That being John F. Kennedy, who was gunned down in Dallas, of course.
I've been thinking a lot of Kennedy and Dallas as I've watched the increasingly violent rhetorical attacks on Obama be unfurled. As Americans yank their kids of class in order to save them from being exposed to the President of the United States who only wanted to urge them to excel in the classroom. And as unvarnished hate and name-calling passed for health care 'debate' this summer.
The radical right, aided by a GOP Noise Machine that positively dwarfs what existed in 1963, has turned demonizing Obama--making him into a vile object of disgust--into a crusade. It's a demented national jihad, the likes of which this country has not seen in modern times.
But I've been thinking about Dallas in 1963 because I've been recalling the history and how that city stood as an outpost for the radical right, which never tried to hide its contempt for the New England Democrat.
Now, in this this month's Vanity Fair, Sam Kashner offers up in rich detail the hatred that ran wild in Dallas in 1963. To me, the similarity between Dallas in 1963 and today's unhinged Obama hate is downright chilling.
Kashner's fascinating cover story actually chronicles the professional struggles of writer William Manchester who was tapped by the Kennedy family, after the president's assassination, to write the definitive book about the shooting. The Vanity Fair articles details the power struggles, and epic lawsuits, that ensued prior to Manchester's publication.
But this unnerving passage from VF caught my eye. In it, Kashner retraces Manchester's step as he researched his book. It's unsettling because if you insert "Obama" for every "Kennedy" reference, it reads like 2009:
Manchester also discovered that Dallas "had become the Mecca for medicine-show evangelists … the Minutemen, the John Birch and Patrick Henry Societies, and the headquarters of [ultra-conservative oil billionaire] H. L. Hunt and his activities."
"In that third year of the Kennedy presidency," Manchester wrote, "a kind of fever lay over Dallas country. Mad things happened. Huge billboards screamed, 'Impeach Earl Warren.' Jewish stores were smeared with crude swastikas.…Radical Right polemics were distributed in public schools; Kennedy's name was booed in classrooms; corporate junior executives were required to attend radical seminars."
A retired major general ran the American flag upside down, deriding it as "the Democrat flag." A wanted poster with J.F.K.'s face on it was circulated, announcing "this man is Wanted" for—among other things—"turning the sovereignty of the US over to the Communist controlled United Nations" and appointing "anti-Christians … aliens and known Communists" to federal offices.
And a full-page advertisement had appeared the day of the assassination in The Dallas Morning News accusing Kennedy of making a secret deal with the Communist Party; when it was shown to the president, he was appalled. He turned to Jacqueline, who was visibly upset, and said, "Oh, you know, we're heading into nut country today."
Manchester discovered that in a wealthy Dallas suburb, when told that President Kennedy had been murdered in their city, the students in a fourth-grade class burst into applause.
Today, conservatives are expressing outrage that Rep. Nancy Pelosi had the nerve to raise concerns about the onrush of violent political rhetoric. The Noise Machine claims it has no idea what Pelosi's talking about. But the truth is, America's most famous bouts of political violence (i.e. JFK, Oklahoma City, etc.) have always been accompanied by waves of radical, right-wing rhetoric. Given that history, the GOP's insistence that the hate now filling the streets couldn't possibly inspire violence seems woefully naive.
More than 60 advertisers have reportedly dropped their ads from Glenn Beck's Fox News program since he called President Obama a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred of white people." Here are his September 17 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
From Bill O'Reilly's September 17 column, headlined "Obama and Us":
From my perch in the media, it seems that the president thought the left-wing press would protect him against right-wing media scrutiny. After all, liberal media outlets heavily outnumber their conservative counterparts. But that is not happening. MSNBC and CNN are not competitive with Fox News, and newspapers like the New York Times and the Boston Globe are in serious economic trouble as readers have turned away by the thousands.
In public relations land, the biggest mistake the president is making is avoiding moderate conservatives who would give him a fair shake. This Sunday, Mr. Obama is going on all the Sunday chat shows to talk up health care-all except Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. Bad decision.
Mr. Wallace is no ideologue, and Fox News is dominating the national conversation right now. By avoiding Fox, the President looks weak. I mean, he is preaching to the choir on the network news shows. But the choir is obviously losing members. All the polls show that.
So if I'm Barack Obama, I take the economy, the aggressive stuff I'm doing against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and I bring it over to the loyal opposition. That would get some attention. And it might also bury the ACORN scandal in the process.
After days and days of conservative commentators loudly denying that there was anything racial about the Tea Party protests or the September 12 hissy fit on the National Mall, the Tea Party organizers themselves have decided to take a different, even less coherent approach to the issue of race. According to CNN:
Posters portraying President Obama as a witch doctor may be racist, organizers of Tea Party protests say, but they reflect anger about where he is leading the country.
The posters, showing Obama wearing a feather headdress and a bone through his nose, have recently popped up in e-mails, on Web sites and at Tea Party protests.
The image has stoked debate and cast attention on the rallies, which have drawn people Tea Party organizers describe as on the fringe and not representative of the overall movement. Their general viewpoint, leaders say, is that there's been too much federal government intervention, particularly concerning health care and taxes.
The witch doctor imagery is blatantly racist, critics contend.
Others remind that presidents get made fun off all the time, and the election of a black president has only made racially charged political satire more sensitive.
While not denying the crudeness of the image, Tea Party organizers stressed that those who carry the signs are a few "bad apples."
"That [witch doctor] image is not representative at all of what this movement is about," said Joe Wierzbicki, a coordinator of the Tea Party Express, a three-week series of protests across the country.
The anger the image portrays, however, "says to me that a lot of people in this country are angry about the direction that the administration and Congress are taking us," he said.
