Frank Rich: Obama’s Just Like JFK Because JFK Was Killed With Hate, or Something

-By Warner Todd Huston

It’s hard to believe but Frank Rich’s latest exercise in the fantasist’s art comparing JFK to Obama is a wonder to behold. It really is. One might think it satire if Rich had never been presented as a serious essayist by the New York intelligentsia. If this were to be his first public writing, one might think him the new Jonathan Swift for its central premise is simply amazing for its utter deviation from reality. Rich, it seems, thinks that Obama is just like John Kennedy because Kennedy was somehow killed by the “hate that ended his presidency,” or something.

The part that is so fantastic is that Rich devolves to a long ago discredited theory that Kennedy was killed that dark November day in 1963 somehow because of right-wing hate for him. What is so absurd about Rich’s fantastic claim is that he wholly discounts the fact that Kennedy’s killer was a communist. In fact, Rich never even mentions that Lee Harvey Oswald was an avowed communist. He hints at it obliquely but does so in a way that dismisses the ideology as in any way important.

It has been a long time since I’ve read a piece on a public figure that is one part hero worship, one part discounting of that same figure, one part pure fantasy, and one part baseless comparison to the life of a whole other public figure that is also worshiped as a hero without a legitimate reason. But Frank Rich has done it here in a way that brings to mind J.R.R. Tolkein’s intricate and complicated plotting.

There’s so much wrong in this one piece that it’s hard to figure out where to start first, but Rich’s central premise is that JFK was killed because of a climate of “hate” engendered by the blindness of Kennedy’s detractors on the right. This, Rich seems to think, is somehow just like Obama. Well, except that Obama is still alive and no one has even made a single attempt to kill him (God forbid), of course.

Interestingly, Rich does seem to notice that John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s presidency did not live up to its hype. Rich notes that historians have basically rated JFK’s short tenure in the White House as a wash, neither good nor horribly bad. But even with that admission, Rich writes glowingly of Kennedy. It is still all “Camelots” and “brief shinning moments” with little justification for any other reason than mere hero worship. With that, though, Rich succumbs to the worship like so many starry-eyed members of his deluded generation.

But for all his glorious filler — one wonders if Rich has ever had an editor — here is his raison d’être for bothering us with his hagiographic blather:

What defines the Kennedy legacy today is less the fallen president’s short, often admirable life than the particular strain of virulent hatred that helped bring him down. After JFK was killed, that hate went into only temporary hiding. It has been a growth industry ever since and has been flourishing in the Obama years. There are plenty of comparisons to be made between the two men, but the most telling is the vitriol that engulfed both their presidencies.

I guess it wasn’t the communist that killed him, eh? It was the “the vitriol” what dunnit. I’ll tell you what, I’ve been writing these op eds and been plying my particular brand of journalism since early in 2001 and if “the vitriol” could kill, I’d have been killed by liberals years ago! I’d submit that even Rich would have been pushing up daisies long ago if mere “vitriol” was so deadly.

Rich makes all sorts of illogical assumptions in this piece of… well, fiction I guess one must call it. The piece is ostensibly a book review of sorts of three new Kennedy books that are on the shelves just in time for Christmas along with some allusions and snippets of past Kennedy tomes.

One of the nonsensical assumptions he makes in this thing comes after he introduces his absurd “vitriol” premise and begins to talk of one of the books. Rich pens this line: “America’s contemporaneous love of JFK is vivid in its pages, but no less so is the equally American storm of gathering political anger that prefigured his murder.”

“Prefigured”? Look, there is vitriol for every president. Lincoln was called a baboon by his detractors. Jefferson was called a godless atheist. John Adams was called “his rotundity.” Andrew Jackson was portrayed as an uncultured boob, and not without good reason. Conversely, there wasn’t much of an atmosphere of vitriol against James Garfield, but he sure didn’t last long before nutcase Charles J. Guiteau hunted him down and ended his life. And what mounting “vitriol” against the hapless Jerry Ford caused Squeaky Fromme to make an attempt on his life? Heck, even Ronald Reagan was only just getting going in his first term before he was gunned down by John Hinkley. Sure the left hated Reagan, but he’d hardly been around enough to engender any great atmosphere of “vitriol.” Still, to suggest that political vitriol automatically “prefigures” assassination is simply ridiculous and simple-minded.

