tv History Bookshelf CSPAN September 6, 2015 8:00am-9:41am EDT
[captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2014] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] james pearson examines the changes in liberalism after the assassination of john f. kennedy. following the remarks, roof lectured on the books. reflection on the books. the american enterprise institute hosted this event in 2007. it is just under 90 minutes. >> welcome to the book forum. normally we are a policy organization, focused on public policy but occasionally the tectonic plates of politics
undergird us. we want to look at the event that i think most people would agree is the most traumatic event of the last half century of american life, the assassination of jfk. even if we judge september 11 more consequential. at almost 50 years removed, is there anything new to be said about this grim episode? surprisingly there is.
jim pearson argues in camelot and the cultural revolution that the trauma of his killing went beyond the nation's grief and outrage and led to the d deformation of our political consensus. it was the catalyst for transformation of liberalism in the 1960' s and should be regarded as a key turning point of the end of america's long liberal tradition and the beginning of a new kind of liberalism that represents a repudiation of the older tradition. whether this older tradition was too brittle because of its predecessors is a matter that the panel will take up. we have david brown and the author of a biography of richard hofstadter. hofstadter is important because he is one of the leading thinkers of the mid century consensus liberalism. he contemplated the clash between new left and its liberal fathers.
i can quote one paragraph from the book i found striking. "the columbia crisis forced him to realize most liberals did not understand liberalism. they believed it was self-perpetuating even in the face of violence. they had no idea of the toughness and effort required to sustain it against enemies. he further noted the prevalent style of liberalism was not liberal at all. it was soft, weak, and inconsistent. rather than serve as a consensual middle ground for the majority of americans, liberals were tilting to the left. abandoning their liberalism." i can see why you were taken with his book. our second discussant is michael barone.
i like to joke that michael can tell you exactly how many votes and from which precincts mayor daley rounded up for kennedy. michael: 24th ward. [laughter] steve: in addition to being a long-time columnist we are pleased he is now a fellow here at aei. he is the author himself of the narrative political history our country, which he thinks about the same themes. we begin with jim piereson. jim: thank you. i'm delighted to be here, delighted to be on the panel with old friends. steve hayward. michael barone. and david brown, a young scholar with great talent who has turned
out a wonderful book on richard hofstadter. the kennedy assassination was what i call an overwhelming event in the 1960's. no one expected it. it came as a total shock. it turned out to be an event that was extremely difficult to assimilate according to the assumptions of the time and the assumptions of liberalism. to start out, i have a short tape, which runs about five minutes, which is a collage of the events of the time, which when i talked to college students i like to show because they have no sense of any of this history. abby, do you want to start it off? i think this will work. i often have trouble with it. here it comes.
>> the great questions of full employment, economic growth, a strong society, equal opportunity for all. president kennedy: so my fellow americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. whether it wishes us, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any
foe, to ensure the survival of liberty. >> a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment is being initiated. all ships at any time bound for cuba from whatever nation or port, found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons be turned back. president kennedy: some say it is useless to seek a peace, and that it will be useless until the leaders of the soviet union adopt a more enlightened attitude. i hope they do. i believe we can help them do it. some say communism is the wave of the future. let them come to berlin. [cheering]
>> events in birmingham have so incresed the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can choose to ignore. martin luther king, jr.: i have a dream, one day this nation will rise up, live opportunities, live up to the meaning of its creed. all men are created equal. >> i wish to enact legislation giving all americans the right to be served and facilities open to the public. hotels, resteraunts. this seems to be an elementary right. this is an arbitrary dignity. no american in 1963 should have to endure. but many do. >> mr. president, it is been a long time since we have had a rip or on your health. how is your aching back?
president kennedy: it depends on the weather, political and otherwise. >> mrs. kennedy. the crowd yells. and the president of united states shaking hands with the dallas people. president kennedy: we must concern themselves with the progressive future. i hope to preserve the peace to make sure that this is achieved. >> bullet wounds. the president is seriously wounded. >> excuse me, chet.
here is a flash from the associated press. they say he is dead. >> the white house press secretary has announced president kennedy is dead. >> the nation' s capitol is in disbelief. the sidewalks have been jammed with crowds. >> i was 15-20 feet away from the president. three shots rang out towards jackie. she fell over on him and said my god, he is shot. >> here and there people are crying. there are reactions of rage and fury. >> the only evidence i have as to who these people are are these ultraconservative groups spreading hate.
this is the first time in my life i can say i' m not proud to be an american. >> they have little doubt that lee oswald was the one who shot and killed president kennedy. lee oswald: i emphatically deny these charges. >> he has been shot. lee oswald has been shot. >> it is impossible to understand, this young man can be dead in this fashion.
there is nothing else to report from the capital. jim: ok. i show that film to illustrate a couple of things. one, just the shock of the event in american life. secondly to illustrate that there were two key issues going on at the time. civil rights, the cold war. civil rights, flashpoint in the south. the cold war flash point of the cuban missile crisis the year before, brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. there is also in this film the idea that the kennedys were celebrities.
and of course the moving scenes associated with the assassination and the funeral, the photos of the event and the scenes of the funeral with the widow, the march 2 arlington national cemetery. engraved on the national memory where they served as a dark backdrop to the tumultuous events that followed in the 1960's. most books on the kennedy assassination raise the question of who did it. did oswald do it? he did. or maybe the mafia. maybe the cia or fbi. the radical right wing businessman. those are all favored subjects. i ask a different question. the question is ask is what did it mean. this is a large event. what did it mean in american life. what was its meaning for politics?
importantly, what was the length link between kennedy's assassination in 1963 and the events that followed, which by 1968 turned the nation on its head? the 1960's represented the end of the liberal era, which began in the 1930's with franklin roosevelt and the new deal. by 1968 the assumptions of the liberal movement that roosevelt, truman, stephenson, humphrey, kennedy, and lyndon johnson represented, those assumptions were in tatters by 1968. 1968 was a remarkable year. dan has written a piece in the "wall street journal" on the events of that year including, two important assassinations.
