Liberals remain trapped by this distortion, as manifested by, for example, Michelle Obama's 2008 remark that with her husband's ascent, "For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country," or by a New York Times article this week that blamed Dallas conservatives, rather than a hard-Left drifter, for the JFK assassination.
Third, the Oswald-Ruby catastrophe created an abiding fascination with crazy conspiratorial ideas among otherwise sane people. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll asked "Do you think that one man was responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy, or do you think that others were involved in a conspiracy?" In reply, 61 percent said others were involved and only 30 percent said one man.
No less striking than this 2-to-1 ratio is that, of those who think others involved, a mere 3 percent point to the Soviet Union or other communists as the culprits.
As Gerald Posner lamented in his definitive 1993 study, Case Closed, "The debate is no longer whether JFK was killed by Lee Oswald acting alone or as part of a conspiracy – it is instead, which conspiracy is correct?" The only shred of good news is that 61 percent conspiracy theorists is the lowest number in over forty years. Perhaps Posner, Vincent Bugliosi, and others will eventually prevail over the revisionists.
Finally, on a personal note, memories of Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, remain vivid. The news of the 1:30 p.m. EST assassination was whispered around a study hall at the Commonwealth School in Boston. To the students' surprise, Ellen Kaplan's 9th grade biology class not only took place but we even had to take a test. After some dismal hoops in the gym, I tried to buy a newspaper but the lines were too long. At home, my family joined the country in silently watching television news.
Although I previously had tallied the 1960 election and watched the 1961 inauguration, the assassination drama was the first political event to affect me emotionally. Indeed, so deep and lasting was its impact that even today – and despite all since revealed about Kennedy (including his sordid qualities) – that day still gives me chills and makes me teary, a visceral response to a political event never again repeated, even as Vietnam and the Great Society marched me rightwards.
And so was the tragedy of Nov. 22, 1963, both national and intensely personal.