Thursday, March 13, 2008

how Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated liberalism

The subtitle of Marvin Olasky's (excerpted) interview with James Piereson in World...

James Piereson...a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Piereson has had time to research the origins of recent American radicalism. He has produced a thoughtful analysis of the event that, three years into the decade, truly began the '60s: the Nov. 22, 1963, Kennedy assassination.

As an aside and a bit of historical trivia, did you know that C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley died the same day as JFK? This is the springboard for Peter Kreeft's short apologetic work, Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death wtih John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley.

Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism (Encounter Books, 2007) shows how the assassination and its interpretation in media and academia led many Americans to begin looking for love in all the wrong places.

WORLD: What did President Kennedy stand for?

PIERESON: Kennedy said he was a "liberal without illusions," meaning that he did not accept the sentimental view of politics and human nature associated with extreme liberals or leftists. Kennedy certainly believed that the Cold War was a struggle between human freedom and tyranny. The United States, he said in his inaugural address, would "pay any price and bear any burden" to ensure the success of liberty. He said that strong and consistent economic growth was the key to social progress. He came slowly to support civil rights, only proposing a civil rights bill in June of 1963. He most definitely was not the liberal idealist that Kennedy loyalists made him out to be following his assassination.

It's always fun to point out that Kennedy was a foreign policy hawk and cut marginal tax rates on the wealthiest Americans from 91% to 70%. Whatever you think of JFK or such policies, it defies the conventional "wisdom" about who he was and what he believed and did.

And what about Oswald?

WORLD: And what about the depiction of Lee Harvey Oswald as a confused loner in search of meaning—accurate?

PIERESON: No, most definitely not—if by this we mean a man who committed a violent act because he was confused about his identity or unstable. If anything, Oswald was cold and logical to a fault. Oswald was a dedicated communist who shot President Kennedy in order to interrupt Kennedy's efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro and to overthrow his communist regime in Cuba. Oswald saw Third World revolutionaries like Castro as the wave of the future. He was a dedicated communist revolutionary—and in this sense, President Kennedy was a casualty of the Cold War.

And back to Kennedy for the end of the interview...

WORLD: Which political grouping today emphasizes the themes and concepts that dominated John F. Kennedy's rhetoric?

PIERESON: This is another paradox: Kennedy, representing the liberal convictions of his time, was an optimist about the future and saw the American past as a tale of progress. Following Kennedy's death, liberals were overcome by a wave of pessimism about America and our institutions. Our abundance was based on greed and selfishness; our democratic institutions were based on the oppression of minorities; our conquest of the continent on genocide of indigenous peoples. The nation deserved punishment more than praise. When liberals abandoned their progressive narrative, it was eventually picked up by conservatives in the person of Ronald Reagan—who memorably said that America's best days are still ahead of us. Reagan was determined, like Kennedy, to win the Cold War, and he turned conservatism into the governing doctrine that liberalism represented in Kennedy's day.


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