senator kennedy and martin luther king. and the upheavals on campus. lyndon johnson' s withdrawal from the race. how did we get from 1963 to 1968? we had a stable country. a fairly popular president. his popularity was around 63% when he ventured to dallas. within four and a half years the country was turned upside down. i spent a great deal of time on postwar liberalism, the liberalism reflected in the work of richard hofstadter. and other historians like daniel bell, who constructed a historical narrative of liberalism in the 1950's. the liberals had set forth what i would call a democratic narrative. they believed that america had problems but that with the leadership of liberals,
intellectually and politically, the democratic experiment in america could be progressively perfected. as the bounty of america was progressively extended to those who had been left out. and that was the narrative that they believed in. of course, the cold war represented a new iteration of liberalism. postwar liberalism, the 1950's and 1960's represented the third iteration of 20th century liberalism. progressivism was the first, the new deal was the second, postwar liberalism the third. and the cold war represented an important piece of this. they believed in fighting the cold war. you saw the clip of kennedy in berlin.
kennedy in contrast fighting on the plane of ideas, that communism was a failure on the plane of ideas and practicality. there was one other element of postwar liberalism important to mention and that was the effect of mccarthyism. the liberals of the new deal were confidence that their ideas were supported by majority of the people. the electoral results seem to prove that. mccarthyism challenged this faith, because it seemed that mccarthy, whom the liberals regarded as a demagogue, gained support. it seemed for a time that mccarthy might generate sufficient support to overturn the achievements of the new deal. therefore there rose in the 1950's a body of work by these historians which focused heavily on the radical right is a great threat to democratic process and a threat to this democratic narrative they set forth. the radical right consisted of the anti-communists like
mccarthy, the southern racists and bigots, and the ministers on the radio the war only what with the previous two groups. there is a very large industry of books and articles on the radical right. daniel bell edited a very influential book posted and reedited in 1962 called "the radical right." from a liberal standpoint it was not conservative. it was not associated with groups that held power. it was not respectful of institutions. they were radicals outsiders, they had little power. daniel bell called them "the dispossessed."
they were at war with modernity as hofstadter said. hofstadter wrote an essay called "the paranoid style in american politics" in which he characterized these extremist groups as being out of touch with reality, paranoid. most of the examples he gave where from the right, though he did not exempt the left. this was the democratic faith, and the democratic analysis set forth by liberal thinkers of the 1950's and early 1960's. kennedy was loosely associated with this tradition. he talked about the future, progressive future of the american dream. even though he was a very cautious politician, kennedy never wanted to get far out in front of public opinion. he came late to the support of civil rights.
that clip you saw was june of 1963, after there had been at least two years, three years of persistent demonstrations in the south. they reached a point by 1963 when he saw that this could not be held off any longer. as i said, the two great issues of that period were civil rights and the cold war. cuba was an important flashpoint. during the course of 1963 events picked up speed. you saw the clip of may of 1963 of the police in birmingham using fire hoses and dogs on the demonstrators. that was flashed across the country. a civil rights activist was assassinated outside of his home in jackson, mississippi. kennedy endorsed the civil rights bill.
in august, martin luther king gave his i have a dream speech. in september the ku klux klan blew up a church killing for small girls. -- four small girls. kennedy gave a speech and blamed george wallace for inflaming public opinion to the point where such actions were taken. adelei stevenson, the u.s. ambassador ventured to dallas to give a speech. he was greeted by hecklers. he was spat upon as he made his way to his car and hit over the head with a cardboard placard. this is the end of october. cause gold attended the event. -- oswald attended the event. stephenson reported that dallas was overtaken by a spirit of madness in the white house should think twice before they send president kennedy into such a dangerous city. kennedy committed himself to
going. there was a rift between johnson and connolly, and yarborough on the other side. johnson wanted to run a conservative against yarborough. he ventured to dallas. it was kennedy. to see any violence occurring as emanating from the radical right, anti-communists or racists. when word spread that afternoon that kennedy had been shot, broadcasters began to speculate quickly that some forces from the right were responsible. therefore people were shocked when they began, when oswald was arrested and they showed tapes of oswald demonstrating on behalf of castro the previous summer, appearing on television interviews saying he was a communist. someone who had defected to the soviet union in 1959 before returning.
it seemed plain that kennedy, given the evidence, was a victim or casualty of the cold war. that would seem to be the that would seem to be the interpretation that would be placed on the event. this was not the case. very quickly, this event was interpreted by liberals, by political leaders, even political leaders across the spectrum, as an event in the civil rights crusade. kennedy is a victim of the nation's culture of the radical right. this is a copy, you can't see it. i will hold it up. the front page of "the new york times," november 23 the day after kennedy was killed by snipers is the headline. there is a long story on oswald. "leftist accused."
the article details oswald's communist background. this article, you can see it below the photo, is titled "why america weeps." kennedy is a victim of a violent streak he sought to curb in the nation. he interprets kennedy's death as an event arising from the violent streak in america. "america wept for itself. the worst in the nation has prevailed over the best." the indictment extended beyond the assassin. some strain of madness and violence that destroyed the highest symbol of law and order. the irony is that it short dashes administration was
dedicated to curb the violence in the american character." it goes on in that vein. pushing this theme, "the new york times" published an editorial called "the spiral of hate." this is after oswald has been shot. place it in the same context. martin luther king said it had to be seen against the backdrop of violence against civil rights workers in the south. earl warren, the chief justice of the supreme court, said that kennedy was a martyr because of hatred injected into the bloodstream of the nation by bigots. lyndon johnson said that he wanted to tamp out the hatred and prejudice and oppression prevalent in american life and the best memorial given to president kennedy would be to pass the civil rights bill.
