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August 15, 2012

Political aftermath of JFK assassination

By Arthur Kane Scott

On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy, with his wife Jackie, was fired upon at Dealey Plaza. The young President was pronounced dead @ 1:30 pm, Central Standard Time, at Parkland Hospital, Dallas. While the nation was in deep shock, Lyndon Banes Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President. What was not realized at the time was that America, not only had witnessed a political assassination in which the vision of the “New Frontier” and its “New Deal” roots were marginalized, but more importantly JFK’s death represented the beginnings of a profound paradigm shift to the “Far Right” within the American culture. By the election of 2012, Corporate America, intelligence agencies, the military-industrial complex, Wall Street/Banking Industry, Religious Right and their sibling money had become the masters of the country where the one percent dominate, and economic fairness/equity banished from the dialogue. The JFK statement: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich” is forgotten, or at best ignored

This article will be a two part analysis of America’s shift to the “Far Right” over the last fifty years by looking at the impact of multiple forces on the body politic. First part, will look at the impact of the military-Industrial complex, Intelligence, rise of conservative republicanism with Barry Goldwater, the southern strategy of Richard Milhous Nixon,  the ideologue articulations of William Frank Buckley as well as the role of today’s ultra-conservative radio talk hosts. The second part will look at the 1980 Reagan election, the rise of the Religious Right, impact of feminism/gender/gay equality, dominance of Wall Street/Corporate funding, Roberts’ Court and Election of 2000, demographic shifts/waning of White America, corresponding decline of middle class, growing student indebtedness, concluding with the election of 2012.

A major factor has been the rise of the military-industrial complex and the Intelligence community, especially the CIA, the National Security Agency and today’s Homeland Security. In many ways, these Intelligence Agencies have become loose cannons with very little Congressional oversight. For example, the CIA prior to JFK assassination had been responsible for a series of global coups in Iran, El Salvador and had been plotting to overthrow Fidel Castro resulting in the disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco. Subsequently, CIA was deeply involved in counter-terrorism, black ops in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, culminating with the Iran- Contra scandal of the 80’s. Since 9/11, this pattern has magnified with the passage of the Patriot Acts infringing on civil liberties, drone warfare, and the assassination of American terrorist without due process.

The military – industrial complex has become a huge industry amounting nearly to $1 trillion dollars of a $3.83 trillion dollar 2011 budget. This expansion and growth is a by –product of the change that America underwent during WWII, by which  she was transformed into an global Empire, which ran from the Berlin Wall in Germany in Europe, through Japanese Home Islands, to Clark Field in the Philippines, in the Pacific. President Eisenhower, in his Farewell Address in 1960, warned America of the dangers that the military-industrial posed for the U.S. democratic system when he said: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist”.

Making the military even more threatening was the elimination of the “draft”, or the notion of a citizen’s army in the 1970’s, for a paid, professional army. Military institutions, upper/career officers, are by their very nature conservative, trained to be respectful of authority, to adhere to the chain of command, to put national security matters over freedom. The rank and file however generally reflects a more moderate pattern. Moreover, the trillion dollars that goes into the military budget flows into corporate America:  aerospace, telecommunications, weapons design, logistics, and is spread across Congressional Districts making it difficult for Congress to vote against military appropriation that are really not strategic but can cost jobs in their districts. The three largest global contractors: Lockheed, Northrop and Boeing are all located in the United States and they make billions from DOD contracts. Today the US is the largest arms exporter in the world amounting to 39% of the world’s total for a whopping dollar amount of $170 billion dollars. Even institutions of higher learning are caught up in the military-industrial web receiving lucrative research grants from DOD. This year it amounted to at least $260 million including among others Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Penn, and Carnegie –Mellon.

Moreover, there is a swinging door or an “iron triangle” that connects the military to the K street lobbyists and Congressional appropriations. Frequently military officers become political influence peddlers best illustrated by Vice President Dick Cheney who used his not inconsiderable influence in the White House to augment the bottom line of Halliburton which he headed as the war in the Middle East was privatized in the name of corporate efficiency and capitalism.

