Friday, November 19, 2010
November 22, 1963: Changing History with a Bullet
On November 22, 1963 I was in the office of a human rights organization in downtown Miami, Florida, fresh from service in the U.S. Army.
I was happy that President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev had not gone to war in October 1962 over Soviet missiles in Cuba. My battalion, part of the Second Infantry Division, had been put on alert to invade. A U.S. naval blockade had stopped any new missiles from being delivered and those that had been were withdrawn.
The Cold War had been going on since 1945 and tensions between the U.S. and Russia had briefly and dangerously reached a tipping point. Fortunately, the leaders of both nations pulled back. Elsewhere a relatively small, backwater conflict was going on in Vietnam, but few were paying it any attention.
John F. Kennedy was incredibly popular. He said that the torch of freedom had passed to a new generation and, at age 26, I was convinced his generation and mine were going to solve all of the world’s problems. I was unaware that JFK had so failed to impress Krushchev when they had met in Vienna in 1961 that the Soviet leader had felt emboldened to put missiles in Castro's Cuba.
On November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, Lee Oswald, a leftist malcontent who had spent some time in Russia, shot and killed the President. Within days I had packed and returned home where I would take up a career in journalism.
Anyone who was alive on that day can probably tell you where they were when they got the news. For later generations, it is just a date in the history books.
After Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn into office to serve out JFK’s term and won election on his own, history took a turn for the worse when he escalated the Vietnam War. Some 58,000 young men died in that conflict and President Johnson, after a huge election victory in 1964, announced on March 21, 1968 that he would not run for a second full term. He had served from 1963 to 1969.
Johnson had unleashed a tidal wave of liberal programs such as “the Great Society” and “the war on poverty”, signed the Civil Rights Act into law, initiated Public Broadcasting, instituted Medicare and Medicaid, and increased aid to education.
The nation turned away from liberalism and elected Richard M. Nixon who would serve from 1969 until forced to resign from the presidency in 1974 as the result of the Watergate scandal. The nation swung back toward liberalism and elected a little known governor from Georgia, Jimmy Carter. He lasted one term and the nation swung back toward conservatism and elected Ronald Reagan. Twelve years later, after Bush 41, it would swing back again and elect Bill Clinton.
For nearly fifty years, America has been seesawing back and forth between conservatism and liberalism without seeming to learn the lessons of the experience.
Liberalism and its many entitlement programs, the expansion of the federal government, the debasement of our educational system, congressional raids on the Social Security fund, and the failure to rein in the “government sponsored entities”, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have brought us to a point of economic collapse not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s..
After November 22, 1963 everything that followed began with a single bullet. It sent the nation careening off on a spending spree that by 2008 took an infusion of billions of public dollars to avoid a banking industry catastrophe. It would be followed by an increase of two trillion in the national debt under a new, young, and briefly popular president.
Did we learn anything from those previous decades? Apparently not.
In 2008, the voters elected a virtually unknown U.S. Senator from Illinois who had barely spent a few months in the Senate before setting out to become the 44th president. Like JFK he was young, charismatic, and eloquent so long as Teleprompters fed him the words to say.
President Barack Obama did not bring a “brain trust” into office with him like FDR or “the best and the brightest” as Kennedy did. Instead, he installed a large group of “czars”, men and women, dedicated socialists and loony environmentalists who mostly bypassed the Congressional vetting process, but who have wielded great power behind the scenes.
Obama’s popularity, like Carter’s, disappeared in less than two years. The recent midterm elections were historic. The Republicans will control of the House and Democrats will have a narrow control of the Senate when a new Congress returns in January. Until then, the political chess game is astonishing as the nation races toward deadlines that include extending the Bush tax cuts and the continued funding of the government.
A remarkable movement, the Tea Party, emerged; leaderless, but composed of millions of Americans determined to take back the power that had been taken from them by a Congress indifferent to their wishes. The damage of the first two years of Obama’s term will take time to repair, but it will be repaired.
History might have been very different had it not been for November 22, 1963, but we shall never know how different.
What we do know is that liberalism, socialism, does not work. It debases fiscal prudence, spreads poverty, and subverts the Founder’s intention of a small central government while shackling the States with unfunded mandates.
For an older generation of Americans, we have lived through a lot of history and, 47 years ago, a single bullet set it in motion.
© Alan Caruba, 2010
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