JFK with halo
by Eric Paddon, Department of History, Wheaton College

Those who argue the case for conspiracy in the JFK Assassination, frequently do so from the perspective that when JFK was killed, a great symbol of Progressive liberalism was snuffed out, and with his death, the hopes of revolutionary "progressive" reform in American society was snuffed out as well. Always, JFK is seen as one who would have been at home with the radicals of the late 1960s who marched against the war in Vietnam and demanded an end to the Cold War, and who argued for more action on social justice issues of civil rights and poverty. To the likes of an Oliver Stone, the murder of JFK represented a conspiracy by reactionary forces who wanted to stop the progressive ideas of greater action for social justice and the end of the Cold War from being implemented. As conspiracy author Jim Marrs put it:

But it may be worth considering what kind of America we might have today if President Kennedy had lived. Imagine the United States if there had been no divisive Vietnam War, with its attendant demonstrations, riots, deaths, and loss of faith in government. There may not have been the scandals of Watergate, other political assassinations, or the Iran-Contra Pentagon-CIA attempt at a "secret government." Detente with Communist Russia and China might have come years earlier, saving hundreds of millions of wasted defense dollars--dollars that could have been put to use caring for the needy and cleaning up the environment. Picture a nation where no organized-crime syndicate gained control over such divergent areas of national life as drugs, gambling, labor unions, politicians, and even toxic waste disposal. (Crossfire, p. 589).

The fact of the matter is that the real JFK bears no relation to the progressive martyr envisioned by Oliver Stone, Jim Marrs, and by numerous members of Internet newsgroups. In order to promote the idea of JFK as "progressive," they have asserted some strange things that even liberal historians would find very puzzling.

The following is a list of claims made by conspiracy believers that are intended to promote the idea of JFK as a liberal-progressive in the mold of people like FDR and Adlai Stevenson. If these assertions were true, then one could make a case for JFK (as well as RFK) being part of the progressive-liberal tradition. The problem though is that not one of these assertions are true. When the truth is discovered, it becomes clear that far from being a progressive liberal, JFK was a moderate-centrist with viewpoints that were considerably to the right of the Democratic party's liberal wing. And if JFK was not truly "progressive" before or during his presidency, then the idea that he was murdered by reactionaries opposed to "progressive reform" loses all credibility.

The MythThe Reality
Liberal JFK and conservative Richard Nixon were enemiesJFK respected Nixon, and preferred him to liberal members of his own party.

The Historical Record

John and Bobby Kennedy Opposed McCarthyismBoth Bobby and John were friends with, and politically supported, McCarthy.

The Historical Record

The Kennedys Were Good Friends with Adlai StevensonJohn and Bobby were suspicious of, and sometimes downright contemptuous of, the "effeminate" Stevenson.

The Historical Record

Kennedy's Domestic Policy Agenda was LiberalKennedy was stand-offish toward the Civil Rights movement and cut the capital gains tax.

The Historical Record

Kennedy was a Foreign Policy Liberal who Planned to Let Communists Take over in South VietnamKennedy was a Cold Warrior and anti-communist.

The Historical Record


What does all of this information ultimately demonstrate? It shows that there is certainly a vast gulf separating the JFK seen by the mythmakers from the one who really walked this earth as a flesh-and-blood human being. To this writer, it almost seems that the assassination buffs have spent so much time focusing on the last tragic ten seconds of JFK's life to the point where they have lost their entire sense of perspective on what had happened in the forty-six years leading up to that moment. So immersed did they become in the overblown rhetoric of loss and sadness that followed JFK's death, that in time they forgot completely who JFK the Man had been.

And who was JFK the Man, ultimately? A gifted speaker and eloquent communicator. A man who understood the pulse of the nation enough in 1946 when he postioned himself apart from the natural heirs to the liberal New Deal tradition. A man who recognized early the need for an assertive stance in the developing days of the Cold War, and who positioned himself perfectly within the framework of what Louis Hartz has called the "Age of Consensus." Part of the consensus on America's place in the world, and on the moral correctness of the Cold War struggle that would endure until the late 1960s. A man who understood the moral correctness of integration but who was reluctant to press too far in the struggle for racial justice. A man who as President, never forgot his roots and was an active Cold Warrior in the tradition of Truman and Eisenhower, and who in domestic policy kept himself positoned to the right of the Democratic party's liberal wing.

Indeed, it is important to remember that JFK had won back the votes of many Democrats who had deserted the party when liberal Adlai Stevenson was the nominee in 1952 and 1956, specifically because he was able to make it clear that he was not your typical New Deal Progressive. A decade later, when a true hardcore "Progressive" was nominated in the persona of George McGovern, those same Democrats would vote without hesitation for the man JFK had run against.

In the end, the JFK of history is hardly a man who needed to be removed from office by shadowy, nameless forces from within the United States government. The notion that these nebuolous anti-Progressive plotters acted in order to bring in the domestic liberal agenda of Lyndon Johnson, and were able to get Chief Justice Earl Warren, the man who would not let Ernesto Miranda go to jail because a police officer forgot to read him his rights, to be a willing part of the overall scheme, is simply idiotic. That may come as a serious disappointment to the hard-core keepers of the JFK-As-Progressive myth, but since it has already been accepted by honest liberal scholars such as Richard Reeves, Thomas Reaves, Christopher Matthews, Ronald Steel, Stanley Karnow and to a lesser extent Arthur Schlesinger, then the prospects for the mythmakers one day receeding into obscurity can still be considered hopeful.

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