The 112th congress is the first congress in half a century without a Kennedy on board. And the first glimpse of a Republican landslide came with the backlash over the "Kennedy seat" in Massachusetts. As it turned out, it wasn't the Kennedy seat, it was the people's seat. And it wasn't the Kennedy congress, it is the people's congress.
to convince A&E not to air a scandalous miniseries about their family. Which is a pity, because the Kennedy family long ago became little more than entertainment, their scandals making them no different than any other group of celebrities. And that seems an altogether fitting end to their deliberate self-iconization.
The Kennedys were not the first political family, and they won't be the last, but they were notorious for how little they did to deserve their fame and iconic status. The combination of democratic machine politics and liberal idealization turned JFK into an icon without context. Media manipulation had elevated him to the rank of the great presidents, Washington, Lincoln and the two Roosevelts, but unlike those men, JFK had not taken the country through a crisis. He had hardly done very much beyond stamping his name on a ghostwritten book, which was awarded the Pulitzer, and then playing the part of the eager young Senator.
In life, JFK would have inevitably become an embarrassment, as the combined weight of his inexperience and the behind the scene scandals would have imploded his image and his leadership. And even if that had not happened, the Vietnam War would have done the job. However in death he became another icon. The martyr embodying the hopes of a liberal America gunned down in cold blood. The sheer ideological inconvenience of the murder of a liberal icon at the hands of a radical socialist like Lee Harvey Oswald helped keep the conspiracy theory machine going, as movies like JFK reinvented the assassination as a right-wing plot. The ugly truth that JFK had been killed by the left, not the right, was too much to bear.
Had the mainstream liberals who backed JFK learned the true lesson of his murder, they might have been less baffled by the Weathermen, the Black Panthers, the furious anti-war rallies and the cup of madness that their children would drink from. Even a quick look into the future and the chants of "Hey hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today" and "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, Viet Cong is Going to Win", should have understood exactly what brought about the end of Camelot. To liberals, LBJ might have been the great hope, but those on the left like Lee Harvey Oswald, he was nothing more than another fascist pig.
That there is an entire industry of conspiracies dedicated to preventing people from seeing that picture (quick count how many Kennedy conspiracy theories involve the right and how many involve the left) is a testament to the power of the JFK myth. A myth that overshadowed the man all his life and covered him up entirely in death. The myth, among other things, made it possible to artificially segregate history, denying the continuity of events with the Fall of Camelot. The good America before Kennedy and the bad one after him. And it was a myth too big to leave any room for the rest of the Kennedy family.
The Fall of the House of Kennedy is a study in how one myth captures another, as the death of Kennedy came to symbolically represent the failure of liberal policies. Of course those policies would have failed regardless, but the linkage gave the failure a mythic force, as if were not the intellectual flaws that brought them down, but astrological ones. As if Hope alone would have made all the difference.
Myths are so often used to shield the underlying flaws of a system, and the myth of Camelot is no different. It has passed its expiration date only because the need for it has passed. The revised history now describes the pre-Kennedy America as the bad place, and the post-Kennedy America as the good place. Mad Men is only another bucket in that deep well of another myth, another segregation of history into the good times and the bad times. The good times being defined by the counterculture and the bad times by conformity and people who wore suits. This myth is essentially triumphal, it toots the progressive horn for breaking free of stifling moral codes and character. In this version of the myth, the assassinations of JFK and RFK and MLK serve as a release of creative energy, a crucifixion of saviors for a New Age.
But myths are dangerous things. They give us power, and take away reason. Western liberals can hardly seem to go on without a cloak of myth anymore. Or more than one. And that blindness has made them very dangerous, to those they propose to rule and to themselves.
The Loughner killings has drawn RFK Jr to come out and condemn on all the dangerous "toxic right-wing vitriol". In his article he draws heavily on the tragic death of his uncle, calls Dallas "the center of extreme right wing" and spills reams of purple ink about "the forces of right-wing hatred and violence". There's only one minor problem. His uncle was shot by a Communist defector who boasted about being a radical socialist as a teenager. For all of RFK's Jesus Camp prose, his uncle was not murdered by the right wing, but by the left.
47 years later, even the nephew of the man himself has still not learned that the left is far more dangerous than the right. The right as a conservative force wants a stable society. (The progressive right as exemplified by the Nazis on the other hand is quite dangerous because it doesn't seek a return to older values, but an entirely new system.) The progressive left wants to topple that society to replace it with their vision of utopia, which ricochets somewhere between tyranny and anarchy. (The conservative left is less unstable, but still dangerous as seen in the former Soviet Union.) The opposition to JFK came from the collision of culture with counterculture, but in the end it was the counterculture that killed him.
RFK Jr calls for an examination of conscience and everyone from Obama on down is echoing the downshift tone. But it is not reconciliation that we need. It is truth. American liberals have spent far too much time lying to each other and themselves, not to mention the rest of the country. The House of Kennedy has fallen, but the myths live on. With the rise of JFK, liberals traded in their political instincts for religious ones, attending at the cults of presidents. Obama is their greatest success story and their greatest failure.
It is not divisiveness that should concern us. Our divisiveness is our democratic strength. We are not a conformity or a hive. Nor are we a polite debating society. We are not students in a schoolroom or subject at the feet of the throne, we are the owners and masters of our system of government. And when government doesn't please us, we treat its officials like employees, not like lords and masters. And that is as it should be. It is not this that threatens us, but the distortion of history into myth. To know who we are requires that we know where we came from. To understand the present, we must understand the past.