the day after the assassination, the leaders of the american communist party sent a telegram to jackie kennedy, saying that the assassination was the ultimate end of the rise of violence and terror by racists and forces of the ultra-right. the soviet union put out a statement saying reactionary, reactionaries are using the president's death to fuel anti-cuban hysteria. oswald was the man accused of burning the reichstag fire, the reichstag in 1933. the interpretation continued along these lines. looking at the newspapers i saw only one instance of a prominent
figure chalking kennedy's assassination of to the cold war and communism. this didn't happen. the dominant interpretive motif was that kennedy was a victim not of communism, not of the cold war, but a victim of hatred and violence that was prevalent in american life. why did that happen? very quickly, several reasons. mrs. kennedy wanted her husband remembered as a modern day abraham lincoln. a casualty of the crusade for equal rights. in her mind, being a casualty of the cold war did not carry with it the honor that the other would have. lyndon johnson was very fearful of complicating relations with the soviet union should the communist aspect of this event be emphasized. liberals were fearful that an emphasis on communism would inflame the public and bring about a replay of the mccarthy era that had done so much damage
to liberals. and democrats. robert kennedy and other members of the family were fearfull of a communist element emphasized, attention will be drawn to efforts to overthrow castro. j. edgar hoover did not wish this to be emphasized either. he preferred the lone nut theory of the assassination. if it were shown oswald was a subversive communist the fbi would be held liable for not having identified him and protected the president. the fbi is not responsible for identifying lone nuts. so, more or less, it should be said the public did not know in 1963 of the kennedy administration efforts to eliminate castro. this was not made public until 1975 when the church commission
investigated efforts by the cia when they disclosed efforts by the eisenhower and kennedy administration to assassinate leaders. including castro. the public did not have the information needed to put these pieces together but leaders did. i have a long chapter on oswald that i will not get into. suffice it to say oswald was a strange and bizarre character in the cold war, defecting to the soviet union in 1959, returning in 1962. being in contact with the communist party and the socialist workers party.
he read their magazines when he returned. he purchased a rifle and a pistol in 1963, and the first thing he did was try to assassinate the head of the john birch society in dallas. his shot missed. people living in dallas at the time strongly suspected who knew oswald that he had done this. if he had hit walker and killed him he probably would have been captured. he left a note to his wife telling her what he should, what she should do if he was killed. that was not until after kennedy was assassinated. he was fearful of staying in dallas after he tried to kill the general and created a fair play for cuba committee. he was interviewed frequently on television and radio. september of 1963 he gave an interview to the associated press reporter in cuba in which he said that american leaders continued efforts to assassinate leaders of the revolution they will not be safe.
the text of the interview was published in newspapers around the country, including the paper where oswald lived. an investigator suspected craps -- suspected that oswald was like the cortiers to the king, who will rid me of this miserable priest? he made an effort to travel to cuba in september of 1963 by visiting the cuban and soviet in this these in mexico city. -- embassy in mexico city. the cia picked up a call from oswald from the cuban to the soviet embassies and referred
this to the fbi who try to get on oswald's trail. he attended the demonstration against stevenson at the end of october. he was living apart has wife and the fbi could not find him. they interviewed his wife twice in early november 1963 but she would not tell him where her husband was. since they didn't interview people at their places of employment the fbi did not track him down. after the assassination j. edger hoover disciplined agents privately. he was quoted as saying, when he discipline the agents, i will tolerate actions which have forever destroy the fbi's reputation as a top investigative agency. hoover believe the fbi should have been able to intercept oswald before he assassinated kennedy.
i argue in the book, and maybe we can pick this up, the assassination of kennedy and the interpretation imposed upon it, that kennedy was a victim of a violent streak in the nation, that it was place in the context of this warfare against the radical right, that this led to the unwinding of liberalism and contributed to it. i don't think it did alone because many events for taking ways in the 1960's. but it is plain that the narrative of liberalism changed by 1968, i think that legacy is with us today. the democratic narrative the liberals had in 1950's was progressive and future oriented. the narrative that came into place by the late 60's was a different one. it said america was a flawed and
sick society. all the things we had been proud of they regarded as things we should criticize. our prosperity was based upon imperialism and exploitation. our prosperity was based upon the despoiling of the environment. and the coddling dictators. this could be traced all the way through american history back to the beginning. the purpose of reform was not so much to perfect the democratic experiment but to punish the nation for its sins. this became a narrative that replaced the older narrative. it is this is this as much as anything else that brought about the end of the liberal era. i see a connection from the response of kennedy assassination and development of this narrative. up until the 1960's, liberals tried to maintain a wall of separation between themselves and the far left. the far left existed. there was a communist or socialist left that saw america as headquarters of world capitalism and therefore a
nation not to be admired. then there were the cultural radicals who saw oppression not to lie in capitalism but in the institutions of civilization itself. the school, the family, the church. and the purpose of politics was to liberate the individual from these institutions. the political liberals like humphrey and kennedy tried to keep a distance from these groups. what happen in the 1960's, the wall between liberalism began to dissolve, and the critiques of the socialists and cultural radicals seeped into the mainstream of liberal thought. and helped to generate a narrative that lives with us today. thank you.
david: good afternoon. i would like to thank aei for inviting me here. i would like to thank professor piereson for such an interesting provocative book. i think it is ironic in 1950's and 1960's, an age of consensus, there was no consensus about what american liberalism was. conservatives tend emphasize the fact that modern liberalism was a creature of crisis. the crisis was the 1930's. the market crash. it was the belief once the crisis was over there was no need for modern liberalism to continue. a more traditional conservatism would come back into power.
this is a conservatism that is comfortable emphasizing capitalism, individualism, isolationism. a main streetism. there was this notion, there was one part that was maybe worth reserving. the programmatic element of it. programs, agencies used in the 1930's to combat the great depression. the social security act. the works progress administration. well, once the 1930's passed, once the second world war passes, there is this question. what is it that is compelling to make it stand, make it last? professor pierson notes in his
book that programmatic liberalism begins to give way to a cultural liberalism. it is a politics of intellect. if the liberalism begins to be soft, you have an artificial construction of ideas rather than programs which are sustaining a movement. you need programs to sustain them, to keep them going. you have historians, social scientists, you had critical thinkers, intellectuals, who emphasize the efficacy of new deal liberalism and wanted to see it continue into the postwar period. in other words, not a return to the old conservatism. in politics, you have individuals like adelei stevenson, kennedy, who
personify the stylistic elements of postwar liberalism. hofstetter in particular was taken by stevenson. he worked for the campaign in 52 but got off the bus so to speak in 1956. he was a chary supporter of john f. kennedy, didn't want to get too close to the wheels of power. wanted to maintain a critical intellectual distance but look at the alternatives in dwight eisenhower, nixon, found them to be in some sense stayed, anti-intellectual. not interesting politicians. this argument about a kind of politics of style, where is it going to go? couldn't transcend the lack of identity? many conservatives make the
argument that it couldn't. it collapsed because there was not enough substance to it. liberals obviously take a different tack. liberals argue that modern liberalism has deep roots in the american past. you can go to the populism of the 1890' s or even further back to post-enlightenment thinkers like thomas jefferson, james madison, and english history, john locke, all good liberals. liberals make the argument what is happening in america is an evolution of an older liberalism that is responding to the new deal. it does not represent a new phenomenon. it is an evolution of sorts. liberals would emphasize the fact that there is a crisis. the crisis was the crisis of the 1960's.