The fact is, Rich started with a premise and then went looking for “evidence” to prove his point.

Certainly Rich is right to note that Kennedy’s presidency was all fluff floated by a “Technicolor movie star.” Upon examination Kennedy’s actual work as president doesn’t live up to his reputation as a star. Rich has that right. “Kennedy was more “comfortable giving speeches on behalf of civil rights,” he writes, than throwing himself into battle.” Sadly, Rich doesn’t catch that this, and this alone is what makes Kennedy and Obama similar. Neither president is much of a doer. Both are campaigners in chief. Empty suits with “amazingly white” teeth.

Rich continues to see “ominous” portends of Kennedy’s assassination around every corner when he reviews history. “The hatred he aroused, while from a minority of voters, was heated and ominous,” he sonorously intones. Sorry, but to engender assassination, this “hatred” would have to have been angering more than just “a minority of voters.”

Then Rich makes another one of those laughable rhetorical backflips with which to attack the right. Speaking of a “slash-and-burn” anti-Kennedy book that was on the shelves the very month Kennedy was assassinated, Rich gives us this amusing bit of doggeral: “Lasky’s thick slash-and-burn Kennedy book, which even questioned his World War II heroism as the skipper of PT-109, was a precursor of the Swift Boat hatchet job on John Kerry.”

Seriously, Mr. Rich? Lasky’s book being a “precursor” to the swift boating of John Kerry suggests some material connection between the two. Do you have such evidence, Mr. Rich? Just because both JFK and Kerry were once on a small naval boat in a war does not mean that the attacks on them concerning that service were linked. I’d bet that none of the Swift-boaters ever even heard of Lasky’s book attacking Kennedy’s service on PT109! If you have no evidence there is no direct line of succession. Lasky’s book merely become a predecessor, merely “came before” the Swift-boater’s work against Kerry. No connection.

But Rich’s fact free attempt to connect Lasky’s book with the swift-boaters book is precisely the sort of mental gymnastics that Rich makes to “prove” his points.

Speaking of fact free connections and mental gymnastics, after describing the “inferno of seething citizens,” the “anti-Semitic” atmosphere, and the air of “equating racial integration with communism” that novelist Stephen King steeps his Kennedy fantasy piece in, Rich notes that the “Tea Party Society” in King’s book is an anachronistic and partisan jab at modern conservatives which is a “mischievous invention” of author Stephen King.

Got that, Tea Partiers? Despite that all the hate for Jews being seen in America today is coming from the left (see the Occupy Wall Streeters) Frank Rich and Stephen King say that you are the haters! How convenient for Rich’s thesis eh? But what is amusing for both novelist King and Rich’s focus on the conceit of a faux 1963 era “Tea Party Society” is that it fits in with their skewed notions of Kennedy’s era and ours. Anyone trying to seriously compare the atmosphere of Dallas in 1963 and that surrounding Barack Obama today would likely leave out the “mischievous inventions” of fantasy novelists. But not Rich. He’s got a point to prove, ya know?

And now for some pop psychology to rear its ugly but inevitable head.

Quoting the sensationalistic and slightly mystical writings of one William Manchester from his 1967 book The Death of a President, Rich treats us to the sort of divining of the impenetrable that only comes with the regrettable penchant of revisionist “historians” to resort to that aforementioned pop psychology.

