current president to Adolf Hitler and viciously attacks the faith and motivations of anyone who doesn’t share her political views.

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10 Comments

  1. Cytocop
    Posted December 1, 2009 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    To Robert Davis: Your shouting aside, who do you propose would collect and distribute this crisis money other than a government agency? A private? Are private companies any more reliable than the government? Privates are for profit, and last year’s meltdown proves privates are no more reliable or honest than government.

    Right now, it’s not the government that is “sopping up” every last cent I have. It’s my bank – which you and I bailed out! Why? Because the banks own the government! So you may have some good ideas but they are circular because they ignore the reality of the revolving door between Wall Street and Government. Need proof? Check out Timothy Geithner’s background.

  2. ROBERT DAVIS
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    AUSTIN HAS ALWAYS BEEN A VERY TOLERANT CITY AND I AM PROUD OF THAT AS I GREW UP HERE. AUSTIN NEEDS TO GET EXCITED ABOUT INDIVIDUAL INITIATIVE AND LESS GOVERNMENT. THE KATRINA SYNDROME ALWAYS KILLS A GOVERMENT PROGRAM. IF WE HAD 20% TAX CREDITS AS INDIVIDUALS WHEN CRISIS COMES WE COULD EASILY RAISE THE MONEY TO CURE OUR OWN PROBLEMS LIKE YOU SEE ON EXTREME MAKEOVER. CITIZENS COMING OUT TO HELP A FELLOW CITIZEN IN TROUBLE IS WHAT MAKES AMERICA UNIQUE. WE NEED TO KEEP THE CRUMY POLITICIANS IN THE DISTRICT OF CORRUPTION FROM SOPPING UP EVERY LAST CENT FROM ALL SO WE HAVE MONEY TO REALLY SOLVE OUR SOCIAL PROBLEMS. THIS NOTION THAT YOU RUN TO THE GOVERNMENT EVERY TIME A CRISIS COMES IS THE WORST THING YOU COULD DO. LETS DO IT IN OUR OWN CITIES AND TELL THEM TO LEAVE US THE MONEY TO GET THE JOB DONE.

  3. Charles
    Posted November 24, 2009 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Thanks Marilyn. I bet Jack Kennedy was looking forward to a nice weekend. Monday would have been more appropriate. The whole Viet-Nam debacle might have been avoided, but here is the real tragedy.

    More than 58,000 of our kids died over in that worthless jungle. Their service was greatly appreciated. However, as a practical matter, it did not pan out for us because it was supposed to stop the spread of communism. In the end, expansionist communism stopped itself—making all of those American deaths effectively unnecessary and irrelevant on the world stage.

    Here is the real killer though. I have two friends who were hired by the Vietnamese government to propsect for offshore oil in the South China Sea. They were a little uneasy about going because they thought everyone over there would hate them because of the war. They went over there anyway and were pretty much free to move around and really get to know average people. As it turnd out, the Vietnamese people (Old North Vite-Nam and South Viet-Nam now combined) love Americans. Ordinary Americans are movie stars in the eyes of the people, and they will treat you that way too. We blew their country all to Hades, stripped the jungle with agent orange, and maimed assorted people (as they also did to our kids) and they love us like we did the Beatles in 1964. Whoda thunk it?

  4. Marilyn Savitt-Kring
    Posted November 24, 2009 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    November 22, 1963 was on a Friday. I was a junior in high school. JFK’s funeral was on that following Monday, and school in NM was closed that day.

  5. trog69
    Posted November 23, 2009 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Wow, what a bunch of old fogies. I was a wee lad of 4 when President Kennedy was killed, and all it meant to me was that my cartoons were canceled for THREE WHOLE DAYS!!!!

  6. Cytocop
    Posted November 23, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Charles, thanks for the reminder. I’m sure it was a Friday. But I don’t remember if we went to school on Monday or not. If it was a national day of mourning, then we must not have gone. Maybe I was still sick and didn’t go anyway; maybe that’s what’s causing my memory to hiccup.

  7. Charles
    Posted November 22, 2009 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Cytocop:

    I couldn’t remember what day of the week November 22, 1963 was. If it was a Friday, then the national day of mourning I mentioned must have been on the following Monday, which is when I would have been out of school.