not the economic crisis -- real, true, valid. but the cultural crisis of the 1960's that encouraged disenchantment with liberalism. both sides, conservatives and liberals emphasized crisis. a liberal might make a suggestion that what's happening in the 20th century, since 1968, is the emergence of a conservative movement whose roots aren't as deep as the liberal movements, the liberal ideology. and what is taking place is in the fact that you have a native conservatism which is coming back into power after 1968 which is a restoration of what was transpiring before 1932. liberals emphasize today they may be looking for their own restoration.
that they represent a lockean tradition of cultural openness and tolerance. they say the benchmark, the foundation of american liberalism, what they would suggest is the last years has been a hiccup, a movement away from a traditional american ideology. you have this interesting situation, this age of consensus. but neither conservatives or liberals seem to be able to agree on vital things. when did liberalism began? 1932, long ago? an even more basic question. america. ideologically, what is it? is it mostly liberal or mostly conservative? what they do agree on is that something happened in 1968. postwar liberalism, the new deal coalition was shattered and has
not come back. so that is the question that the professor raises. what happened to bring this about? the kennedy assassination tells part of the story. but i would want to add on some additional reasons. some touched upon in the book. they bear emphasis here. the impact of the vietnam war. by the late 1960's the country had undergone, or was in the process of undergoing, three major asian land wars.
coupled with that, there's evidence of cold war fatigue. the resistance against the soviet states, international communism for more than a generation building up a culture that would be impervious to communism. a kind of respite in this crusade in the late 1960's. then a buildup in the 1980's. one can emphasize this enchantment by the late 1960's with the civil rights crusade. if liberalism can point proudly, would liberalism be blamed when the black power movement begins to become more prominent, when you have the long hot summers in newark and cleveland and washington, d.c. with liberalism, what would liberalism's response to this be? this is a huge issue. the riddle of race that has been problematic for so long. liberalism has no concrete answers in 1968.
there is also i think a cultural change afoot. 1963, obviously it is the year that betty friedan's "the feminine mystique" comes out. it is not so much a 1960's book, i think of it as a 1950's book. an upscale educated female class. it does point to broader cultural, social, gender issues in american society at the time. a book that obviously predates the assassination. when i think of movements, i have to emphasize student movements of the 1960's. they were important response to the war in vietnam. they were a response to universities in general. the tremendous growth due to the baby boom. you had universities that had to
very, very rapidly within a half a generation begin to expand, offer new curriculums, bring forth new faculty. this, amidst broader cultural movements, this, amidst a cold war state. when i think of the students, i think of some of the things they were pushing for, i'm not sure i would attribute all of this to this to pessimism. for example, while there were certainly anti-intellectualism on the part of the students, at one point, the argument that universities should be impervious to government. they should be impervious to the cold war state. that universities should be sanctuaries of critical thinking.
all ideas, all ideologies should be welcome, should be expressed. many students at that time were under the assumption that the university represented that. you show up, there is an ivory tower. it is very pretty. it is costly but it is very attractive. you meet these great professors and think these people can change the world. then you realize that they can't change the world. you can become cynical about that. maybe you are victims of your own high expectations. they are great expectations to have. when they are not met, they looked at some professors and college university presidents and said you let us down. well there is a social movement.
i would add demographic movements in particular. there was an interesting migration out of the liberal northeast into the southwest. a conservative southwest. by the 1960's new york will longer be the most populous in the union. texas has also eclipsed the state of new york. this is a population that is followed by a booming defense industry in the southwest. by a booming energy industry in the southwest. so you have people, you have money, military, and power, which is making very interesting migrations. this will continue after 1963, but it is taking place before 1963 as well. i just to mention that
programmatic liberalism in the 1930's, i don't think that they died out with the great depression. i think one can make an argument that in the 1960's programmatic liberalism comes back with a vengeance. what i'm referencing is lyndon johnson's great society programs, medicare and medicaid. civil rights legislation. the war on poverty. johnson inherited that and made it go. an ironic sense, maybe it wasn' wasn't so much the death of programmatic liberalism but it was the dramatic, rapid pace of
programmatic liberalism coupled with vietnam, and to increase the pace of activity. a pace that was probably too rapid for the american public to assimilate in such a short time. before i conclude my remarks, i would like to mention there were real cracks in the liberal edifice before 1963. in politics, one could look at strom thurmond's dixiecrat candidacy. this would point to the race politics of the future. in 1968 you have george wallace's dixiecrat candidacy. dwight eisenhower, his 1961 address concerning the dangers of an military-industrial complex, the last address that he gave as president of the united states. it points to a think the dangers not set in concrete at his time at the possible dangers of a
warfare welfare state, of the dangers of its abuse into an artificial, an imperial presidency. anticipating a problematic future. to tie this together with the student movement, you look at this idea of the welfare warfare state and what it means to americans in the future. they rebelled against that. most didn't, some did. finally, there were a number of interesting, provocative books that appeared in the 1950's and 1960's that emphasized a certain distrust, animosity with the direction of modern liberalism. for example, c. wright mill's book "power elite." and i think also, christopher's book in 1965. this in some respects was a late 1950's book. this was a new radicalism in
america. a book very critical of modern liberalism. also, john steinbeck, "the winter of our discontent" is a beautiful portrait of a fading lost century. i mention these books because there was considerable dissent laid out from the right, and certainly it was modern conservatism that has done well. after the collapse of modern liberalism. politically speaking. i think culturally speaking as well. there was considerable attention from the left trying to not fine tune, not criticize, but to take down the liberal edifice, the consensus state. so they played a role as well. thank you. >> thank you very much, steve. and i want to thank jim pearson
for writing this book. "camelot and the cultural revolution." in my view this is a terrific contribution to the study of american history. he sets forth an explanation for a vast change that occurred in america, a partial explanation as he explains to be sure but an important one, something i have been trying to understand for many years and have failed to do so. in my book, a narrative political history from 1930 to 1988, i tried to set forth some of these things and how 1963, which was in some sense the
1950's still as david brown mentioned, it becomes 1968, which is very much the 1960's and exerts the hold over our culture. how american liberalism moved from a celebration of american exceptionalism to an american adversarialism, taking an adversarial stance, seeing american liberalism of franklin roosevelt, they saw america as a good place. this was a good country. the american liberalism since 1963 has taken a different, has tended to take a different view. the poster scott rassmussen in 2004, asked questions about is america basically a fair and decent country or not? with the world be better off if more countries are more like america or not? he found two thirds of the voters answered yes to both questions.