"And you're going to see a wide expanse of those people," he continued. "Some are going to be more extreme. Most of them are going to be in the mainstream of American politics, as evidenced by Obama's falling poll numbers."
So ... Wierzbicki acknowledges that the Obama-witch doctor poster is racist and insists it's not representative of the movement, but in the next breath says it does represent the anger in this country towards the president and Congress, which is basically what the Tea Parties are all about, if the Tea Party Express mission statement is to be believed:
At each stop the tour will highlight some of the worst offenders in Congress who have voted for higher spending, higher taxes, and government intervention in the lives of American families and businesses. These Members of Congress have infringed upon the freedom of the individual in this great nation, and its time for us to say: "Enough is Enough!"
I suppose if the next Tea Party rally featured a flaming cross, that would represent their burning desire to stop health care reform.
Following a spate of violence associated with the extreme far-right fringe, Glenn Beck has made a point of portraying the 9-12 protesters and those who sympathize with them as peaceful, civil Americans who are simply engaged in a substantive, issues-based disagreement with the Obama administration.
Yesterday on his Fox program, he made that point again, dismissing the idea that racism or violent thoughts had anything at all to do with the conservative opposition to the progressive agenda or the White House. Here's how he put it:
BECK: Do you want -- do you want to call somebody a racist? If you do, you better have some facts to back it up. But in today's America, does anybody even care? Does anybody even ask you, why would you say that? Is anybody asking, why -- how is he suddenly a racist?
NBC did this report last night on the tea party out in Washington, D.C., where people were hugging, singing -- singing national anthems, "Star Spangled Banner," hugging, peaceful, no arrests, zero, no arrest. And yet NBC does this thing of a growing violent crowd. What? Can you back that one up, Brian Williams? Help me out on that one, will you?
Beck's ignorance is deliberate and willful. He is choosing to ignore what is going on at his own events. Consider the following signs from the 9-12 rally, photos courtesy of NineTwelvePhotos on Flickr:
Not to mention the warm welcome that birther Orly Taitz received:
If Beck refuses to see the violence and racism in front of his nose, it's because he doesn't want to acknowledge the true consequences of his work and others in the right-wing media.
In this week's issue, Hendrik Hertzberg takes aim at the GOP Noise Machine, examining the "lies and fantasies" being hatched about Obama; the "lunatic paranoia" being smeared around.
Hertzberg notes [emphasis added]:
The protesters do not look to politicians for leadership. They look to niche media figures like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and their scores of clones behind local and national microphones. Because these figures have no responsibilities, they cannot disappoint. Their sneers may be false and hateful—they all routinely liken the President and the "Democrat Party" to murderous totalitarians—but they are employed by large, nominally respectable corporations and supported by national advertisers, lending them a considerable measure of institutional prestige
I'm glad Hertzberg included Savage in his list of hate-mongerers, since it was a just a few weeks ago that The New Yorker, in a massive bout of misjudgment, published a long, flattering profile of Savage that actually did its best to prop the hate taker as some sort of misunderstood intellectual; "a marvelous storyteller, a quirky talker, and an incorrigible free-associater."
Hertzberg, thankfully, returns some common sense to The New Yorker's coverage of Savage.
The Media Research Center's Rich Noyes has issued a "Media Reality Check" purporting to be a "report card" of how major media outlets covered the 9/12 anti-Obama protests. But Noyes' analysis is curiously incomplete.
For instance, Noyes noted the performance of only one newspaper, The New York Times, which "buried the protests on page A37 of Sunday's paper." Noyes didn't mention what The Washington Post did -- perhaps because it broke the MRC's faulty liberal-bias template by putting the protest prominently on the front page. (That high-profile placement wasn't enough for fellow MRC employee Tim Graham.)
Noyes didn't do any relevant comparison of coverage, complaining only that the Times' "932-word story [on the protest] was only slightly longer than the 724-word story the paper granted back in March to an ACORN protest with only 40 participants." But that protest was in the New York metro area and thus more directly relevant to its core readers than a larger protest outside of NYC.
A more direct comparison would be to a similarly sized 2002 anti-war protest in Washington. As we've noted, while the Times published a photo of the anti-Obama protest in its front page -- something Noyes failed to mention -- it did not do so for the anti-war protest; the articles on both protests were inside the A section.
Noyes also downplayed the extent to which Fox News fawned over the protest. He wrote: "By far, Fox News offered the most detailed coverage, with a two-hour midday program on Saturday plus regular updates throughout the day, and FNC stuck to presenting the protesters' point of view, not denigrating them."
Noyes fails to note that Fox News did a lot more than present the protesters' point of view -- it promoted the bejeezus out of the protest, to the point where it was an unofficial sponsor. That's some serious straying over the line from news into advocacy, but it earned Fox News an "A" for coverage from Noyes.
Noyes downgraded Fox News' rating on tone of coverage to an"A-" apparently for a single comment by Geraldo Rivera that Noyes called a "sour note." After all, balanced coverage of conservatives is not what Noyes and his MRC buddies really want -- nothing less than completely positive, sycophantic coverage will do.
The mag sets aside 3,600 words for a Beck profile this week. Here's the lone mention of the sweeping and shockingly successful ad boycott campaign that has cost Glenn Beck more than 60 advertisers this summer:
A liberal group called Color of Change has organized an advertiser boycott of Beck's TV show — great publicity for the group and a boon to Beck's ratings.
Like so many in the mainstream press, Time can't be bothered to detail whether the ad boycott is, y'know, working. At Time, it simply exists. The fact that it's perhaps the most effective ad boycott in modern TV history, or that it is reportedly costing Fox News $600,000 each week in lost revenues, is no interest to Time reporters.
Instead, they spin the boycott as a success...for Beck. i.e. It helped spike his ratings!