Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chris Matthews Yearns for the Early Sixties (and Revises History)

In case you didn't know it, Chris Matthews has got a book to sell; so in these last few shopping days before Festivus - oops! sorry, Festivus is today - Christmas, he pimped out his wife to help sales of the book.

Chris must not be getting many media people interested in what, essentially, is his book of Kennedy myths, because he has to keep asking people to interview him. First, he asked Howard Fineman, professional hack, and Mike Barnacle, professional plagiarist, to interview him on his own show, for fuck's sake. Then he asked radio talkshow host Larry Elder to interview him and goes apoplectic before embarrassing himself.

This time, he played it safe and asked his wife, the fragrant Kathleen, to visit his last show before Christmas and nudge everyone in the direction of Chris's book as a last-minute stocking-filler.

You can watch the interview below, with the fun and games beginning around the three-minute mark:-

Several things of import occurred in this article. First, it's patently obvious that Chris is closer akin to Ron Paul than he'd ever care to admit. Chris wants everything to be just the way it was when Kennedy was King President - when the guys wore skinny ties and women essentially stayed at home, unless they were single. Then they were secretaries, stewardesses for Pan Am or teachers who got paid less than their male colleagues. And, hey, what's a little chauvinism when that was such a better, can-do time.

Well, it was if you were a white male.

That's the first reason Chris is extending his ueber bout of Kennedy man love. He clearly longs to return to the time which not only he, but Ron Paul, liked best. You know, when the poor knew their place and when black was black and white was justice. When women went to college or into theh workforce to find a husband. When things were neat and pristine, not sloppy the way they were in the late Sixties.

I suppose Chris expected an easy ride from "his Queen," so you can imagine his surprise when - right at the three-minute mark - she dropped a stinker question about Kennedy's role in the Civil Rights Movement, which resulted in one of the biggest lies a political journalist has ever told on television.

According to Chris, Kennedy went down to Mississippi and confronted then-Governor Ross Barnett. Directly. Not only that, but Kennedy told him that Barnett was, indeed, going to admit black people to the University of Mississippi, that that was the law. And he told George Wallace the same thing too. And for added measure, he sent in Federal troops to scare the bejaysus out of those unreconstructed rebels.

Yep, Kennedy took action. He was a leader in the Civil Rights movement, according to Chris. He single-handedly propelled Civil Rights through the Sixties to the point that his Civil Rights legacy existed well after his untimely death. He got things done, that Kennedy - not like this uppity ingrate who lives in the White House now.

Only, Kennedy didn't do any of the above.

As a Senator, Kennedy actually voted against the Eisenhower 1957 Civil Rights Act.(Lyndon Johnson voted for it). During his 1960 campaign, he tailored his talks to Northern Democrats as being pro-civil rights, whilst he told a different tale entirely to the South.

And as for schooling that dumbfuck Rebel governor, Ross Barnett, he didn't. Contact with Barnett, during the protests which arose when James Meredith tried to register for classes at Ole Miss, was by telephone. If you listen to the conversations, you'll see that Kennedy sounds anything but gung ho about enforcing civil rights to African Americans. Basically, he's doing what he has to do, what the law obliges him to do, and nothing more. Hey, Ross, this is his job description, no hard feelings.

Succinctly, the whole Meredith situation was a mess. When Bobby Kennedy, as Attorney General, couldn't get Ross Barnett, the governor who was also a Democrat and a member of the notorious Citizens' Council gang, to see sense, he passed the buck to the President. Kennedy had to ring Barnett and discuss the situation. Here's Kennedy using the so-called "bully pulpit." (The transcripts are below the player).


President Kennedy: Hello? Hello, Governor?

Governor Barnett: All right. Yes.

JFK: How are you?

RB: Is this . . .

JFK: This is the president, uh . . .

RB: Oh. Well, Mr. President, [words unintelligible].

