“Ex-Marine Asks Soviet Citizenship”
— Washington Post headline, Nov. 1, 1959 (concerning a Lee Harvey Oswald)
“He didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights. It's — it had to be some silly little Communist.”
— Jacqueline Kennedy, Nov. 22, 1963
She thought it robbed his death of any meaning. But a meaning would be quickly manufactured to serve a new politics. First, however, an inconvenient fact — Oswald — had to be expunged from the story. So, just 24 months after the assassination, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the Kennedys' kept historian, published a thousand-page history of the thousand-day presidency without mentioning the assassin.
The transformation of a murder by a marginal man into a killing by a sick culture began instantly — before Kennedy was buried. The afternoon of the assassination, Chief Justice Earl Warren ascribed Kennedy's “martyrdom” to “the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots.”
The next day, James Reston, the New York Times luminary, wrote in a front-page story that Kennedy was a victim of a “streak of violence in the American character,” but especially of “the violence of the extremists on the right.” Never mind that adjacent to Reston's article was a Times report on Oswald's communist convictions and associations. A Soviet spokesman, too, assigned “moral responsibility” for Kennedy's death to “Barry Goldwater and other extremists on the right.”
Three days after the assassination, a Times editorial, “Spiral of Hate,” identified Kennedy's killer as a “spirit”: The Times deplored “the shame all America must bear for the spirit of madness and hate that struck down” Kennedy. The editorialists were, presumably, immune to this spirit. The new liberalism-as-paternalism would be about correcting other people's defects.