22 November 2010

Ask Not What Your Media Can Do For You (Parallels Between JFK and Obama)

Today at the 6th Floor Museum, I couldn't help but think about some parallels between John Kennedy and Barack Obama.

Kennedy was a candidate whose charisma helped him to win in spite of the fact that many questioned his youth and status as a minority. (Kennedy being Catholic was probably a bigger obstacle to becoming president in 1960 than was Obama’s being black in 2008.)

JFK angered many by supporting Civil Rights. LBJ predicted that this would cause Democrats to lose the south for a generation or two, as good old boys switched affiliation from the Democratic to Republican Party. (The working class used to more predictably vote Democratic in the south.) 

Curiously, in spite of the backlash of anger in reaction to desegregation in many conservative circles, no conservatives today argue for a return to segregation.

Obama angered many by signing legislation to ensure health care for all Americans. Today respectable conservatives argue that Americans who haven’t money enough for their own coverage or medical care ought to face the prospect of death or bankruptcy. I predict that in 50 years, universal health care will be more like desegregation in that no normal conservative will argue for its reversal. 

Like Obama, JFK seemed to be more loved and adored abroad than at home.

But the parallel that is perhaps most unsettling was the kind of hatred felt towards JFK and Obama by mainstream conservative groups. The day that JFK came to Dallas, business leaders there had taken out an ad in the daily paper making a series of outrageous accusations against Kennedy. About 5,000 flyers were passed out in Dallas accusing Kennedy of treason; like the newspaper ad, these flyers accused Kennedy not just of bad policy but of actually betraying the constitution. Some of JFK’s people advised him against visiting this, the most hostile city in the US. And in this milieu of hatred, a lone assassin acted.

Looking at the arguments against Kennedy by conservative groups, one sees how little has changed in their tactics over a period of 50 years. They don’t resort to reason but instead try to inspire fear. They conflate a willingness to negotiate with a capitulation to the forces of evil (communism for Kennedy, terrorism for Obama.)

While Oswald may have acted alone, it is worth noting that he acted in Dallas, not Boston or New York. Alligators do better in swamps than pastures; some environments are more conducive to certain kinds of people.

The most important thing is to create a culture that feeds a dialogue about what kind of country we’re creating. We can’t afford to create a culture that is hospitable to alligators. You can do something about this.

Ask not what your media can do for you. Ask what you can do for your media. It’s time to turn the channel whenever you hear nonsense reported as if it were fact, or cancel subscriptions when you read an article that can’t distinguish between reporting conflicting (even if absurd) opinions and actual investigative reporting. And, most importantly, demand that your media sources distinguish between really bad policies and evil people. Anyone should work to kill legislation they don't agree with; no one should work to kill people they disagree with.

Today is the 47th anniversary of JFK's assassination. It's worth thinking about.

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