… He writes that “individual commissioners had strong reservations” about exonerating Dallas but decided to hedge rather than stir up any controversy that might detract from the report’s “widest possible acceptance.” While Manchester adds that “obviously, it is impossible to define the exact relationship between an individual and his environment,” he strongly rejected the universal description of Oswald as “a loner.” No man, he writes, is quarantined from his time and place. Dallas was toxic. The atmosphere was “something unrelated to conventional politics—a stridency, a disease of the spirit, a shrill, hysterical note suggestive of a deeply troubled society.” Duly observing that even the greatest presidents have been vilified in their time—Lincoln as a baboon and Jefferson as “Mad Tom”—Manchester saw something “more than partisan zeal” at work in this case. He detected “a chiaroscuro that existed outside the two parties, a virulence which had infected members of both.” Dallas had become the gaudy big top for a growing national movement—“the mecca for medicine-show evangelists of the National Indignation Convention, the Christian Crusaders, the Minutemen, the John Birch and Patrick Henry societies.”

Yes, yes, yes. “No man is an island,” so obviously the raving commie that killed the president was busy soaking up the attitudes from the other side of the political aisle from which he sat and this, you see, made him kill a president.

I don’t know about you but when I am driven to do something, it isn’t because I was inspired toward action by what my political enemies want me to do! Are you? Is anyone? I mean, aren’t you driven to do the opposite of what your political enemies are calling for?

Ah, but let’s not let logic get in the way of Frank Rich’s agenda, shall we? He sees a right that “has tried to deflect any connection between its fevered Kennedy hatred and Oswald’s addled psyche with the fact that the assassin had briefly defected to the Soviet Union.”

The logical fallacies of this line of nonsense is staggering.

Now, there is another thing that one is struck by with by Frank Rich’s latest anti-conservative, anti-Tea Party screed. One cannot help but notice that, to prove his central thesis, Rich is relying on the assumed veracity of a fantasy writer’s plot points for his sci-fi oriented story where a guy goes back in time to stop an assassination of a president.

Rich takes the fantasy land that leftist writer King created out of thin air to “prove” that the “hate in the air” in 1963 is somehow just like today not to mention that said “hate” was really responsible for killing Kennedy — as opposed to the mental disease of the communist, lone-gunman who did the deed.

Close to the end of his article Rich indulges another absurdity trying to compare Kennedy and Obama. They are both “centrists in the Democratic parties of their respective eras,” he claims. This is guffaw worthy. Kennedy was not a doctrinaire, far left-winger, to be sure. He was certainly liberal, but not an extremist. Kennedy was in keeping with the Democrat Party of his day. On the other hand, Obama most clearly is an extremist. That Obama is also a proponent of crony capitalism does in no way make of him a “centrist.”

One has a sneaking suspicion that with this piece, Frank Rich is praying for an Obama assassination so that the utter failure that is Obama can be ignored while his acolytes can make a martyr of him. Just like they did with the increasingly failing JFK presidency whose assassination enshrined him forever in “Camelot” quite regardless that his actual work in the White House was only middling at best.

Rich finishes this amazing retreat from reality with this:

On the other hand, read Manchester or 11/22/63 or any other account of that time, and the vitriol that was aimed at Kennedy in life seems as immediate as today. It’s as startling as that “You lie!” piercing the solemnity of a presidential address like a gunshot—or the actual gunshots fired at the White House last week by another wretched waif. In the end, that political backdrop is what our 44th and 35th presidents may have most in common. The tragedy of the Kennedy cult is that even as it fades, the hothouse brand of American malice that stalked its hero stalks our country still.

It’s a nice summation of his premise, if entirely built on a foundation of lies. I’d say that it really is too bad that Frank Rich isn’t shooting for a Swiftian production with this thing. He has all the reality-on-its-head elements, after all.

Finally, isn’t it interesting that all hate always comes form “the right” to these people? Writing in the midst of the Occupy “movement” where such hate has daily been on egregious display — with rapes, property destruction, even deaths as a result — Frank Rich only sees warning signs coming from the right. He truly is living in a fantasyland, isn’t he?
“The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.”
–Samuel Johnson

Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer. He has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and before that he wrote articles on U.S. history for several small American magazines. His political columns are featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s,, and, as well as,,,,, among many, many others. Mr. Huston is also endlessly amused that one of his articles formed the basis of an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel Magazine in 2008.

For a full bio, please CLICK HERE.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001