To Avenge President Kennedy’s “Murder Most Foul” We Must Recall and Resurrect His Ethos That Unbought Unbossed Political Leaders, Not Wealthy Elites, Should Guide America’s Economy and Destiny
President John F. Kennedy (AKA “Jack Kennedy”) was born 103 years ago today. It is long past time to recognize and resurrect the vision and public policy goals he stood for in life rather than primarily dwell on the trauma of his death.
Because of (not despite) my just-stated purpose, I begin by reflecting on the momentous song Bob Dylan released just over two months ago (his first new song in 7 years), titled Murder Most Foul:
It is a mesmerizing masterpiece of musical storytelling about President Kennedy’s assassination, an almost-17-minute (!) composition so Brutally truthful (with a capital B) as to trigger waves of renewed grief in listeners who remember the charismatic late President (and alas maybe even a few cases of PTSD).
The legal phrase “assumption of the risk” (semi-seriously) pertains to anyone who reserves the hour of uninterrupted time it will take to let Dylan’s rueful utterly-knowing recital wash over you. As I warned my (mostly-Jewish) Facebook friends using a Yiddish idiom: “It will make you verklempt.”
I say an hour because if you’re at all like me you’ll feel compelled to re-listen 2-3 times and savor what President Lincoln called “the mystic chords of memory” that still bind us to (in Dylan’s somber “open”) that “dark day in Dallas, November ’63, a day that will live on in infamy.”
From his first lines on, Dylan ingeniously jump-cuts among multiple narrators (among them):
- President Kennedy himself, who says (to his assassins) early on: “Say wait a minute boys, do you know who I am?”
- the President’s demonic rightist murderers, who reply: “Of course we do, we know who you are;” and
- the voice of Dylan himself. At times Dylan speaks anecdotally: “The day that they killed him, someone said to me, ‘Son, the age of the anti-Christ has just only begun.’” But mostly as the omniscient truth-teller (emotional and otherwise) about JFK’s horrific demise: “They mutilated his body, and they took out his brain. What more could they do? They piled on the pain.”
- There are also the voices of the Texas color line: “Blackface singer, whiteface clown. Better not show your faces after the sun goes down.”
It is plain that Nothing (with a capital N) about JFK and his times (and those which followed his murder AKA “the Sixties”)—Dylan’s late teens and 20s—was- or is lost on Dylan.
Indeed the cultural milieu that surrounded JFK and arrived following his violent death is a frequent touchstone in Dylan’s epic ballad.
Indeed the cultural milieu that surrounded JFK and arrived following his violent death is a frequent touchstone in Dylan’s epic ballad. To say much more would risk spoiling the song’s gut-wrenching power but musical figures ranging from Bud Powell to DJ Wolfman Jack to the Beatles to Don Henley, and their works, among a great many others, make cameo appearances. The full list is here .
Masters of Arts theses will surely be written on Dylan’s masterpiece, complete with Talmudic interpretations of the “full meaning” of Dylan’s myriad allusions to the iconic supporting actors in his JFK saga.
One of (what we would today call) “blue check-mark names” dropped is that of Marilyn Monroe, who famously serenaded the President on his 46th birthday 57 years ago today (lucky him!) less than 6 months before Dylan has JFK narrate:
“I’m ridin’ in a long black Lincoln limousine.
Ridin’ in the backseat next to my wife.
Heading straight on into the afterlife.”
Bob Dylan as America’s Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
At the time of the last “yuge” artistic statement about the Kennedy assassination, Oliver Stone’s 1991 feature film titled JFK, the arch anti-establishment sensibility Dylan displays in his 2020 song (which omits any reference to the central character in Stone’s film—New Orleans DA Jim Garrison and the cast of characters he investigated) some of the public and all of the mainstream media would have considered Dylan’s song the work of an American dissident.
Today, in stark contrast, Dylan is speaking for the vast majority camp of American public and media opinion. He is now America’s counterpart to Yevgeny Yevtushenko: the officially-tolerated Soviet-era Russian poet who controversially spoke truth to power in the USSR during the Cold War, and morphed (beginning in the Gorbachev era) into a legendary folk hero at home and abroad. Alas Zenya, as he encouraged his friends and mere acquaintances to call him, died (too young) at age 84 in 2017.
No one of conscience and good faith can any longer dispute the essential truth of Dylan’s account—that the demonic assassins Dylan repeatedly speaks-of in the plural (“they”) were a cabal of rightist conspirators—or take at-all seriously the nonsensical contention that the Warren Commission’s “official story” is accurate.
Indeed Dylan Demolishes (with a capital D) that infernal Commission’s central finding about the path of one of the bullets—a brazen deceit of Trumpian magnitude—via a withering sarcastic verse (spoken by JFK en route to Parkland Hospital) referencing the 1958 Larry Williams song (covered by the Beatles in 1965):
“You got me Dizzy Miss Lizzy, you filled me with lead.
That magic bullet of yours has gone to my head.”
Our Real “Long National Nightmare” Was- and Still Is “The Nightmare on Elm Street.”
Dylan’s song synthesizes the gospel truth that JFK was killed by rightist conspirators, and re-breaks the news (albeit pithily) of how his murder most foul changed American and world history: Dallas was “the place where Faith, Hope and Charity died” Dylan says with profound- but perhaps over-simplicity.
Dylan’s recital methodically unmasks what he calls “the greatest magic trick under the sun:” a reference to the techniques the perpetrators employed to conduct the execution undetected, cover-up the truth and repress the slain President and his governmental ethos (about which more below) from popular consciousness.
