Tuesday, June 19, 2007

JFK and The Death of Liberalism

Over at NRO online John J. Miller interviews James Pierson on his new book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism. I think it's fascinating because it explains something I always suspected but never bothered to figure out, why liberals seem to hate America. Some of my best friends are liberals, really, I'm not making that up. I know they don't hate America, but they relish in every injustice, every policy screw up and view every act of human frailty as proof positive of how we've lost our way or as James Pierson puts it:
Kennedy’s assassination, happening the way it did, compromised the central assumptions of American liberalism that had been the governing philosophy of the nation since the time of the New Deal. It did this in two decisive ways: first, by compromising the faith of liberals in the future; second, by undermining their confidence in the nation. Kennedy’s assassination suggested that history is not in fact a benign process of progress and advancement, but perhaps something quite different. The thought that the nation itself was responsible for Kennedy’s death suggested that the United States, far from being a “city on a hill” and an example for mankind, as Kennedy had described it (quoting John Winthrop), was in fact something darker and more sinister in its deepest nature.

I think that is exactly right. But how did Conservatives react to the assassination of the Kennedys? Again James Pierson:
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.

I love this explanation because it confirms something I have long believed, namely that conservatives still believe in the inherent goodness of America even while acknowledging some ugly truths about us. I still believe that despite every Michael Moore wet dream that the United States is still the shinning city on the hill, a beacon of freedom and opportunity for everyone in the world and the last, best hope for mankind. Recent events prove that our values may not be readily exportable to parts of the world where tribal animosity proves stronger than the rule of law, but does that mean we are evil or stupid for trying?

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