They’re at it again. Liberals are determined to make their size 10 foot fit into the glass slipper of their imaginings. It’s not a new attempt. It began on November 22, 1963.
James Piereson’s indispensable book, “Camelot and the Cultural Revolution,” details how liberals were aghast that Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of John F. Kennedy, was some “silly little Communist,” in the words of Jacqueline Kennedy.
It didn’t make sense in their worldview. After all, J.F.K. was a hero of civil rights. Civil rights for black Americans was probably the only issue about which Oswald, who had been a Communist from his teenage years, would have agreed with President Kennedy.
So, after briefly acknowledging that Oswald had worked for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a pro-Castro Communist front group, liberals of the day moved on to the ”atmosphere” in Dallas. They charged that while Oswald may have pulled the trigger, it was the hateful right-wingers of Dallas who created a political climate in which violence like Oswald’s could flourish.
The books that poured forth about the incident echoed the theme that Jackie Kennedy herself had sounded. Right wing hate groups were the real villains. Generally de-emphasized was the inconvenient truth that Oswald had taken a shot at retired Gen. Edwin Walker, the self-styled leader of resistance to racial integration. Had Oswald succeeded then, our whole national story would have been radically different.
The entire treatment of the Arizona story is a re-play of past media mistreatments. Columbine, Virginia Tech and now Tucson are all treated the same way. First, a hunt for the perpetrator. Then a hunt for motive. Finally, endless speculation about root causes.
Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett criticized NBC five years ago for airing the video rant of the Blacksburg shooter. But, liberals protested, we might have learned something important from that video. Really, Bennett asked. What did we learn from the video? That the killer was filled with violent rage? That he was angry at the world, at specific persons, or people in general, that he was an anonymous loser? Didn’t we know all that already?
I worked the issue of suicide among youth for three years when I served under Bill Bennett at the Department of Education. I became aware of the dangers of contagion and suggestibility. Notice in this column, I never mention the names of the killers (aside from our presidents’ assassins). We shouldn’t. We should make every effort to minimize the coverage of these homicidal attention grabbers. Further, we should avoid terms like “massacre.” We should not try to compare the lethality of these killings with previous episodes. The first, the worst, the biggest, the most are all terms to avoid.
History gives us a strong precedent. Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was assassinated as he left the House of Commons on May 12, 1812. You have to scroll down in the online bios of Perceval to find the assassin’s name. He’s generally forgotten. His fate is treated matter-of-factly. He was tried, convicted and hanged six days later.
Perhaps that stern and speedy justice has something to do with the fact that Britain has not suffered the same level of political violence we have suffered. Can we imagine liberals drawing that “lesson” from Arizona’s killings?
Last year, author James Swanson lectured at the Newseum on his best-selling book, “Manhunt.” He showed how John Wilkes Booth was not some anonymity with a beef. Before his great crime, Booth was the Brad Pitt of his day.
After killing President Lincoln, Booth hid out for almost two weeks in the dense woods of Southern Maryland. In the thicket, Booth was not primarily concerned with his broken ankle or even with how he would complete his escape. Unshaven, unwashed and unfed, Booth hungered for newspapers. Like the accomplished actor he was, he craved the notices of his greatest “performance.”
Jim Swanson used the occasion of his lecture to criticize the new Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield. Their gift shop sells toy models of Booths’ bulldog Derringer pistol. Who could imagine anyone ghoulish enough to sell models of Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano carbine at the JFK Presidential Museum, Swanson asked.
Swanson’s comments were also a subtle commentary on the publicity given by the Newseum to his own lecture. For weeks, this prominent edifice had featured six-story high banner pictures of Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. They might almost have been running mates!
If we want these horrific episodes to cease, we need to downplay the killers while affording them their constitutional right to a speedy trial. It might be that simple.