One of Dylan’s important filips in this regard is relocating what Warren Commission member (and FBI informant thereon) turned President, Gerald Ford, (go figure) deceptively mislabeled our “long national nightmare.” Ford pronounced Watergate such, an event which occurred between its 1971 inception within the aptly named CREEP (the Committee to Re-Elect the President) and famously pronounced it “over” following President Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
“Living in a nightmare on Elm Street” is Dylan’s well-chosen lyrical turn-of-phrase for the events that happened 57 years ago this November 22nd. In so stating Dylan (seemingly intentionally) rebukes and corrects President Ford’s arbitrary time-delineation, accurately pronounces our national nightmare an enduring one and does so in a lyrical context that adverts to our Corrupt (with a capital C) Not-great society.
What You Don’t Know About Jack: President Kennedy Had Admirably Eschewed a Quotidian Law or Business Career Due to the Far Greater Sense of Purpose a Career in Politics Presented.
The first Catholic President was an Irish-American Democrat whose family had been in politics for 3 generations. He had earned his elevation to the pinnacle of American political power by dint of his scholarship, World War 2 heroism, personal charisma and by out-working his opponents. See the illuminating personal conversation here held on January 5, 1960 (3 days following his presidential campaign announcement and first published in 2012) where he thrice mentions (seemingly quite credibly) that his work ethic was far superior to his political competitors.
Given its candid (and in places self-deprecating) content, the interview was plainly meant to be a “time capsule” for future reference and contains insights relevant to “what is to be done” by we the living (who remember him) about “what we can do for our country” today relative to the late President's hauntingly unsettled unfinished legacy.
EXCERPT FROM SMITHSONIAN ARTICLE
Q: ...there are only some people who have either what it takes, or have . . .
Q: . . . something in them that makes them go through . . .
JFK: I don’t know. Everybody reaches a natural level. It’s possible my natural level is in the Senate. I mean, we’ll know in the next six months. But there isn’t anybody in the House that would not like to advance himself, or anybody who works for anything. My God, if you didn’t have that power of desire, the United States and every place else would collapse! That’s what moves the country and the world. That’s just a part of it. I’m just saying that it’s the center of power. I’m not talking about personal, I’m just saying the center of action is the more precise term, is the presidency. Now if you are interested, which many, many people are, not just me, the presidency is the place to be, in the sense of if you want to get anything done.
Q: Why do you do it now? Why do you go to all this effort? Obviously you’re a well-to-do guy, who could live off the fat of the land. Why do you go in for politics?
JFK: I think the rewards are, first, infinite.
Q: What are they?
JFK: Well, look now, if you went to law school, and I’d gotten out, which I was going to do [unclear] and then I go and become a member of a big firm, and I’m dealing with some dead, deceased man’s estate, or I’m perhaps fighting in a divorce case, even a case of one kind or another, or some fellow got in an accident, can you compare that, or let’s say more serious work, when you’re participating in a case against the DuPont Company in a general antitrust case, which takes two or three years, can you tell me that that compares in interest with being a member of Congress in trying to write a labor bill, or trying to make a speech on foreign policy? I just think that there’s no comparison.
Q: Is being president the ultimate of everybody that goes into politics?
JFK: In the sense of being head of whatever organization you’re in, I suppose. But most important is the fact that the President today is the seat of all power.
Q: Why do you say the problems are tough, what are some of these problems?
JFK: I think, all the problems, war, the destruction of the United States and the world, every problem, urban problems, agricultural, they’re all . . . monetary, fiscal, labor-management, inflation. I mean, they’re terribly sophisticated. In the nineteenth century you only have about three problems: the development of the West, slavery, tariff and currency.
Q: If you were talking to a college student, why would you tell him that he ought to go into politics?
JFK: Because I think that this opportunity to participate in the solutions of the problems which interest him, I would assume he’s interested, I would say the place he could effect some results would be in politics. The second, that your personal sources of satisfactions which come from doing this work is far greater in politics than it will ever be in business. And your financial reward will not be as great, and your insecurity will probably be greater in politics, because you may get defeated in the next election. Those are the disadvantages.
Fortunately for his fellow Americans, JFK eschewed the unproductive detour into law school or business school and went straight into politics, at which he excelled, winning election (at age 29) to the U.S. House of Representative in 1946, to the U.S. Senate (at age 35) in 1952, and to the White House (at age 43) 8 years thereafter.
Even a short summary of the high aspirations and considerable achievements of his 1,000 days in office is space-prohibitive and unnecessary here. Overall, the Kennedy presidency aspired to- and did resume progress on the New Deal’s socio-economic reclamation project that had “saved capitalism from itself” following the Great Depression and final demise of the Gilded Age. And did so from a staunchly social democratic orientation that took for granted:
- the virtues of a properly politically regulated and governed mixed economy, and
- the speciousness of the chiliastic dogmas of both “economic royalists” on the far right and Communist revolutionaries on the far left.