about a quarter answered no. among republican voters it was about 90% yes. democratic voters response was in the nature of 47% to 39%. that is a marginal of reminds me of the story of the teamsters union business agent in the hospital and received a bouquet of flowers with a note that said the executive board wishes you a speedy recovery with a vote of 9-6. it is less than equivocal support for american exceptionalism. democratic candidates have gotten in trouble for a lack of american exceptionalism.
i mean, michael dukakis was from brookline, massachusetts, where the annual town meeting would debate whether to say the american pledge. bill clinton, the most successful democratic politician could voice american exceptionalism things, and with his adeptness could do so while apologizing for america's past misdeeds from slavery to the overthrow of queen lili oaklawn he, so the monarchy america regrets it overthrew. jim pearson' s video at the beginning of this affected me emotionally more than i would have thought. i was 18 years old, 19-years-old when kennedy was assassinated. a freshman at harvard.
and it was, and i was an admirer of kennedy in the 1960 election. mitt romney was also a students. we had a straw poll in our election. the vote was 92% nixon, 8% kennedy. it is more fun to be with the 8% than with the 92% on any issue in my current position of the press corps has given me that pleasure. he reminds us what a shock this was. i think it was a shock that upset a narrative of american history that was american exceptionalism. we have founding fathers. most countries don't have founding fathers. they were perhaps in 1963, not visually visited to people that
there was a sense there was a founding. then we had two great struggles that loomed large in memory. the civil war, world war ii. in those struggles we had seen a and could continue to see through the medium of photography these great war leaders, abraham lincoln and franklin roosevelt. you can see them age in the war pictures. you can see their bodies deteriorating. and then, just at the moment of victory, both are taken away from us at the moment of triumph, roughly. lincoln just days after lee's surrender is murdered. franklin roosevelt, three weeks before v.e. day is, he drops dead of a heart attack. this nursed the idea that we were a blessed country. we had great leaders. tragically they disappear but not after they have obtained a victory. and they muddle on. the kennedy assassination is out of sync with that.
there was no armed struggle in the sense of the civil war or world war ii. he was not struck down after a moment of great triumph. but rather in the middle of things, when the civil rights bill was thought to be an uncertain ground, and congress was on the train to passage. that was not universaly appreciated. they tended to blame the radical right, which had been documented by richard hofstadter and other is, rather than blaming the communists, even though lee
harvey oswald was a self-confessed communist. and, it really warps the belief in american exceptionalism, undermines the believe of liberals and particular of american exceptionalism. they've taken an adversarial stance for america. you start hearing about the violent streak in america. in "the new york times," literally the day after jim reston is out there saying that we have a violent streak in our country, as if the kennedy assassination was a statistical event. there are so many murders in big cities, and one murderer got the president. it wasn't that kind of happenstance event. it becomes -- and that adversarial attitude has continued in many ways since. instead of thinking this is an especially good and blessed country, liberals have started thinking, this is a bad country. we see it today in the idiotic
multiculturalism prevalent in universities. all societies are morally equal, except ours, which is inferior. western culture has got to go. that kind of thing. in the process, american liberals in the 1950's thought that this was basically a good and fair country. we really should do something about the way black people are treated, or negroes as we would have said then, but, you know, hey, we will make progress. we've got to move things in the south slowly with progressive change. then america in the 1960's vastly reforms not just in laws but in daily life its treatment of black people, and by the early 1970's, and late 1960's, liberals are teaching that
america is a basically racist and profoundly unfair country even though it's actually a much fairer country than it had been 20 years before, thanks in considerable part to those liberals, but also other figures, most notably the black people who demonstrated in the civil rights movement and congressional republicans, a larger percentage of whose votes were cast for the civil rights act then congressional democrats. so in the process of becoming a better country, we start thinking the worst of ourselves. just conclude by noting something jim didn't bring up in his presentation, which is the role of jacqueline kennedy in this. and one, you know, hesitates to be critical of a person who was subjected to this kind of tragedy and whose marriage we later learned was not totally unrocky. but she helps to move elite america, liberal america towards this adversarialism.
blaming things. and she certainly succeeds, in particular, on her home turf. she was the daughter of the upper east side of new york, of southhampton, the new york elite. in 1963, that was a republican constituency. the upper east side congressional district who was represented by john d. lindsay, a liberal republican but a republican to be sure, who committed a terrible faux pas when he was a member of congress , when he was a freshman, he criticized a woman congressman who was chairman of the subcommittee who had come forward with a bill, and he argued she did a poor job. tip o'neil was outrage because one of the rules unspoken of the house was, you never criticize a woman member.
this is before bella abzug. [laughter] >> the upper east side has changed. the paper of choice in the upper east side was "the new york herald tribune," which kennedy banned one day in 1962 after they had written an article on favorable to him. our present president who is accused of suppressing dissent, i can say on personal observation that yesterday there was a copy of "the new york times" in the west wing outside the oval office, and i sort of wondered what it was doing there. basically, the upper east side has moved from "the new york herald tribune" to "the new york review of books." has moved way left. the upper eastside congressional district which voted 56% for nixon over kennedy voted 74% for john kerry over george w. bush. the upper east side in
particular, which of course is the home of much of the media elite, the financial elite of america, has changed immensely and in ways i must say -- i may have predicted that at the time, and i predicted some movement towards the left among that group, but i never thought it would reach that sort of thing. i think that is another artifact of the kennedy assassination. i agree with david brown that obviously -- and i think with jim pierson -- the kennedy assassination doesn't explain all of this shift. but i do think jim pierson has proved beyond any reasonable doubt at least in my view that it played an important and critical part in this great shift of opinion, which on the whole has been bad for american liberalism and bad for america, in my view.
