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General News    H4'ed 11/14/15

Who's Afraid of John F. Kennedy?

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In the Fox Television den the kit-cats are hot at each other's throats. It's act one of fun and games with George and Bill. George Will, a staunch Reaganite, accuses Bill O'Reilly, a staunch Reaganite, of being a bad historian for claiming in his recent book, Killing Reagan, that Reagan was often so mentally unfit that aides considered removing him from office. Bill responds that George is disingenuous and very jealous of Bill's great success and that George's last book was a big flop. Tit for tat they argue like a disgruntled married couple, drawing attention in a public venue.

Was it P.T. Barnum who said, "There's no such thing as bad publicity"?

It was Edward Albee who, in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, gave us another couple, Martha and George, bound by secret affinities.

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Martha: Truth or illusion, George; you don't know the difference.

George: No, but we must carry on as if we did.

Martha: Amen.

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Amen. So George and Bill, aggrieved partisans, carry on, spinning their tales in a battle for the crown of the "real historian," the one who has a grasp on factual reality. While Albee's history professor George knew he was a loser, lost in a fog, and would never become the head of the history department or the president of his college, these guys ridicule and defend presidents as if they made them. George and Martha were very riveting in their passionate dogfights over their mutual illusions; George and Bill are like two amnesiacs arguing over something they forgot to remember.

Where was George Will three years ago when O'Reilly was trashing JFK in his specious book, Killing Kennedy? Compared to his plaintive objection to one key point in O'Reilly's new book on Reagan, Killing Kennedy is replete with so many illusionary "facts" that it should have been a fiction best-seller, despite O'Reilly advising us to "please know that this is a fact-based book," that it "is completely a work of non-fiction. It's all true."

Here are a few of his "true-facts" of the imaginary sort, the kinds of things only an omniscient author could know. Oswald meets his future wife who "is reluctant to smile because of her bad teeth." O'Reilly tells us that Kennedy "absentmindedly buttons his coat"; that Oswald "festers in a quiet rage." The mind-reader writes that "when Jackie thinks of Camelot, she focuses on the final act of the play"; that JFK's "thoughts are never far from another 'Churchill'"; that Oswald "dreams of living in the palm fringed workers' paradise of Cuba"; that "the first lady looks visibly exhausted as she primps before the mirror"; that Oswald "today is easily distracted." All true, of course, fact-based. And these are minor fictions in a book filled with major ones, including O'Reilly's lie that he was in Florida outside the door of George de Mohrenschildt, a key CIA connection to Lee Harvey Oswald, when he allegedly committed suicide. O'Reilly claims he heard the blast of the shotgun, even though he was in Dallas at the time, 1200 miles away. A guy like that hears a lot.

George Will was AWOL back then when O'Reilly spun his fantasies about Kennedy, describing him as a ladies' man, and Oswald, the spurned and sexually frustrated husband-turned-killer because he couldn't get it on with his wife. It was historical psychobabble and sexual innuendo meant to titillate, not research aimed at historical truth. Now he cries that "O'Reilly's vast carelessness pollutes history and debases the historian's craft." But back then he had nothing to say about Bill's Kennedy book whose research and fantasies are so bad that they could have been written by a kid in junior high school. Why? It is because George and Bill are two peas in a pod, joined in their illusions concerning the most significant event in modern American history -- the true nature of the murder of an American President intent on changing this country from the path of war to a path of peace. The hatred of JFK's "liberalism" is the bond that joins George and Bill in their public spat; that, plus their terrible historical research (or lack thereof) into the killing of President Kennedy by a conspiracy led by the CIA. Albee's George was a better historian; he came to realize the difference between fact and illusion.

Two years ago, Will, implicitly claiming that Oswald killed Kennedy as O'Reilly does explicitly, wrote, "the moral of liberalism's explanation of Kennedy's murder is that there is a human instinct to reject the fact that large events can have small, squalid causes; there is an intellectual itch to discern large hidden meanings in events. And political opportunism is perennial."

You don't say.

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And so is jealousy. As George tells Martha, "I said I was impressed, Martha. I'm beside myself with jealousy. What do you want me to do, throw up?"

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Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely. He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/


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