that the JFK assassination is no longer a relevant topic?
The easiest way to get ahead in the world of political punditry is to mount a vigorous, pseudo-academic defense of the Warren Commission. If you're willing to tell the populace that the lead investigators for that body -- J. Edgar Hoover and the CIA's James Jesus Angleton -- were decent and honorable men, doors will swing wide open for you.
Still. Even now. Fifty years later.
Before we discuss the most recent scholar to pass through that doorway, let us recall the case of Gerry Posner. He wrote Case Closed
, an Ozzie-diddit book which arrived in time for the 30th anniversary of the assassination. Posner's work received the most ecstatic media hosannas I've ever seen: News magazine cover stories and TV documentaries all sang the author's praises.
But the book itself was a stiff, as dull as it was deceptive. Pretty soon, it became apparent that Posner had lied repeatedly: He had claimed to interview people he had never contacted, he took credit for research actually done by others, and he misrepresented all sorts of facts in all sorts of ways. In the end, we learned (thanks, in no small part, to a writer for this very blog) that Gerry was a serial plagiarist -- a revelation that came as no surprise to anyone who had actually tried to read
the man's tabletop-flat, personality-free prose (or who had paid attention to the man's previous work on Mengele).
Oddly enough, Posner went unmentioned during the mainstream media's manic, almost psychotic coverage
of the 50th anniversary of the assassination. In 1993, Posner was a darling of the Establishment. By 2013, he had become the man who wasn't there.
We must always keep in mind one key fact: Before the public disgrace of the plagiarism scandal, Posner got a lucrative gig writing for the Daily Beast. He also received all sorts of fat contracts for books. After a while, he stopped trying to downplay his mucho importante
contacts in the intelligence community -- in fact, he bragged
about those contacts.
Posner had, in short, heard the click and squeal of those mysterious doors which always open for creatures like Gerry yet remain shut for so many others.
Now that Gerry has left the scene, another party has stepped up to that entrance way.
He has knocked the secret knock. He has spoken the pass-phrase: "Hoover and Angleton had it right!"
A pause. A click. A whirr. The doors swing open, admitting this man to a pleasant realm where writers receive fat checks -- even when most of the actual work
is done by a behind-the-scenes team.
Are you thinking about scurrying after this man while the doors remain open? Don't try it. They'll slam in your face and bloody your nose.
And who is this arriviste
? His name is Larry J. Sabato
Starting with this column, Sabato, a university professor of politics and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, joins Politico Magazine as a regular contributor. Twice a month, he’ll be sharing his insights on how the 2014 midterm races are shaping up—and the factors that really matter.
Here's the part Politico does not tell you: Sabato shares with Phil Shenon the title of "Posner II." The esteemed Professor Sabato made his name with a book designed to convince the public not only that Oswald acted alone but that JFK himself hardly deserves to be lauded or mourned. In order to tarnish JFK's credentials as a progressive icon, the professor falsely portrays Kennedy as having no real differences with the foreign policies set out by the Dulles brothers and other hard-line cold warriors.
In his review of Sabato's The Kennedy Half-Century
, Jim DiEugenio notes that Sabato shows a strange reluctance to mention the name of Edmund Gullion, the State Department official who had such a strong impact on Kennedy's thinking about the Third World. Gullion understood -- and caused JFK to understand -- that rebels in developing countries were motivated not so much by Marxism as by nationalism, anti-colonialism and simple resentment of foreign oppression. After Gullion opened his eyes, JFK made a speech damning French involvement in Algeria and warning against U.S. intervention in Vietnam. This speech placed Kennedy well to the left of Adlai Stevenson -- that is, well to the left of the left-most wing of the Democratic party.
But don't expect Larry Sabato to tell younger readers about any of this.
Why does Sabato do this tailoring? Because he wants to divorce Kennedy from being a liberal icon. He adds that young people today associate the Kennedy name with liberalism. He writes that it was really the post 1963 Robert Kennedy, and younger brother Teddy "who transformed the family name's ideology ..." (Sabato, p. 41) Well, if you cut out Gullion, eliminate Kennedy's speeches opposing the Dulles brothers' foreign policy, excise his interest in the Third World, and significantly curtail his milestone Algeria speech, then yep, you can somehow proffer Kennedy as some kind of a moderate. But that is not writing history. It is practicing a political agenda. It is not scholarship. It is in Edward Luttwak's phrase, "renting a scholar".
Sabato then switches to another line of attack, claiming that JFK didn't really care about civil rights. He doesn't tell his readers that Title III of the 1957 Civil Rights bill -- which JFK endorsed and enforced
-- meant that RFK's Justice Department attacked, for the very first time, the entire concept of school desegregation:
And it allowed the use of civil actions, which could hurt municipalities in the treasury. This was clearly the most far-ranging clause in the bill. And Kennedy was one of its most ardent proponents. Because now, finally, the federal government could intercede inside the obstructionist state governments. And contrary to what Sabato writes, Kennedy trumpeted Title III at the expense of political capital. Many commentators have noted that Kennedy's outspoken stance about this aspect of the bill is what began to erode his support in the south. (Golden, p. 95)
In a practical way, what was so important about this as far as civil rights were concerned? Because once Robert Kennedy became Attorney General, the Kennedy brothers began to use that clause in a much more widespread way than Eisenhower ever imagined. But, in keeping with his agenda, Sabato does not tell you this part of the story.
You can see how Team Sabato (the book is actually a group effort, funded by some rather interesting foundations) has subtly twisted history to place a false JFK before the eyes of a new generation.
As for the assassination itself, another review
by Mike Swanson is very revealing. We've mentioned this piece
before, but let's look again:
Sabato dismisses just about all possible conspiracy theories in his book. He claims it simply is "irresponsible" to think that elements of the United States government could be involved. He won't do that so he comes up with one possible politically correct conspiracy theory of his own buried in a footnote – "in theory, the cabal could also have been the opposite: Communist inspired. In April, 1961 FBI J. Edgar Hoover sent Attorney General Robert Kennedy a memo admitting that the Office of Strategic Services (the CIA's parent organization) had been infiltrated by a "Communist element" that "created problems and situations which even to this day affect US intelligence operations."
In other words it's a thought crime to think that some people in the United States government could have been a party to President Kennedy's assassination so if there were people like that they must have been under the control of the KGB. If the CIA killed Kennedy so to speak it did so, because it was actually a cat's paw of the KGB.
Well, look there are a lot of crazy conspiracy theories that have been peddled over the years, from the driver did it, to some Secret Service agent accidently shot the President, and on and on. Most of the theories have no real proof, but what Sabato proposes is one of the craziest theories I've ever seen in print. In fact the idea that the CIA was under the control of the KGB is more of a nightmare than any of the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories.
You see? Wild, evidence-free conspiracy theories are
permissible -- as long as your theories target people that the Powers-That-Be want you to hate.
Hear that? I think that's the mechanism of an electronic lock un-locking.
Sounds like those hinges could use some WD40.
Tap tap tap tap....
Footsteps. A man walks through a portal.
Welcome, Larry J. Sabato. You have arrived -- for now. But rest assured that many people, including the proprietor of this humble blog, will be keeping an eye on your career. Remember what happened to Gerry.