if oswald succeeded in killing general walker, a lot of our history and a lot of our country would be very different. thank you. [applause] >> i wonder if i might try and join something you said, jim, and part of david's argument that strikes me as problematic. you said something today that seems to be different from your book and incorrect. you said, modern liberalism comes in the new deal and in the 1930's. i think that is mistaken. >> didn't i mention progressivism? >> in your book, you explain that. that's actually the point i want to make. it seems to me an intellectual matter, a theoretical matter, what we regard as liberalism today began in the progressive era. this is where i want to bring david in. it is when locke is supplanted
by hagel, by darwinian evolution and the ideas woodrow wilson argues about, how we need to have a different kind of constitutionalism. one of the reasons why this is hard for people to see his there was no intellectual resistance to that change in american thought during the progressive era. and it goes dormant for a while, partly because of world war i. and in the republican 1920's. one of the reasons why the consensus view of hofstadter and other liberals in the 1950's is controversial, it seems to me, is that because there had been so little argument back and forth about these newer ideas 100 years ago, these sort of premises settled into the furnishings of the american mind and became presumed in such a way that it was thought, you don't need to argue about this. an example of this is hofstadter's famous essay about
goldwater and "the paranoid style" and other writings on that theme. what you see in those kinds of writings is, again, it goes by in a sentence -- what is so odd about the extreme right, radical right, goldwater is they don't understand there is this progressive story unfolding, and this is what is so odd about them. there's no acknowledgment that this is even controversial, arguable at any level. and it seems to me that that is still is the root of a lot of our confusions today, and among conservatives, too. because a lot of conservatives say, it all started with roosevelt and the new deal. i think that is a mistake that conservatives make. liberals don't appreciate their own history as deeply as they might, including hofstadter for all of his brilliance and insight.
response, rebutal, challenge? >> let me comment briefly. these are big questions. let me give a gloss on kennedy. i mentioned that liberals abandoned the substance of many of kennedy's ideas. the cold war would be the most important one. by 1968 or 1972, liberal democrats had more or less abandoned the idea of fighting the cold war. however, the thing they grabbed onto kennedy and turned him into the liberal icon was the kennedy style. david has mentioned this. this the thing they admired. kennedy was wealthy. he spoke beautifully. he wrote books. with the help of ted sorensen, he cited ancient writers. his wife was beautiful. his children were beautiful. he was sophisticated. and this is what many liberals saw as the essence of kennedy's liberalism even as they abandoned much of his substance. the term "liberal" is not really used much in american political discourse until the turn of the 20th century. abraham lincoln, for example, would probably be qualified as a
liberal, but the term was never -- lincoln never used the term, nor did anybody use the term at the time, liberal versus conservative. controversies in political life tended to be constitutional and sectional, not ideological. liberalism as a term begins to be used by the progressives in the late 19th, early 20th century, and of course, you are right. they are heavily influenced by german thought. many of the people who began, originated the progressive movement had studied in germany and dublin. the founders of johns hopkins university, and so on. a related issue is the whole question of myth and narrative, which is kind of in the background of all of this. i talked about the democratic narrative of the 1950's. the counter narrative that develops in the late 1960's, which is somewhat different --
abraham lincoln, of course, had his own narrative of american life, which i discuss in the book briefly, which is that the story of america is the retelling of the biblical epic of ancient israel. he tried to construct a kind of a moral or narrative analogy between american history and the biblical epic, with the founding fathers, the crisis of the civil war, and he argued that the constitution and the founding fathers had to be regarded almost like a church and that they had to be reviewed and the law had to be obeyed, almost as if these were aspects of a church. lincoln had a narrative of american life, which was extremely powerful, relatively novel. is it true?
well, are any of these things true? that is a question lurking in the background. liberalism in the 20th century developed a different idea of progress through history. steve has mentioned it. but it was a quite different idea than the one lincoln had. and then of course, we've got all these narratives that continue to be developed. these things seem to be part and parcel of political movements. political movements seem to have to have these narratives, which locate their movement between past and future and tell, instruct people as to where they are in the movement of history. of course, you know, we talked about jackie kennedy and the
myth of camelot, another powerful one brought into the story, by the musical "camelot," based on "the once and future king." the interesting thing about "the once and future king," if the retelling of king arthur from an anti-military point of view. king arthur becomes a peacemaker instead of warrior. this is the kind of thing that appealed to jacqueline kennedy. many of you are probably read to your children "the sword and the stone." the t.h. white novel that is one of the most popular novels of the 20th century. as i suggest in his book, the
eternal flame placed on the gravesite is taken as an image from "the once and future king," that is "the candle in the wind." david: i will just say that i think every major party wants to claim that it's got history on its side. in the 1950's, you have lewis hart's "the liberal tradition in america," is very influential book. comes out in 1955. he lays out this foundation for how there is one dominant political tradition in the western world, and the liberals had that in the 1950's. one can argue that this is obviously a whigish interpretation. history is on our side. there was a conservative tradition. john clay, alexander hamilton. to modern conservatives, he wouldn't go that far. in a famous essay, he referred to conservatives as "pseudo-conservatives." so there is this tradition. it's respectable. conservatives are best when they operate under the wing of more dominant liberalism, and
when it gets beyond that, then you can have trouble, problems. >> i want to turn now to audience questions and comments. please wait for the microphone to come to you since we have c-span. let me start with the gentleman here at the first table. i will try to keep a queue. >> i am not sure to whom to address the question, but definitely by the clinton administration and perhaps before that, to an extent, journalists were perfectly willing to talk about the private lives of presidents, but by the time of the nixon administration, they were willing to talk about the scandalous, perhaps illegal behavior of presidents. during the johnson administration, backing up, it
was criticism of policy, war policy, but there was a reluctance to go into personal matters or investigation of the shady doings, although bobby baker was talked about and written about at that time, and sherman adams during the eisenhower administration. pretty much, presidents were given a pass in so many ways, and that seemed to change after the kennedy administration. to what do we owe this? >> as a journalist of sorts, we owe it to woodward and bernstein.