Another key factor to the shift to the Right was the emergence of “Mr. Republican”, Barry Goldwater, the political election of Richard M. Nixon to the White house in 1968, and his Southern Strategy. Goldwater, Senator from Arizona, became identified with the conservative agenda of small government, free enterprise, state’s right, national defense, and anti-communism. His philosophy was summarized in his 1964 Republican Acceptance speech when he said:” I would remind you that extremism in defense of freedom is no vice. And let me remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice no virtue.” Goldwater was smashed by LBJ in the 1964 presidential election in no small measure due to the negative campaigning in which he was painted as a “War Hawk” that would destroy America in a nuclear holocaust with the Soviet Union. Goldwater however did well in the “Solid south” presaging a significant change in political orientation from Democrat to Republican. Goldwater recovered his Senate seat in 1968, but by the Reagan election in 1980 his brand of “moderate conservativism” had been replaced by the “Religious Right” and social conservativism which his commitment to individual choice, for instance views on abortion, made it difficult for him to endorse.

In 1968, Richard Milhous Nixon  engineered an incredible political comeback precipitated in part by a growing “White Backlash” against Civil Rights by Middle America, who Nixon called  the “non-shouters”, by the Vietnam War/draft dodgers,  students/Free Speech Protest movement, drugs and Hippies, assassinations of Martin Luther king and Robert Francis Kennedy. America had gone through a decade of violent social/cultural upheaval which reached its climax at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. There was a deep yearning in the American psyche for normalcy seeing in Nixon the person who could best restore stability (law/order), and get the country out of the quagmire of Vietnam with honor. To win the elections of 1968/72, Nixon, and his political campaigners, realized that the White South was abandoning its traditional identification with the southern Democratic Party called “Dixicrats”. This shift was engendered by Civil/Voting Rights, State Rights, patriotism regarding Vietnam, social conservativism of its Churches, and it’s more traditional values regarding family, role of women, divorce and sexuality. This political shift was associated with a profound socio-economic transformation going on demographically and industrially leading to the emergence of the “New South”. Nixon and his political advisors won the South by playing to themes dear to southern Whites including “State’s Rights” and “Law /Order” as the best way to handle desegregation. In 1968, Nixon picked up only six southern States, the rest except Texas, going to Governor George Wallace of Alabama; but in 1974, Nixon swept the entire South.  Republican dominance in the South has been pretty much the pattern ever since. The South has remained staunchly “Red” or conservative in its political orientation, although it has elected two moderate Democrats, James Carter from Georgia in 1978, William Jefferson Clinton from Arkansas in 1992/96, the two Republicans; George H. Bush, in 1989 and in 2001-04, George W. Bush respectively hail from Texas. Historically the Blue/Red State divide has been part of the American political landscape since the founding of the Nation grounded first in the divide between North/South over slavery and the role of the Central Government, and the arguments between Jefferson and Hamilton over their respective vision for America, rural versus industrial.

William Frank Buckley, 1925-2008, was the ideologue of the conservative movement, whose mastery of articulation and prose gave to conservatism its cogency, intellectual appeal, and attractiveness. Buckley founded the “National Review”, a major voice for conservativism, as well as hosted the popular TV show, “Firing Line” from 1966-1999,and Young Americans for Freedom in 1960. His version sometimes called “high-brow” was nevertheless crucial to the growth of conservatism. Buckley was able to weave together three critical threads into the conservative tapestry: laissez-faire economics/market economy, political conservativism/smaller government, and anti-communism/ military–industrial/intelligence complex. These three ideas became the primary political conservative pillars for Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, culminating with Ronald Reagan’s “trickle-down economics”, and to a lesser extent on the administrations of the two Bushes. Buckley’s conservatism was reflected in his criticism of the Supreme Court’s ruling against religion in schools; his anti-communism by serving as CIA operative in the 50’s , and writing a series of fictional accounts about CIA protagonist, “Blackford Oakes”, where he defended questionable  CIA operations. Buckley was initially conflicted by Civil Rights, but in time became an admirer of Martin Luther king, and is remembered for entering into a series of feisty encounters with his liberal counter- part Gore Vidal, especially over sexual preference. In 1991, Buckley received from George H.  Bush, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Since the death of Buckley the conservative torch has been adopted up by Pat Buchannan and Newt Gringrich, along with ultra- conservative voice radio celebrities, led by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham.

All of these events beginning with the JFK assassination lay the basis for a profound political shift to the “Right” leading first to the Reagan presidency in 1980, accompanied by the growing dominance of Corporate America/Wall Street, culminating with the emergence of the Tea Party in 2010 which looks upon centrist politics as compromise, as betrayal. The next article will studied more closely these matters.

Arthur Kane Scott is Professor of Humanities and Cultural Studies of the Dominican University of California and Fellow of American Institute of International Studies.