If he were President today he would be an upper-class traitor who would be ardently courting- and working with progressive Democrats in Congress to pass legislation to restore as much of the status quo ante his murder most foul as possible, including for brief example:
- raising taxes back to the rates they were when he died: 70% on non-waged income (AKA investments) and 50% on waged income for the highest earners;
- advantaging lower-echelon wage earners not just by raising the minimum wage to a living wage but by ending corporate America’s ongoing placement of Americans into jobs- and wage competition with the world’s poorest people;
- otherwise curbing American Greed epitomized by Wall Street’s conglomerated banks (whose business model is fraud) by expanding and empowering the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”)—founded by JFK’s father during the Roosevelt administration, reinstating all of the regulatory firewalls that led to the Great Recession and directing the Justice Department to aggressively prosecute anti-trust and price-fixing laws, etc.;
- further asserting governmental influence over macro-economic conditions by (as he proposed in his time) synchronizing the terms of the chairperson of the Federal Reserve Board with that of the U.S. President;
- modernizing our nation’s Second World infrastructure, favoring the interests of unionized workers and minorities via governmental contracting requirements (as he did during his tenure);
- employing science and technology in the public interest to remedy our vexing environmental challenges;
- reviving the moribund U.S. government space exploration program by vastly increasing funding for NASA;
- devising non-military solutions to trouble spots and adversary governments abroad—AKA giving “a strategy of peace” a chance.
What is most salient is that, as he adverted to in his January 2, 1960 interview, JFK viewed his presidency as THE central power center in the country and (along with our Cold War rivals) the world.
According to University of Pittsburgh sociologist Donald Gibson, FDR’s New Deal and JFK’s New Frontier had in common the rather dirigistic activist (quasi-Hamiltonian) principle that part of the JOB of the elected leaders of our nation’s government was to guide and police the economy in the PUBLIC interest. And Gibson has argued persuasively in 2 books that essentially “crack the case” of JFK’s assassination, that Kennedy’s view of the role of elected leaders as stewards of all facets of America’s political economy came into a tectonic-plate-level collision with the arch-libertarian direction America’s ruffian conservative elites and oligarchs were determined to take the country and the entire world.
Gibson devoted much of the 1990s to researching and writing his (somewhat paradigm-shifting) books:
- The first, published in 1994, is titled Battling Wall Street: The Kennedy Presidency.
- The second, published in 1999, is titled The Kennedy Assassination Cover-Up.
In a story fit for Project Censored, Gibson’s original publisher Sheridan Press was forced out of business, leaving Gibson’s books orphaned and out-of-print until a small San Diego publisher, Progressive Press, reprinted paperback editions of both in 2014. (Fortunately Gibson had retained the copyright to his works.) I am not familiar with the reception his books originally received but it is a reasonable surmise that were regarded in the 1990s as the rough equivalent of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK—as the work-product of an American dissident.
But no longer. They are now required companion reading to Bob Dylan’s dirge. Where Dylan deftly bottles the multifarious “what” and “how” of the rightist paramilitaries’ maniacal ambush of JFK, Gibson provides the “why” and the “who,” identifying the shot-callers (though not the individual shooters or dealing with operational details).
“President Kennedy Was Riding High.”
— Bob Dylan in Murder Most Foul
Kennedy’s views, which became our nation’s public policy upon his arrival in the White House on January 20, 1961, were in fact the antithesis of conservative Republican laissez-faire policy which lets the free market’s “animal spirits” run wild and its foreign policy equivalent: Might-makes-right (AKA “war is a racket” in Smedley Butler’s apt phrase).
JFK, a junior Navy officer in World War 2 and son of a father whose familiarity with business sharp practices induced FDR to appoint Joseph P. Kennedy the founding chairman of the SEC, keenly understood (as Gibson has put it) that just as “war is too important to be left to the generals,” “banking is too important to be left to the bankers.” And that this ethos applied to ALL businesses, industries and professions. Kennedy held (directly contrary to Margaret Thatcher’s later atavistic adage “there is no society”) there IS a society and political leaders are responsible for keeping it honest and just.
As Dylan alludes in his “riding high” lyric and as all YouTube videos of his Texas trip show, at the time of his murder JFK was wildly successful and self-confident. He enjoyed 70% approval ratings from the public and was a shoo-in for re-election in 1964, leading the prospective arch-conservative GOP nominee Barry Goldwater 67%-27% (!).
Following JFK’s second term his enemies could anticipate President Kennedy being succeeded by a highly like-minded FDR-Kennedy Democrat and possibly another Kennedy himself. The future was slipping away from America’s financial-supremacist neo-fascist elites, and they knew it.
And it was then that what I call America’s rightist underground began inverting the letter-and-spirit of the racial justice and anti-colonialism radical Malcolm X: Conservative fanatics started using “the bullet” to gain what they couldn’t win at the “the ballot” box. Namely the power to implement their extremist Republican rightist (Goldwater-Miller, Nixon-Agnew-Ford, Ford-Rockefeller, Reagan-Bush, Sr., Bush, Sr.-Quayle, Bush, Jr.-Cheney, Trump-Pence) agenda for America and the world. That is: an American and world political economy and government run “of, by and for” big business and rich elites.
THIS is the “nightmare on Elm Street” from which we have yet to awaken.
At the very beginning of Gibson’s seminal 1999 book titled The Kennedy Assassination Cover-Up the author accurately restates JFK’s substantive politics (in general terms) as follows:
EXCERPT 1 FROM DONALD GIBSON’S 1999 BOOK (P. 1):
President Kennedy was what his most powerful critics claimed—“the enforcer of progress.” In the interest of promoting the general welfare, President Kennedy proposed a multitude of changes. All of the changes were intended to increase the productive powers of the United States as a nation and of people around the world. He undertook this Promethean task aware that there would be opposition; he probably underestimated the depth and intensity of that opposition.”