when i first got involved in journalism, i went to the national press club, there were guys in fedoras at the bar waiting for some lobbyist to come out and pick up their tab for the evening. i think there was an ethic on the part of older journalists that one of the things you are supposed to do in your job is to make america believe in its leaders, that they are good and decent people, either party, and others were more partisan. they thought their job was to make you believe republican leaders were good, others thought that democrats were good, but the idea you get involved in investigating their personal life was on a think about. richard nixon has made the point a number of times that he was subjected to a different standard in the watergate thing, and i think he is factually correct. i think you could make the further argument that as a political leader, it was his responsibility to understand the standard had changed. he was going to be judged and he had better watch out and not authorize illegal burglaries or coverups or whatever he did. david halberstam who has died recently was reporting on
vietnam, which helped to produce the overthrow of diem and a set of disastrous events. his reporting was specifically complained about by president kennedy about halberstam's writing. and tried to get him yanked off the beat. and bob woodward who had such immensely successful careers -- a beacon of hope to an inspiring journalist that you can do good, change america, run the country, and earn millions of dollars. [laughter] >> and that's an irresistible example. tom: tom miller, aei.
if i could highlight what david and jim were talking about, the distinction between the appeal to style as opposed to the appeal to programmatic liberalism. kennedy certainly went out of his way to try to seduce the intelligentsia. we talked about john mccain in 2000, his main constituency was the media. kennedy was more the intellectual class. we see a contrast between that, in terms of that enrapture in with the kennedy style and the style of the time. you've got basically a supply-side tax policy, rearming the country, massive buildup in missiles, the re-engagement in vietnam, and going fairly slow in terms of the things building in the mid-60's, medicare. wasn't going anywhere. civil rights, kind of slow going. wiretapping martin luther king, the whole works.
it didn't matter, because the guy talked good and gave great speeches. put this in the larger cultural context. the 1950's regarding the liberal intelligentsia, eisenhower was boring. the guy didn't talk right. if we don't have someone more exciting in the white house -- lyndon johnson comes in. he can get a lot of things done, but he's crude. he could never quite measure up to the kennedy mystique. could you put things in that context in terms of how much of that stylistic element was the core remaining legacy of the kennedy legend? >> who wants to give that a whirl? >> you know, when i go the the bookstore, i see all these books on jack and jack junior and jackie. the element of style is critical to the perpetuation of that legacy. eisenhower obviously didn't have that. he read zane gray westerns.
hofstetter was interested in ideas, and he was interested in the quality of mind. he wasn't seduced by john f. kennedy. he kept a distance. he refused to work for the lyndon johnson white house, although his friend eric gordon did and extended an invitation. he wanted to be critical. he wanted to be outside of it, but he was sympathetic to this political expression. as far as the politics of style, i think hofstetter wasn't seduced by that. if you had this event in 1965, he probably wouldn't have spoken. he got a lot of invitations to speak a lot of places, and i'm not sure if this was his way of saying, it's not temperamental of me to do this, but he would
say, i've never found this an effective way to sell books, so thank you, but no. i'm not sure that the historians i'm referencing or the historians mr. pearson is referencing, that they were seduced by this style. it just so happens that the style makers were on the liberal side, and that is the side they supported. >> i think it's clear kennedy to some extent changed standards by which politicians were judged. he was no question a very attractive man. johnson was judged harshly in that light, and he saw that and resented it very much. i'm not sure exactly how to understand the kennedy phenomenon. i've wrestled with it, obviously. the style, the cultural aspect, the sophistication is still with us today. we still continue to read books about the kennedys and jackie kennedy. there is certainly a romance of the whole thing. of course, the kennedys interestingly enough adapted
themselves to this change in liberalism. almost none of them went against the grain of this change. teddy kennedy was well out in front of it. bobby kennedy was out in front of it, leading the charge. the second generation of kennedys are out there with it, as well. i have a sense that this is not so much an ideological phenomenon but a dynastic phenomenon, that it's in a sense the elevation of a family, a dynasty in a sense into politics, and it's an adaptation of the family to the changing currents. in that sort of situation, you might have style as a defining element as opposed to ideology, but it is a thought that i've not really explored very much. michael: i think it is a dynastic phenomenon. and it's going to be hard, i suspect, for future generations or the current generation of students to understand the charm and appeal john kennedy had.
jim mentioned that his job performance rating was around 60% when he died. if you disaggregate the results, what you find is that his job rating was 70% throughout almost all of his presidency. in june of 1963 when he endorses the civil rights bill, it goes down to 30% in the south. it stays at 70% everywhere else. he would've been reelected by as wide of a margin as johnson was elected by in 1964, i am convinced. i think the gallup numbers indicate he might've lost a couple border states, perhaps texas, but he was hugely popular. the charm was there, and also, the family did work the media like a drum. joseph p. kennedy was a man of astonishingly strong nerve and
manipulativeness and skill. he bought a pulitzer prize for his son. [laughter] michael: he paid off his debts. joseph p. kennedy after engineering the nomination of his son for president -- the only man in history to have done that -- flies back to new york, and he watches the acceptance speech at henry luce's apartment. henry luce is the proprietor of "time," "life," "fortune." he had a soft spot for catholics because his wife was a catholic. kennedy was treated much better by the luce magazines than any other democrat. in 1957, there's a cover, "the fabulous kennedys," the president on the cover of "life" magazine. they manipulated the media.
