JFK, Obama both faced heated speech
By Buzz Trexler | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you include source pages and the index, William Manchester’s “The Death of a President” spans 710 pages. Yet, the subtitle of this 1967 book makes it clear the prose only covers a six-day period: “November 20-25, 1963.”
One could say that Manchester offers the reader 2½ days of light leading up to the 12:30 p.m., Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy, then 3½ days of darkness following the president’s death.
But then one would be denying the darkness that was evident even before the assassination.
Manchester paints a hate-filled Dallas with an artist’s fine brush, rather than broad strokes, and in my nighttime reading some of the details brought a chill of remembrance.
A few years after the assassination, Buddy Starcher released his 45 RPM record, “History Repeats Itself,” comparing the similarities between President Abraham Lincoln, the first U.S. president to be assassinated, and JFK: Lincoln having a secretary named Kennedy, and the latter having a secretary named Lincoln; both having vice presidents named Johnson; birth years of 100 years apart; and so on.
But there was also a common darkness permeating the land with unrestrained expressions of hate for a sitting president. Lincoln was hated in the South for signing the Emancipation Proclamation and “invading” the slave states.
One hundred years later, Manchester paints Texas as a cesspool of anti-Kennedy sentiment, with Dallas being the septic tank.
Prior to the November trip, many in Washington, D.C., and in Texas appeared to be fearful of the president’s arrival in the Lone Star State, particularly the trip to Dallas, and for apparent good reason.
Manchester writes that one “famous Dallas resident” had declared, “Kennedy is a liability to the free world.”
And then there is The Dallas Morning News, which the author maintains “had made radical extremism reputable.” During a visit to the White House with other newspaper publishers, E.M. “Ted” Dealey, who was chairman of the Morning News board, told Kennedy, “We can annihilate Russia and should make that clear to the Soviet government. ... You and your Administration are weak sisters.”
After the story was reported in the Morning News, the paper claimed it had received more than 2,000 phone calls, telegrams and letters, overwhelmingly in support of Dealey and his statement.
At other times, the author says, the newspaper’s columns referred to Kennedy as a “faker” who followed “the communist line, which is an atheistic godless line,” and who championed unwed motherhood, welfare chiselers, and as someone who was eager to take “a man’s income tax, and without his permission, spend it abroad as ‘foreign aid’ in countries which deny the existence of a Supreme Creator.”
This all begins to sound contemporarily familiar ...
Incidentally, the area where Kennedy was assassinated, Dealey Plaza, was named for Ted Dealey’s father, George B. Dealey.
And then there was the treason poster, a version of which can be seen in a series of flashes that are part of Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie, “JFK.”
Until reading the Manchester book, I had no idea it was real, but it was real enough. Five thousand copies of the handbill landed on the streets of Dallas the morning before Kennedy’s arrival: “Wanted for Treason,” it read, with the standard full-face and profile photos found on police posters, replete with a seven-count indictment of the president.
“In sum,” Manchester writes, “the broadside was an incendiary amalgam of all the invective being spread by Kennedy’s enemies. Any hater, left or right, could find fuel in it.”
The day of Kennedy’s assassination, a full-page ad with a traditional mourning style black border appeared on Page 14 of the Dallas Morning News. It posited 12 rhetorical questions and accused him, among other things, of starving and persecuting thousands of Cubans and selling food to Communist soldiers in Vietnam.
In Manchester’s words, “It was another ‘Wanted for Treason’ broadside.”
Manchester writes that the day after JFK’s assassination, then-Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minn.) penned a memorandum to himself: Liberty, he said, had become license, and freedom of speech “perverted and abused” as a “vehicle for vicious propaganda and hatred that inspired people to do such things as happened in Dallas to our President.”
Herewith comes the chill I experienced while reading this book: While I’m not really tracking such things, it occurred to me that barely a day goes by that some sort of hate-filled anti-Obama broadside doesn’t come across email, on the airwaves, or on bumper stickers that say things like, “Impeach Obama,” or “Somewhere in Kenya a village is missing its idiot.”
And while writing this piece, out of curiosity I Googled “Obama treason poster” ...
Buzz Trexler is managing editor of The Daily Times. You can email him at (email@example.com)