After reprising throughout the text the deep-seated differences in objectives for America and the world JFK had with blue-blood establishment notables—and expertly tracing the origins, conduct and control of the Warren Commission and its patently rigged fabulistic findings by these same notables, towards the end of the book Gibson concludes:
EXCERPT 2 FROM DONALD GIBSON'S 1999 BOOK (P. 247):
The facts indicate that elements within and at the highest levels of the Establishment killed Kennedy because he was the popularly elected and increasingly successful enforcer of progress. JFK was elected power, the Establishment hereditary. He was public authority, they private power. He spoke for the nation, they for the empires of private wealth and property. He looked forward to continued use of governmental institutions to advance the interests of the people within and outside the United States. They looked to a world in which diminished state power would leave them to dominate a global corporate system free only in the sense of lacking interference from democratic authority. Kennedy sought peace through progress, the Establishment sought peace born of the submission of their opponents. Kennedy encouraged people to think of the United States as a Democratic Republic that needed alert and active citizens. The Establishment promotes a cynical withdrawal into self-oriented passivity and indifference. Kennedy was the Establishment’s nightmare. He was the “one,” the President or Monarch whose first commitment was to the many, not the few. He was winning, democracy was working. They killed him.
“I Said the Soul of a Nation’s Been Torn Away. And It’s Beginning to Go into a Slow Decay.”
— Bob Dylan in Murder Most Foul
That needn’t have been the end of the story however, even after a single murder of a stellar non-conservative leader by underground rightists became (within 4.5 years) a triple murder (or quadruple murder if you count Malcolm X or a higher number if you count the serial killings of other black radicals).
The soul-damaging impact of suddenly having the democratically-decided political will of the American people violently voided (1963-1968) was compounded when none of these political murders most foul of multiple widely admired, capable and yes, beloved, leaders—JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King, Jr.—were ever properly investigated and solved. And further harmed irreparably when the Democratic Party gave up on ever replacing the Kennedys and King with leaders who shared their activist vision and agendas and approached their levels of talent.
The presidential campaigns of Sen. Eugene McCarthy in 1968, Sen. George McGovern in 1972, Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1980, Sen. Gary Hart and Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 and Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020 were partial exceptions that bear proverbial “honorable mention.” But after 1988 (even more culpably) non-conservative politicians as a whole renounced the entire sensibility that public authority embodied by democratically-chosen governmental officials must forever vigilantly maintain DOMINION over private power—no matter how gargantuan—in our no-longer-so-new American republic.
On the contrary non-conservative politicians ever-increasingly condoned the conservative movement’s audacious assertion of the very opposite—defenestration of government itself under Ronald Reagan’s barbaric inaugural address slogan: “...government isn’t the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Not even the infamous August 1971 Lewis Powell Memorandum had dared to emit such a malodorous brain-fart. (Powell’s corporate establishmentarian manifesto was deemed by Powell himself in his conclusion to be merely “tentative and suggestive.”)
In 1984, the first presidential election of the post-Reagan apocalypse, only Sen. Hart (on whose campaign I volunteered) took dead-aim at this heresy against (small d) democratic and (small r) republican theory, telling his fellow citizens to reject those who assert it’s possible to both “love your country and hate its government.”
Senator Hart, a JFK acolyte who had passed out leaflets for Jack in 1960, narrowly lost the 1984 Democratic presidential primary nomination race to Walter Mondale, and alas, Hart had his 1988 campaign sabotaged and his character assassinated by Republicans from without and by rival Democrats from within—the details of which losses are beyond the scope of this writing but which I discuss in detail here.
In any event, candor requires my admission that judging from Sen. Hart’s voting record and issue-positions he would have been unlikely to face-down “the titans of industry” (old or new) with quite the vigor President Kennedy had e.g. U.S. Steel in 1962 when their corporate elites deliberately flouted the U.S. President’s public authority in an effort to discredit Kennedy, only to wind up being discredited themselves when JFK blasted their price increases as (in sum) an irresponsibly selfish and unpatriotic breach of the public interest.
On the other hand, it is very hard to imagine a President Hart or any other true JFK acolyte successor (which Presidents Clinton and Obama plainly were NOT) letting private sector forces run amok as they have under every president (of both parties) since Reagan, destroying almost every last vestige of the middle class American dream for the majority of the American people in the process. See “America’s Drift toward Feudalism” by Joel Kotkin.
The 1963 – 1968 Assassinations Acted As A “Neutron Bomb.”
President Lincoln’s assassination aborted a second term in which his stellar leadership and that of his staunch political allies was vital to the health of the nation’s Reconstruction (small r as well as large R) following the Civil War. Lincoln’s murder became an event that toxically reverberated for over a century.
So too did the 1960s assassinations damage the Republic irreparably, obliterating the agenda of a just America and free-and-diverse and equitable world the Kennedys and King sought. And ushered in the globalized greed-besotted corporate-dominated kakistocratic lite-fascist domestic- and world-wide near-tyranny that prevails today.
The rightist rub-outs of the Kennedys and King not only destabilized the next generation of these large “first families” but also sidelined the natural talent pool of practical idealists throughout the nation who the Kennedys and King (and their successors) would have picked to be members of (what I call) the “teams of idealists” that (but for those physical- and later character assassinations) would have carried on- or re-lit the torch-of-hope “from generation-to-generation” as Scripture says, to the present day.
The net effect was the disappearance of two entire generations (Silent and Boomers) of top-tier non-conservative political talent who were eclipsed in favor of conservative-lite Democratic stooges for the oligarchy.
