Heather Digby Parton doesn’t care much for Texans who exercise their constitutional rights. The Salon columnist sounded like a true authoritarian this week when she penned a piece called “Texas Gun Nuts’ Scary Ritual: How Hatred of a President Turned Profane” decrying the fact that a number of gun rights activists rallied for open carry laws at Dallas’s Dealey Plaza.
Parton seems blithely unware that Dealey Plaza, while being the site of the 1963 Kennedy assassination, is also the center of metropolitan Dallas. Any connection to the events that transpired there fifty years ago is purely coincidental.
To Parton, the gun rights rally seemed eerily reminiscent of a time long ago when right-wing Texans gave President Kennedy a chilly “welcome.” Their crime, apparently, was voicing their opposition to the president’s administration and its policies. They took out a mean newspaper ad, carried mean signs, and demanded to “address their grievances [sic].” They even swore fealty to the Constitution, which has reduced Ms. Parton to a pants-wetting ball of nerves.
In other words, the dangerous right-wingers of early 1960s Dallas did nothing more than exercise the rights guaranteed in our Constitution to every American. Apparently it isn’t just the second amendment Parton hates but the first as well.
Ms. Parton isn’t very subtle with the inferences she draws. “The right-wing hatred for John F. Kennedy was in some ways as extreme as the hatred for Barack Obama and nowhere was it more energized than Dallas in 1963,” she writes.
Yeah. And Kennedy was murdered. Surely Obama is next, and we know who the culpable parties will be—conservatives like me. We’re already guilty of future crimes that exist only in Parton’s mind.
As if her smear weren’t clear enough, Parton continues, after spouting a laundry list of questions that right-wing meanies asked Kennedy: “You get the drift. And you probably recognize the tone. The subject may have changed somewhat but the arrogant attitude combined with the aggrieved victimization is a hallmark of right-wing politics even today. As we all know, later that day the president was gunned down in Dealey Plaza.”
Notice the use of the passive voice which avoids making an accusation against any particular person. Nowhere in the piece is Lee Harvey Oswald, or anyone else for that matter, identified as the assassin. Why not? Because it doesn’t matter. Oswald didn’t kill President Kennedy; Dallas did, with its love of firearms and its hideous reactionary vitriol. Kennedy was a beautiful man who fell victim to a lynching of sorts in the capital of Dixieland bigotry.
The problem with Parton’s analysis is that neither attitudes nor cities kill people. Human beings do. Further complicating her narrative is the fact that Oswald was a communist every bit as red as Kennedy’s blood. He was so enthralled with the Soviet system that he defected to Moscow hoping to trade military secrets for life in a worker’s paradise.
For a number of reasons, Oswald’s political orientation has always been very difficult for people on the Left to accept. They have convinced themselves that the so-called communist threat was largely imaginary, that actual communists were mostly do-gooders if only a little zealous, and that anti-communism was a far greater threat to all that is good and right. Consequently, people on the Left engage in a form of group therapy in which they jointly exercise their preferred coping mechanism—denial—by seeking out alternative explanations for what happened that day. The result is the cottage industry of conspiracist books and movies that surround the assassination.
The industry contends that Lee Harvey Oswald must have been either a patsy or else he wasn’t really a left-winger at all. Or both. Hence the conspiracists speak of Oswald being “sheep-dipped.” Sheep-dipping is the process of imbuing a person with a desired background. Oswald, they argue, was actually a tool of the Cold War-era intelligence community who merely pretended to be a communist. He went to great lengths to pad his communist résumé, even forming his own chapter of Fair Play for Cuba and subscribing to the Daily Worker. Once the “sheep-dipping” thesis is accepted, all evidence pointing to Oswald’s far-left politics, and there’s plenty of it, becomes evidence that he was constructing a persona, which is only more compelling evidence for the conspiracy theory!
Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, Lee’s brother Robert Oswald has confirmed that Lee was a communist from the age of fifteen. All part of the illusion, say the conspiracy theorists. Apparently the dastardly CIA groomed young Oswald from the time he was a high school freshman to be one of their henchmen, evidently so that they could one day use him to murder a president who hadn’t even been elected yet.
There’s a simpler explanation, of course. Maybe he was just a communist.
Having dismissed Oswald as irrelevant, the Left gets down to the business of determining who really did it. On this point they don’t all agree. They’re certain that the culprits were associated with something called the military industrial complex but specifics are hotly contested. It might have been E. Howard Hunt, or maybe the elder George Bush. Obviously, J. Edgar Hoover has his fingerprints all over it. Let’s throw in some Texas oilmen, defense contractors, and anti-Castro Cubans for good measure. In other words, all the boogeymen who haunt progressives’ nightmares were conveniently implicated in Kennedy’s murder. If that sounds like they’re projecting their own prejudices upon their analysis, that’s because they are.
They wish it had happened that way. They want an orderly world of good guys and bad guys, in which dashing liberal presidents with movie star good looks are murdered by people they can readily despise—rednecks, corporatists, militarists. Anyone but a communist!
Heather Digby Parton exploits the tragic murder of John F. Kennedy in order to stifle policy differences. Her insinuation that dissent is akin to murder is clear. We’re all guilty of Kennedy’s murder, and probably the hypothetical murder of Barack Obama too, if only because we entertain bad thoughts. The only way to exculpate ourselves is never to utter a disparaging word about the president, provided that he’s a liberal Democrat of course.