Friday, November 16, 2007

In Sympathy of the Devil - Rolling Stones

There is the line from this Rolling Stones' hit
I shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedys?
’When after all, it was you and me.
that author Jim Piereson believes reflected a deep belief in liberal culture, that somehow “we” had killed the Kennedy’s — when in fact an anti-American Communist killed President Kennedy and a Palestinian nationalist killed Robert Kennedy, both in retaliation for American policies abroad. Oswald killed President Kennedy to interrupt his efforts to eliminate Castro; Sirhan killed Robert Kennedy because of Kennedy’s support for Israel. The irrationality of this belief was connected to the unraveling of liberalism, demonstrating that liberalism was not the rational doctrine that it claimed to be.

I give a hat/tip to fellow redstater gamecock for e-mailing me this article that Rich Lowry wrote about Jim Piereson and his book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution. A snippet from the article
From a distance of nearly 50 years, the liberalism of 1960 is hardly recognizable. It was comfortable with the use of American power abroad, unabashedly patriotic, and forward-looking. But that was before The Fall.

In his eye-opening book, Jim Piereson argues The Fall was the assassination of President Kennedy. It represented more than the tragic death of a young president, but the descent of liberalism from an optimistic creed focused on pragmatic improvements in the American condition to a darker philosophy obsessed with America's sins. Echoes of the assassination -- and the meaning attributed to it by JFK's admirers -- can still be heard in the querulous tones of contemporary liberalism.

The real John F. Kennedy wasn't the paladin of liberal purity of myth. He was friends with Joseph McCarthy. In his 1952 campaign for Senate and his 1960 presidential campaign, he got to the right of his Republican opponents on key issues. "Kennedy did not want anyone to tag him as a liberal, which he regarded as the kiss of death in electoral politics," Piereson writes. As president, he was vigorously anti-communist, a tax-cutter and a cautious supporter of civil rights.

His kind of liberalism -- "tough and realistic," as Piereson puts it, in the tradition of FDR and Truman -- was carried away in the riptide of his death.

I let google be my friend and found an interview that Piereson had with NRO's John Miller. Here are a few snippets
MILLER: Isn’t it a little early to say that 11/22/63 mattered more than 9/11/01?

PIERESON: No. We know from looking back over the decades that Kennedy’s sudden death cast a long shadow over American life, which I have tried to describe. Many of us thought that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 would also have great consequences for the way Americans looked at politics, the parties, and national security. In particular, some felt that the attacks might drive out of our politics the tone of anti-Americanism that had been a key feature of the American Left from the 1960s forward. That did not really happen. The liberal movement today remains far more the product of the 1960s than of the terrorist attacks and their aftermath. Indeed, the terrorist attacks now seem to have had very little effect on the thinking of American liberals who view the war on terror and the war in Iraq through the lenses of the Vietnam War. That is not true of conservatives. In that sense, the terrorist attacks have simply deepened the divide between liberals and conservatives. What is surprising, then, is what little enduring effect the terrorist attacks have had, particularly for liberals.

MILLER: Was JFK’s assassination more consequential than Abraham Lincoln’s?

PIERESON: The two assassinations had different effects. Lincoln’s came at the end of the Civil War. Since his assassins were southern partisans, the assassination was easily assimilated into the moral framework of the war. Lincoln was a martyr for the union and emancipation. His death punctuated the war and it tended to unify the nation around the Lincoln symbol. Kennedy’s death was different. In contrast to Lincoln, Kennedy was killed before he could achieve any great success. Kennedy was thus viewed in terms of dashed hopes and unfulfilled promise. Lincoln was viewed in terms of what he had achieved, Kennedy in terms of what might have been. Liberals at the time were convinced that the nation was threatened more by right-wing radicals like Sen. McCarthy or fundamentalist preachers than by Communists. Given their assumptions, they had great difficulty assimilating the fact that JFK was shot by a Communist — for this was exactly the kind of thing that the hated Sen. McCarthy had been warning against. Instead of seeing Kennedy as a casualty of the Cold War — which he was — they saw him as a martyr for civil rights. They saw his assassination as a sign of the nation’s guilt. Thus, Lincoln’s assassination reinforced the legitimacy of the nation while Kennedy’s undermined it, at least in the eyes of liberals.

MILLER: How did the killing of JFK shape the conservative movement?

PIERESON: Kennedy’s assassination had little effect on the conservative movement then or thereafter. Conservatives like Bill Buckley, Russell Kirk, or Barry Goldwater accepted the fact that Kennedy had been shot by a Communist. This did not surprise them in the least. The loss of faith among liberals in the years after JFK’s death opened a path for conservatives to come to power. It might be said that Ronald Reagan picked up the torch of national optimism that was dropped by the liberals when Kennedy was killed. Kennedy’s death, as its implications were worked out, destroyed the capacity of liberals to govern the country.

The 22nd day of this month of November will mark 44 years since the assassination of JFK. Perhaps this event has been a larger impact on the left than any event since then. I believe this much of what he writes is still holding true today. Then liberals were more threatened by right wing politicians or religious right Christian preachers than communists. Replace the word communists with the words islamist terrorists, and you've defined today's liberals.

I also believe that the torch of national optimism was picked up by Ronald Reagan, and as long as the liberals believe that Americans have no good reason to feel pride in their country's past or optimism about its future they are incapable to govern this country.

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