I think of it as the political equivalent of a neutron bomb: The heart-and-soul of our American body politic was destroyed but the institutions (such as the Democratic National Committee and all elective governmental offices and bodies) remained standing and operating with sold-out bought-and-bossed cyborg-type impostor personnel.
As Bob Dylan And Donald Gibson Both Allude, President Kennedy Was Murdered for a Reason: To Dramatically Derail the Progressive Course of History and Dramatically Redirect It In a Regressive Direction.
As the logic of President Kennedy’s purposeful (NOT nihilistic) “murder most foul” would have predicted: Dramatic ruinous changes in our nation’s foreign and domestic policy directly followed JFK’s assassination. A discussion of all of them is beyond the scope of this article. But first and foremost is President Johnson’s deployment of “a big American land army into Asia,” something that General MacArthur had said should cause any public official “to have his head examined” and which JFK almost certainly would not have done.
Kennedy’s adult-life-long opposition to British-style “white man’s burden” type neo-colonialism would virtually certainly have induced him to withdraw from Vietnam in 1965 so as not to repeat France’s 1954 fate there (in ~1975)—which he was astute enough to have envisaged—with all the attendant savings in blood and treasure and anti-war movement tumult.
Kennedy had also revived, re-named, extended and prioritized FDR’s non-interventionist Good Neighbor policy towards Latin America. Among the sudden changes following the defacto November 22, 1963 coup d’etat were the 1965 U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic and the transformation of the Alliance for Progress into a cat’s paw for a variation of the oppressive neo-colonialism and gunboat diplomacy in Central and South America that had preceded FDR’s administration. This led every successor President to conduct ill-fated overt and covert pro-fascist American interventions in South America, the Caribbean and Central America, and Trump is now similarly menacing Venezuela.
Kennedy’s desire, previewed in his American University speech, to pursue nuclear disarmament and conventional arms reduction treaties with the USSR was abandoned in favor of a tepid detente and eventual focus on “winning the Cold War” and rolling back all of the USSR’s Eastern European territorial expansion following the Allies’ victory in World War 2, a cause in which Russians had immensely disproportionately sacrificed (losing 26 million citizens). When the Russians then voluntarily abandoned Communism and their occupation of Eastern Europe in December 1991, the U.S. began expanding NATO to Russia’s border (!).
Obviously President Kennedy would have been pleased and relieved that the U.S. and USSR had peaceably ended the Cold War, but given his outlook and record it is certain that he would have viewed NATO expansion to Russia’s border as George Kennan did, as a display of ingratitude to the Russians that would “come back to haunt us.”
A Reality-Bound Alternative U.S. and World History—AKA “It Might Have Been.”
Trying to conjure in a fully detailed and non-fanciful reality-bound way the difference it would have made for America and the world had John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. not been felled by assassins’ bullets is like trying to envision a lost world or imagine a spectacularly different alternate universe: It is almost like trying to picture contemporary America had we honored our treaty obligations with Native Americans instead of pursuing a bad-faith policy of extermination and enclosure of survivors on reservations. Or envisioning contemporary Europe had the Axis powers not systematically slaughtered European Jewry using industrial means. Or imagining Cuba and the global south had Che Guevara lived to a ripe old age.
It is hard enough for parents to dimly imagine what their lives would have become while raising a child who was lost to a childhood illness or for individuals to wistfully conjure the direction their lives might have taken with the support and comfort of a partner who in fact took leave.
The cumulative unrealized impacts and future accomplishments of an American President of immense talent and vision who is lost to assassination, and those of his merited natural successors, is likewise impossible to fathom with any precision.
The main problems with such a thought-experiment (AKA “alternate history” exercise), are two-fold:
- One, history itself has moved on under rogue, ruffian leadership that had (in sum) “shot its way to power.” So many negative events have transpired that it becomes difficult-to-impossible to trace the thread of the alternative history that would likely have transpired but for the murders most foul.
- Two, the serial murders of stellar political leaders by definition eliminates their ability to identify and promote younger leaders of like mind capable of someday exercising leadership responsibility at the high standards set by the fallen leaders. Here, the task is further complicated by the fact that the organization involved—the Democratic Party—became complicit in sabotaging and otherwise deterring potential leaders ready, willing and able to adhere to the leadership ethos of the Kennedys and King. Therefore (to remain at all reality-bound) my assessment of what “might have been” has to depend (in part) upon a record of how one known acolyte of JFK, Sen. Hart, compared with Democratic Presidential successors to JFK (the Clintons and Obama) who were NOT Kennedy-esque advocates for the public interest.
With these caveats, I still submit the broad contours of the course history would have taken in the absence of the murders most foul of the Kennedys and King, can be at least roughly accurately estimated. This matters because it is a moral imperative for we the living to redirect history back to the progressive course from which it got criminally derailed.
Among other impacts, Kennedy’s efforts to further lessen Cold War tensions with the USSR in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis by installing a Washington-Moscow “hot line” to prevent mistaken launches of nuclear missiles “on warning” and other forms of accidental nuclear war would have likely come to further include: cooperating on ventures for the common good of humankind such as space exploration and jointly ending the suffering of those in the “huts and villages of half the globe” JFK spoke of his inaugural address.
