EDITORIAL: Dallas and the haters

50 years on, and the assassination canard survives

Five decades have passed since a gunman’s bullet took the life of the 35th president, but the assassination in Dallas remains shrouded in myth, mystery and mendacity. Some still argue that grassy-knoll conspiracies ended the life of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. Others, like the grieving widow Jacqueline Kennedy, still want the world to see “what Dallas has done to my husband.” The conspiracy industry long ago outgrew the modest cottages where the tall tales were hatched.

The facts clearly show that Kennedy was shot by a man who defected to the Soviet Union — “a silly little communist,” as Mrs. Kennedy would call him — and was inspired by Soviet communism. Nevertheless, to this day partisans on the left are obsessed with laying the blame on the people of Dallas.

The first note in the “blame Dallas first” chorus was sounded by James Reston of The New York Times, who wrote that “bigots” in Texas were responsible. Mike Mansfield, then the Senate majority leader, said the assassin’s hand was guided by “bigotry, hatred and prejudice.” The New York Times continues to peddle the long-discredited canard, in an op-ed essay by James McAuley reprising the theme of Dallas as a “city of hate.”

It’s a curious thing. Washingtonians were not blamed when President Lincoln was mortally wounded at Ford’s Theater, nor later when James Garfield was shot at the old Baltimore and Potomac railroad depot (though his bungling doctors could have been blamed for the medicine that finished the assassin’s deed). Buffalo suffered no collective guilt for the slaying of William McKinley. Californians were not vilified for the assassination of Kennedy’s brother Robert. Dallas alone was sentenced to collective blame for the work of an ideological madman.

Larry Sabato, a political-science professor at the University of Virginia, points out in his new book “The Kennedy Half Century” that the Kennedy assassination was only the most famous of Lee Harvey Oswald’s deadly plots. Returning from the Soviet Union, Oswald first tried to assassinate Gen. Edwin A. Walker, who lived in retirement in Dallas. Oswald fired through a window, and the bullet hit the window frame and was harmlessly deflected.

Oswald had earlier yearned to kill Vice President Richard Nixon. Writes Mr. Sabato: “These were two conservatives. While Kennedy was — in the context of the times — a moderate to liberal Democrat, and possibly more acceptable to Oswald ideologically, the Kennedy administration’s posture toward [Fidel] Castro may have negated any advantage JFK had.” Oswald’s pro-Castro sympathies were apparent in his attempt to establish an office of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New Orleans.

The effort to steer the blame to Dallas was actually meant not to smear a city, but a political philosophy. Much of Dallas at the time, as with much of the country, opposed the president from Massachusetts on many issues. The Warren Commission, impaneled by Congress to investigate the assassination, concluded that the assassin’s “commitment to Marxism and communism appears to have been another important factor in his motivation.”

The liberal obsession to blame conservatives for bad things continues. Whenever there’s a mass killing in a school, for example, the mainstream media seize on the smallest convenient scrap of evidence to paint the perpetrator a conservative. Only later does the public learn that the evildoer, usually unable to explain his motivation coherently, is of, or sympathetic to, the left.It’s a habit rooted in “bigotry, hatred and prejudice.”

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