just -- joseph kennedy had a huge flair for this type of thing. he was in with the hearst press. he stayed in beverly hills during the 1960 democratic national convention in los angeles. so you know, was this game on the level? not even close to it. and john kennedy just had immense charm. i mean, you saw some of it on that tape, the self-deprecating comments. he had the wit to televise his press conferences and handle them in a way no president since has ever been able to come close to. you know, how do you quantify charm? this guy had a lot of it. >> there is this great passage in your book, david, hofstetter suspecting jfk was a shallow playboy. i wonder if it's intellectuals
who are also duped by politicians. let's go to more questions. this gentleman is next in my queue >> i was wondering if you could talk little bit more about the election of 1964 and the goldwater candidacy. it seemed like the immediate impact of the kennedy assassination was that goldwater was, even by 1963, considered one of the major front-runners. his candidacy was pretty much dead after the kennedy assassination. the second victim of the bullet was goldwater's candidacy. the tremendous intellectual defeat that came into the
congress and the passage of this very liberal programmatic agenda, which professor brown has alluded to, it seems like the kennedy assassination led to the ascendancy of a liberal programmatic state. in 1968 and going on, you have republicans coming back into power, really attacking that liberal agenda established in the 1960's, not the old liberalism of the roosevelt era. could you comment a little more on that? >> michael is probably best armed to handle that one, but the interpretation of kennedys of kennedy's death tended to torpedo goldwater's candidacy. i write about this a little bit in the book. i think you are right. opposition from goldwater's point of view became very difficult. in the emotional consequences of kennedy's assassination. you are right. it's a landslide election of
1964 with the overwhelming majority -- the democratic majority in the congress that allowed the great society to pass. i think some of it occurred in the backwash of the assassination. michael: the polling evidence is pretty clear to me that if kennedy had lived, he would've been elected by a margin about exactly what johnson got. most people at the time didn't believe this. if you looked at the numbers, it indicated he was going to carry places like upstate new york and vermont, which franklin roosevelt never carried, and running even in places like nebraska and so forth, which democrats almost never carry. in fact those were the results of 1964. the political pros didn't believe them.
because they did not go according to the rules. i've gone back and asked some people active at the time. that seems to have been the case. it didn't matter which republican ran against him. nelson rockefeller in 1964 makes the big deal -- on the stronger candidate. i remember rockefeller republicans at harvard who were convinced rockefeller was going to roll over kennedy for reelection. the polling data says not so. goldwater carried five states in the south and arizone. >> -- arizona. rockefeller would have carried a different set of five states. but without real change in the result. one thing we lost out of that, goldwater apparently had an agreement with kennedy that they would campaign and debate together. goldwater liked kennedy and he himself was of some charm. that might have set an interesting precedent for american politics. but it was not to be.
>> and of course lyndon johnson ignored goldwater through the campaign and not even mention his name. >> here is a question. next in my queue. >> do i press anything? >> it's on. >> there is one thing that has not been emphasized here, that is robert kennedy's assassination. because he would have carried on the kennedy name. and kennedy's aim was a rejuvenation of the democratic party. both parties were in flux. and kennedy came with a new kind of liberalism, almost an authoritarian kind of liberalism. he believed in action. his idea of the cold war was not the typical democratic approach,
to the cold war, he believed in winning the cold war just as reagan did. the terms in which he spoke of the cold war would have driven the state department around the end, because he did not say we have to be cautious, he said we have to win. he gave an energetic edge to the democratic party. he was surrounded by a lot of advisors of both kinds, and when opposition occurred, there is a choice to be made, you fight the depression by government spending, which was the choice of the roosevelt democrats, or
you listen to the new, younger democrats who want tax cuts especially for corporations. kennedy chose the latter, which worked, in fact. that was a very significant choice. one thing, when you think of john f. kennedy and above all robert kennedy, the one word that come to mind, compassionate liberalism. the connection does not exist, these were competitors. they were rough and tough in their playful games of football, they would end up in the hospital. but that was their style. that was the style of the whole family. if young bob kennedy, had he not been assassinated, i think he would have been the president who carried on and his promise
of a new liberalism. it was a decade of neo's -- there was a neoliberalism, neoconservatism. all waiting to be born. but those assassinations destroyed the neoliberalism that was being born. that based on energy. the liberalism that we have today is the liberalism of victims, victims of the majority vote. that is the kind of party we have. so, the second kennedy
assassination gives as a harder look at a very important assassination. >> thank you. i write a little bit about the bobby kennedy assassination in the book, and i do say what you say, that there was hope that he could get liberalism back on track, that when it was knocked off track by his brothers assassination, he wanted to connect with the union people, the professors, the students and so on and he could restore order to liberalism. but when he was shot, this hope was destroyed. bobby kennedy's assassination was very much again in the
context of civil rights and violence. lyndon johnson appointed a commission to study violence in america. jackie kennedy said that she would get out of america because her children were at risk. in the american past there had been lynchings, all of these things. but kennedy had been assassinated by a palestinian national. he got this idea in his head but even kennedy's assassination had nothing to do with domestic issues at that time. >> another question. >> i was part of the kennedy administration and i would like to sort of underscore what you said about the president and bobby. bobby was a student of mine at university.
i worked with him during the administration, i was head of the irs, he was on organized crime, and we saw each other frequently. i was going to ask you one question, jim. you seem to say that there was an impetus on the fact that oswald was a communist. you assume he was a sole assassin. but many people are dubious of that. many people have said that there was another. suppose, how do you feel about that? what do you think would change affairs if the mafia had been behind this and used oswald as a pawn?
>> first of all, thank you. i think i remember you from the kennedy years. thank you. well, i have gone over the evidence. i don't think there is any doubt that oswald was the assassin. if you weigh the evidence and you want to follow the evidence, it is clear that he was the assassin. there is a book on this and it seems to me that this was taken in such detail that nobody needs to write about it much anymore. the gun that he ordered was found at the scene, he was spotted at the scene, witnesses from down on the street identified him on a description that went over police radio. he shot and killed a police man. he was chased into a movie theater where he was arrested.
and had a pistol which killed the policeman. he had motives, which were not clearly understood at the time. all the conspiracy theories start with a premise that so and so had a motive. it will always be true that a lot of people might have a motive to kill the president. they start with the premise that there is a motive and then they work from there to assume it was done. there were no other bullets other than those fired from the gun and they were found at the scene. the theory that he was shot from the grassy knoll is contradicted by the fact that the autopsy reports that say the bullet came from the rear. so to say that they came from the front suggest maybe the doctors were involved in the conspiracy, that is probably not credible.
i do not think that there is any doubt about it. and i suggest in my book that the reason there is doubt over the kennedy assassination is that he was shot by a communist. if he had been shot by a right-winger, there probably would never have been talk about those theories. >> i want to thank everybody for a fascinating hour and a half. jim have to catch a train. thank you ladies and gentlemen. [applause] >> thank you. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2014] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] watching american history tv. everyrs of programming week on c-span three. follow us for information on the schedule of upcoming programs and to cuba upon on the latest history news. t keep up on