Russian leaders had spurned Kennedy’s initial overtures to merge their “space race” to the moon with ours, but persistent diplomacy would likely have built the needed trust (as it eventually did in a limited form decades later with our common stewardship of the space station). Especially if it were contextualized with confidence-building measures such as the U.S. refraining from escalating the military component of the Cold War competition for “hearts and minds” and built upon the efforts the extant “neutralist” governments were making to resolve the Communist insurgencies in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. This would have almost certainly clinched our avoidance of the massive bloodshed associated with what became the Vietnam War and its horrific aftermath in Cambodia.
But even if not, and even if one further posits that the interim history had featured some of the same political reversals for FDR-JFK Democrats that actually occurred in the wake of the 1963-1968 assassinations (such as, in some dismal scenario, the election of the Reagan-Bush Sr. Republican ticket in 1980)—it is quite possible one of JFK’s like-minded FDR-Kennedy Democrat successors eventually would have succeeded in peaceably ending “the long twilight struggle” of the Cold War.
The reality-bound evidence we have for that is somewhat tenuous but real: Sen. Gary Hart (a JFK acolyte) has said that had he been nominated in 1988 and defeated George Bush Sr. for the presidency, Hart had planned to invite Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to his January 1989 presidential inauguration and thereafter conduct an orderly conclusion to the Cold War.
Had such a gesture and ensuring work occurred at any Kennedy-esque Democratic President’s inauguration between 1964 and 1988, this in turn would have likely spared the Russian people their decline into servitude to soulless, criminal mafia chieftains and oligarchs who looted billions of dollars worth of that nation’s natural resources and other economic assets in a headlong rush of privatization for a song when the USSR dissolved and Russia abandoned Communism.
Further to “what might have been” (in the poet John Greenleaf Whittier’s phrase): presuming for the sake of this alternate history thought exercise that a Kennedy-esque Democratic President had succeeded President Reagan in January 1989 rather than Vice-President George Bush, Sr., this would have, in turn:
- created a “kinder and gentler” Eastern Europe than the one that emerged after the 1991 dissolution of the USSR; and it is likely these former Soviet satellites would not have misused their freedom by, for example, treating young women as exportable chattel for Western European brothels;
- prevented the Balkans from disintegrating into barbaric political, tribal and religious warfare;
- enabled a coalition government to succeed the puppet Communist regime in Afghanistan following an orderly withdrawal of Soviet troops, preventing the rise of the Taliban and the subsequent red carpet treatment they extended to Osama bin Laden and al-qaeda (possibly preventing the grievances and chain of events that led to 9/11); and
- possibly prevented U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie from informing Saddam Hussein that Iraq’s planned invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was acceptable to the U.S. Government, thus preventing the first Persian Gulf War from ever having started or degenerating into a slaughter, and consequently preventing twelve years of subsequent punitive sanctions costing tens of thousands more Iraqi lives than the first Gulf war did, followed by a new and a bloody 2003 regime-change war and occupation thereafter. (Alternatively, assuming Hussein had invaded Kuwait, historians will record that the combination of the UN authorization to use military force, the U.S.-led credible threat of force AND the last-ditch diplomatic effort of Mikhail Gorbachev to persuade Hussein to withdraw Iraqi troops from Kuwait was on the verge of succeeding. They will further conclude that President Bush, Sr. commenced the first Gulf war while Gorbachev’s diplomacy might well have averted the need for resort to force. It is almost certain a “President Hart” or other JFK acolyte would have given Gorbachev an extra day or two to persuade Hussein to pull his troops—and the rest would not be history.)
Further, a “President Hart” (or other Kennedy-esque presidential successor) and Soviet premier Gorbachev would have proposed and likely succeeded in establishing a new international system that would have, among other consequences:
- rationally enabled the issuance of the long-sought “peace dividend” the world awaited in the wake of the Cold War, resulting in the greatest prudential reordering of priorities from “guns” to “butter” in human history;
- oriented international diplomacy around tackling the deep-seated problems of world hunger, poverty, oppression and under- development. See, in this regard, Hart’s 1984 Democratic National Convention speech here ; and
- created a newly formed “peace-making” force for early intervention against catastrophic exigencies such as genocides-in-progress (in all likelihood preventing or greatly diminishing the organized slaughter of over 800,000 Tutsis by Rwandan Hutus perpetrated in 1994 on President Clinton’s watch).
Domestically, had Hart or another JFK acolyte ascended to the presidency in January 1989 the total rupture of the Democratic Party with what Professor Gibson calls JFK’s “cooperative nationalistic” approach to domestic and foreign policy—which rupture led to domestic socio-economic hardships for most Americans that gave rise to President Trump (about which a bit more below)— would NOT have happened. Rather:
- the fiscal correction that Clinton wrought in 1993 (via modest tax increases on the wealthy) without a single Republican vote—the only solid domestic accomplishment of his presidency (along with the restoration of the earned income tax credit) but one which George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts quickly undid—would have happened in “President Hart’s” (or similar JFK-acolyte's) first term and—because a Kennedy-esque President would have persuasively equated progressive taxation with patriotism—likely endured;
- US energy policy would have been seriously restructured to decrease use of imported oil and increase use of renewable sources such as wind and solar power;
- Bush (41), Clinton and Bush (43)’s extremist free trade policies, which led to the loss of 35% of America’s manufacturing jobs between 2000-2010, in the doubtful event they had been allowed to happen at all, would have had, under any bona-fide Kennedy-esque Democratic President a serious fair trade component imposing strict labor, human rights, environmental and consumer protection standards;
- a well- instead of ill-conceived universal health insurance plan (likely incorporating the single payer feature not just for hospitalization, as JFK advocated https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQQhr9BcaaA in his original 1962 legislation that became Medicare (in 1965) but further including out-patient physical and mental health care) would have been proposed and likely passed under any capable JFK acolyte’s powerful moral and reasoned leadership; this in contrast to Bill Clinton’s convoluted “camel” of a plan (a “horse” drawn by a committee of special interest representatives chaired by Hillary Clinton);
- reasonable regulation of the private sector would have been restored and maintained, especially with respect to companies operating in industries with a heightened public trust such as the land despoiling mining, timber and extractive industries, the private electrical power utilities, and all the companies comprising the military-industrial complex;
- the financing of federal campaigns and the rules governing lobbying of federal officeholders would have been reformed to significantly reduce the influence of wealthy elites and special interests in the national political process;
- a myriad of innovative, enlightened public interest policy initiatives would have flourished including but not limited to: empowering local communities to better provide social services through funded national mandates; uplifting the homeless and the third of America’s children and their parents mired in poverty; and rational criminal justice and corrections policies which would have prevented the doubling of incarceration rates and the rise of a policing- corrections-prison-industrial complex as occurred during the eight Clinton years;
- best efforts would have been made to reform the Pentagon to cut unnecessary spending and conform and limit America’s defenses to developing 21st century strategic imperatives...and on and on.