  8. Cytocop
    Posted November 22, 2009 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Charles’ posting above brought back melancholy memories for me.

    Until November 22, 1963, the only meaning this date had for me was that it was my parents’ wedding anniversary. I was 13 and in 7th grade on 11/ 22/63. I was home sick in bed with a bad cold. My sister arrived home some time around 1:30 unexpectedly. I overheard my mother ask my sister why she was home. My sister, excited and shaken, said the president had been shot and killed. We were so shocked we were speechless. The TV was turned on and remained on for the rest of the day and evening. I felt so sad and frightened that night. I didn’t figure out until years later what might have been behind my sadness and fear: ‘If “they” can get the president, “they” can get anyone.’

    I remember the assassination taking place on a Friday so there was no need to cancel school next day; next day would have been Saturday and we didn’t have school on Saturday anyway.

    It left a big impression on me. I’ve visited the Sixth Floor Museum in the TX School Book Depository Building at Dealey Plaza in Dallas several times. And with every visit I still am overcome with sadness. Dealey Plaza has changed very little since that day. Only the letters at the top of the building that read Texas School Book Depository have been removed.

    Ever since 11/22/63 I’ve never been completely trusting. All the years of lies during the Vietnam War, the shock of the MLK and RFK assassinations, and then Watergate – plus the lies surrounding JFK’s assassination have done nothing to alleviate my mistrust. I’ve been hopeless and pessimistic ever since. I’ve seen very little reason to be optimistic.

    I don’t think I will ever get over the significance of this date.

  9. Charles
    Posted November 22, 2009 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    I was in my 5th grade classroom when President Kennedy was killed. It was a cloudy day outside, and they had avoided telling us anything about the shooting until just a few moments before school was out at 3: 00 p.m. School was cancelled the next day for a declared national day of “morning.” I remember asking myself over and over again, “How can they make it be morning all day?” Of course, it was a national day of “mourning,” and old Mrs. Carr had obviously fallen down on her language arts teaching.

    If memory serves, I was a pretty good news junky even at 11 years old. Walter Cronkite was my favorite. I don’t recall anything about Texas extremism being associated with his trip to Dallas. It was always my understanding that Kennedy’s poll numbers were going south and the Democrats were really worried about whether they could hold on to the White House and their numbers in Congress in autumn of 1964. The Dallas trip, among others, was targeted at shoring up support for the election in the following year.

    However, I do know this and hope any right-wing extremist who might read this will consider it. November 22, the day Kennedy was shot, is my wife’s birthday. She was about 8 or 9 years old when it happened. The death of the President was really hard on her. Of course, she was too young to know anything about “liberals” or “conservatives,” and there was no political polarization, as we have today. She was just a little girl with blonde hair who was enormously sad that someone had killed a young President. Didn’t the person who did it realize that the President was married to a mommy and he had two kids not much older than me? Worst of all, it happened on her birthday. It was a sad birthday present for a little girl? Moreover, her birthday would now live forever in infamy. It left real emotional scars that have lasted a lifetime. So, if you are thinking about doing some terrible act to defend conservatism, stop for a few minutes and think about all of the innocent kids across the country that will be scarred for life by what you do. Please reconsider.

  10. Cytocop
    Posted November 22, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    The right wing NRA loves to say “guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” They have a point. This trolling for an assassin that the GOP and FAUX News are engaged in is truly scary. It also points out how ridiculously stupid the GOP is. If Pres. Obama were to die during his term, Vice President Joe Biden would rise to the presidency. Er, isn’t that what’s written in the Constitution – and we all know how desperate the GOP and its adherents are to abiding by the Constitution. So, they’d still be “stuck” with a Democratic president until 2012 and would not have gained any ground at all.

    ‘Course, these conservative wacko teabaggers and birthers are so crafty they’d probably make the assassination look like a terrible “accident.” Better yet, that a Muslim terrorist did the dastardly deed. Heck, I can picture these wackos PAYING a terrorist to knock off the president. I don’t put a thing past them; they and their evil minds are capable of anything.

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