It's the name of a big, new novel by Stephen King and, for my generation of Americans, it is a sad date forever etched in our memories. 11/22/63 - the date that our president was murdered.
Each year since, as the fatal date draws near, there is always a flurry of news stories about it and a flurry of commentary, both positive and negative, about the president who died that day in Dallas. This year is no exception. In addition to King's book, we have the release by Caroline Kennedy of her mother Jacqueline's taped 1964 reminiscences with Arthur Schlesinger and Chris Matthews' biography of the man, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero. Also, the weekend just past brought us a long article in New York Magazine by Frank Rich entitled "What Killed JFK?"
Rich's answer to the question he poses is that it was the pervasive hatred of the times which created the atmosphere where a deranged loser could believe that it would be acceptable for him to assassinate a president. Indeed, he may have dreamed that he would be hailed as a hero in some quarters. In fact, as one who lived through that dark period in one area of the country where that hatred was as rampant as anywhere, I can tell you that that is exactly what happened. There were people in this country, many of them still alive today, who thought that Lee Harvey Oswald did a great service for the nation. Such attitudes were expressed in some churches, including the one my family attended, at the time.
The most troubling thing about Rich's article, though, is the parallel that he draws between 1963 and 20ll and the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama.
In both instances, both men came into office as trailblazers, Kennedy as the first Roman Catholic president and Obama as the first African-American. Both were seen initially as champions of the liberal cause and both soon proved to be much more moderate or even conservative than their most ardent supporters. Both had had very short and undistinguished careers in the Senate and, as president, both proved very tentative in their handling of the legislative branch of Congress. By the third year of their presidencies, both were seen as something of a disappointment and there was much speculation as to whether they could win a second term, even though in Kennedy's case his approval ratings were much higher than Obama's are now.
But perhaps the most striking thing that the two presidents share is the unreasoning, blind hatred which they both engendered in many of their fellow Americans. John F. Kennedy, just as Barack Obama today, was seen as an illegitimate president by a certain segment of the citizenry and the vituperation coming from them was not so different from the vileness you can hear on Fox News or from Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, or that you can read in the comments on the pages of too many online newspapers, including the local Houston Chronicle, concerning Barack Obama. The vitriol of a U.S. Congressman who will stand and interrupt a president's speech in a joint session of Congress with a shouted, "You lie!" or the insanity of another poor deranged loser like the one who fired shots at the White House last week are merely the most obvious examples of the malice that stalks our country today. In a country where so many people are armed to the teeth, this is not a good sign.
I remember that day 48 years ago only too well. I will never forget the shock and sadness and deep disappointment that I felt that day and in the days that followed. I've often wondered what would have happened if Oswald's aim had not been true and Kennedy had lived. How would things have been different? Different better or different worse? Obviously, I'm not the only one who has wondered. That's why Stephen King wrote his book.