In short, even if—had the Kennedys and King lived—the Republicans had somehow worked a version of the Nixon-Ford-Reagan-Bush Sr. backlash that they actually did following the assassinations, and held power for one or more terms between 1968 and 1988, it is plausible to imagine that January 1989 might well have marked the ascension of a new generation of FDR-Kennedy-esque progressive leadership.
In the best case scenario Hart’s or any such Kennedy-esque successor’s presidency would have given new life to the hope expressed by Robert Frost in a memorable line of the poem he wrote for JFK’s inauguration in 1960: “A golden age of poetry and power, of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.” As Frost stood on the JFK inaugural rostrum his poem (which he had not committed to memory) flew from his grasp and he never got to recite it. Alas 1,000 days later so too was JFK’s voice silenced by a hail of rifle fire. And by the anti-climatic 1988 Democratic Convention, the mystic chords of memory that tied Democrats to the FDR-JFK legacy became evermore faded. That is, until Bob Dylan’s magnificent paean revived them with a start.
“Let Me Know When You Decide to Throw in the Towel.”
—Bob Dylan in Murder Most Foul
In Murder Most Foul Dylan sings in the voice of JFK’s sociopathic killers addressing those who would defy them: “Let me know when you decide to throw in the towel.”
Because we have forsaken JFK’s ethos, we live today in a disordered wholly aberrant American landscape, one that the late President wouldn’t recognize were he able to behold it. Moreover, our ability to return to a healthy path is limited by the severity of our plight and the disorientation of the mediocre people in power. Virtually all of the latter did cravenly decide to “throw in the towel” and capitulate to the rightist knaves who authored the murders most foul of the Kennedys and King.
And to fortify this indictment of today’s mainstream Democrats and gainsay any reader shortsighted enough to scapegoat President Trump exclusively for our prevailing lot, here is an excerpt of a writing I published in January 2015 (most of which I had written in 2013 in connection with a job I was seeking at a UC Berkeley’s law school) cataloging but a few of the extant grave ills of our Not-great society—including the homicidal police brutality such as that heinously inflicted upon Minneapolis resident George Floyd on May 26, 2020—all of which (at the time of my January 2015 writing) were starkly in evidence in a society that had been governed by nominally Democratic Presidents (Clinton and Obama) in 14 of the preceding 22 years. Those social ills—all of which have worsened in the interim 5+ years—include:
EXCERPT FROM MY JANUARY 2015 OP-ED
- • The myriad symptoms of our society’s prevailing “policing state” including the manner in which unionized police and corrections personnel have: controlled and intimidated politicians and perverted criminal justice and corrections policies in California and (to varying degrees) elsewhere in the country, fomented mass incarceration and de-legitimized rehabilitation. Worse: they have established a climate where unchecked police (jailor and prison guard) brutality up to and including extralegal homicides, as well as pervasive cultures of law-enforcement “gangs” (complete with tattoos and jumping-in ritual violence), deceit, cover-ups and conspiracies of silence surrounding criminal and tortious activity within law enforcement, have become sad (and still highly alarming) facts of contemporary life. This is particularly so within inner-city precincts where abusive, paramilitary, occupation-style (anti-community-) policing is now an accepted norm. Although our society is becoming evermore inured to it all, we must never regard any of it as permanent features of American life.
- • The lack of a systemic response to the staggering implications of the increasing number of DNA exonerations, which by one seemingly reliable statistical extrapolation I have run across, means that some 150,000 provably innocent persons are languishing (unassisted) in custody nationwide.
- • Systemic problems surrounding the conduct of elections, from state and local voter suppression schemes aimed at minority voters (just aided and abetted by the Supreme Court) to multiple issues surrounding various forms of machine-assisted vote recording and counting that have (with disturbing regularity) cast doubt on the bona fides of election results in recent decades.
- • The manner in which the nation’s intelligence agencies have in the aftermath of 9/11/2001 run amok and created a blatantly unconstitutional Big Brother-ish privacy-obliterating and dissent-deterring surveillance state. See here.
