Half a century later, Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullets still reverberate, as Sabato (Politics/Univ. of Virginia; Pendulum Swing, 2012, etc.) recounts in this thoughtful consideration of John Kennedy’s life and afterlife.
The author provides a smart précis of JFK’s political career, which had plenty of odd moments: his taking on the followers of the Protestant positive-thinking guru Norman Vincent Peale, for instance, which tied in to the anti-Catholic prejudices of the day, and his subsequent decision to “reduce the impact of the religious issue by going into the lion’s den” to speak before a convention of evangelical ministers. Yet Sabato’s greater interest is to examine the events of November 22, 1963, and their effects. No breathless conspiracy theorist, he nonetheless offers plenty of fuel for readers who subscribe to the notion that Oswald was not alone. Why, unlike Lyndon Johnson’s vehicle, did a Secret Service agent not ride on the rear bumper of JFK’s car? Doing so would alone have blocked Oswald’s shot. The central point of the book comes midway, when Sabato writes, “It has taken fifty years to see part of the truth clearly. John F. Kennedy’s assassination might have been almost inevitable.” Sabato hazards the view that, of Kennedy’s many enemies, one who particularly wanted to see him dead was Jimmy Hoffa, the labor leader, who speculated about shooting the president somewhere in the segregationist Deep South. Ronald Reagan, for his part, laid out the “case for a Communist conspiracy” by observing both Oswald’s connections to Cuba and the Soviet Union and the fact that in 1962, the Cold War went close to becoming dangerously hot. Whatever the case, Kennedy served at a time of considerable danger to any president, with a roiling civil rights crisis, religious prejudice, a fraught international climate and “a shockingly casual approach to presidential security.”
Provocative reading for this semicentennial year.