- • And (indirectly related to the two just-listed issues) the constellation of emerging legal issues connected to the developing possible (in my view inevitable) sea change in American politics and government in the direction of (hopefully enlightened versions of) populism, protectionism and isolationism. Because they have created the prevailing plutocratic, oppressive, nihilistic and dystopian trends, the current generation of dominant American elites (ones affiliated with both corrupt old parties) already stand discredited in the eyes of the American people (as Congress’ 6% approval rating attests). At some point in the 21st century (possibly during the careers of some contemporary law students) American politicians, policy-makers and private-sector decision-makers will be forced to accommodate the demands of an angry, aroused and betrayed public (a time that will almost certainly make the occupy movement literally “look like a picnic”).
Indeed, in 2015-2016 Americans finally realized that the entire “world of their fathers” and mothers and grandparents (presided over by Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy) was now essentially “inoperative” (in Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler’s old phrase). The voters (including those who supported Bernie Sanders’ insurgency in the 2016 Democratic primaries) were legitimately steamed about it! In November 2016 the public narrowly voted to try to extricate our country from the regressive new world order and send the Clintons packing. As Trump opportunistically but correctly asserted (like the proverbial stopped-clock that is right twice a day): the Clintons were co-authors of this abysmal dystopia (for all non-elites in America and throughout the world) along with Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the Bushes and Obama.
To Avenge JFK’s Murder Most Foul We Must Re-embrace What He Stood For in Life and Apply It In the Present.
Alas our current donor-class-controlled crop of vision-less mediocre mainstream Democratic leaders “can’t lead their way out of a paper bag.” In a political version of Gresham’s Law they have systematically marginalized and excluded FDR-JFK idealists from the corridors of power. One of the traits of these talent-less types is their habitual resort to fallacious deux ex machinas they THINK will force the public to elect them in preference to their Republican opponents.
In 2017-2018 they thought Russiagate was “the ticket” to undermining Trump’s standing with public and removing him from office. A year ago, climate change was thought to be one of- if not THE issue on which the 2020 presidential campaign would pivot. Today it is the Coronavirus (AKA Covid-19) pandemic (and Trump’s floundering in relation to it) that the mainstream Democratic hacks are gleefully anticipating will cause voters to restore the status quo ante Trump’s 2016 election. It ain’t going to happen.
Whereas a school of thought is emerging that the Covid-19 pandemic is re-popularizing the concept of activist government, incumbent elected Democrats are simply too emasculated by their large donors and devoid of real leadership acumen (which begins with the capacity for trenchant unbought unbossed independent thought) to exploit this opportunity. Alas, it is overwhelmingly likely the Trump-Republicans will prevail in November, at least on the presidential level.
“Here on Earth God’s Work must Truly Be Our Own.”
—President Kennedy, Inaugural Address
As Shakespeare pointed out in Hamlet, great crimes of state offend the natural order and challenge the survivors to restore that order. “Time is out of joint,” Hamlet laments, “oh cursed spite, that it was made for me to put it right.”
JFK enjoined us to do God’s work here on earth in his inaugural address. And I believe the Lord is urging us to heed the message being sent from the Great Beyond by the late President Kennedy who, like Hamlet’s Ghost, is summoning us to avenge his “murder most foul.”
To do so we must locate and empower new leaders ready, willing and able to independently formulate the public interest, dominate the economy and become “enforcers of progress” anew. Only by energetically so framing themes and key issues can JFK’s party (or if necessary a successor party to it) construct a winning “platform on which to stand” (in Neil Kinnock’s phrase that Joe Biden plagiarized in 1987 along with some of the content of the speech in which Kinnock’s phase appeared) against the con-artist-in-chief (or as a tweet I saw last year aptly described Trump: the WHAsshole) and his rightist extremist Republican party confederates.
On the eve of the momentous Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln said: “We must disenthrall ourselves...” So must we as well: It is time to re-focus away from the gruesome imagery of that infamous “dark day in Dallas, November ‘63” to what JFK practiced and preached in life: The tough-minded dirigistic activism that treats politics and the powers of governmental office as an honorable vocation and calling. One that positions citizen-politicians elevated to leadership offices to advance the public interest “by any legal means necessary.”
“And then we shall save our country.”
Eric C. Jacobson
Eric C. Jacobson is a Los Angeles-based public interest lawyer. On 3 occasions in his 65 years he has violated the adage of musician David Crosby who (frivolously) warned his generation in a 1969 Crosby Stills and Nash song titled Long Time Gone: “...don’t, no don’t, no, try to get yourself elected.” Jacobson’s first (Kennedy-esque) campaign brochure (1986) is here https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5ilXuTzT1mlQ2ZYVzN5ekhuQ3M/view?usp=sharing and the only respectable media coverage of the race is here. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5ilXuTzT1mlcXRqYnhuVVc5X0k/view?usp=sharing His second campaign brochure (1993) is here https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5ilXuTzT1mlSkVyVk55Z3oyVlU/view?usp=sharing and his op-ed in the aftermath is here. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5ilXuTzT1mlcXdHeTZlM0ttSHc/view?usp=sharing In mid-2019 Jacobson ran for https://elections.pacifica.org/candstmt/cand_page.php?id=1260 and got elected https://www.kpfk.org/support-kpfk/kpfk-elections/ by the donor-members of the listener-sponsored Pacifica Foundation radio station KPFK to a seat on the Local Station Board. One of his tasks as an LSB member is to appeal for donations (tax-deductible!) to the non-profit foundation devoted to promoting a peaceable and just world. Anyone of means and inclination (who already financially supports this publication) is encouraged to donate to KPFK here. https://www.kpfk.org/legacy/