JFK: Well, I'm glad to talk to you, Governor. I am concerned about, uh, this situation, uh, down
there, as I know, uh . . .

RB: Oh, I should say I am concerned about it, Mr. President. It's, it's, it's a horrible situation.

JFK: Well, now, here's my problem Governor.

RB: [Words unintelligible, interrupting] Yes.

JFK: This, uh, listen, I didn't, uh, put him in the university, but on the other hand, under the Constitution, I have to carry out the orders of the, carry that order out and I don't, I get, uh, I don't want to do it in any way that causes, uh, difficulty to you or to anyone else. But I've got to do it. Now, I'd like to get your help in doing that.

RB: Yes. Well, uh, have you talked with, uh, attorney general this morning?

JFK: Yeah. I talked to him and, uh, in fact, I just met with him for about an hour, and we went
over the situation.

RB: Uh, did he and Mr. Watkins have a talk this morning? Tom Watkins, the lawyer from
Jackson, or not?

JFK: Uh, yes, he talked to Tom Watkins. He told me.

RB: Yes, sir. Well, I don't know what. . .Well, I don't know what uh, I haven't had a chance to talk with him.

JFK: Now just wait just one minute, because I've got the attorney general in the outer office, and I'll just speak to him.

RB : All right.

(Governor Barnett put on hold)

JFK: Hello, uh, Governor?

RB: Yes. Hold on . . .

JFK: I just talked to the attorney general. Now, he said that he talked to Mr. Watkins, and the
problem is as to whether we can get, uh, the, we can get some help in getting this fellow in, uh, this week.

RB: Yes.

JFK: Now, evidently we couldn't, the attorney general didn't feel that, uh, he and Mr. Watkins
had reached any final agreement on that.

RB: Well, uh, Mr. President, Mr. Watkins is going to fly up there early tomorrow morning.

JFK: Right.

RB: And, uh, could you gentlemen talk with him tomorrow? You . . .
JFK: Yes, I will have the attorney general talk to him and then, uh ...
RB: Yes.
JFK: . . . after they've finished talking I' ll talk to the attorney general, on the phone and then if
he feels it's useful for me to meet with him . . .
RB: I thought . . .
JFK: . . . I'll do that
RB: I thought they were making some progress. I didn't know.

JFK: Well, now, he and, if he and Mr. Watkins, they can meet tomorrow. Now, the difficulty is, uh, we got two or three problems. In the first place, what can we do to, uh, what can we do to uh ... First place is the court's order to you, which I guess is, you're given until Tuesday. What is your feeling on that?

RB: Well, I want . . .

JFK: What's your position on that?

RB: . . . to think it over, Mr. President.

JFK: Right.

RB: Uh, it, it's a serious matter, now I want to think it over a few days. Until Tuesday, anyway.

JFK: Alright. Well, now let me, let me say this, uh . . .

RB: .I know what I am up against, Mr. President. I took an oath, you know, to abide by the laws
of this state . . .

JFK: That's right.

RB: . . . and our constitution here and the Constitution of the United States. I'm, I'm on the spot here, you know.

JFK: Well, now you've got, uh . . .

RB: I, I've taken an oath to do that, and you know what our laws are with reference to . . .

JFK: Yes, I understand that. Well, now we've got the . . .

RB: . . . we have a statute that was enacted a couple of weeks ago stating positively that no one who had been convicted of a crime or, uh, whether the criminal action pending against them
would not be eligible for any of the institutions of higher learning. And, uh, that's our law, and it seemed like the Court of Appeal didn't pay any attention to that.

JFK: Right. Well, of course, the problem is, Governor, that, uh, I got my responsibility, just like you have yours . . .

RB: Well, that's true. I . . .

JFK: . . . and my responsibility, of course, is to the . . .

RB: . . . I realize that, and I appreciate that so much.

JFK: Well, now here's the thing, uh, Governor, I will, uh, the attorney general can talk to, uh,
Mr. Watkins tomorrow. What I want, would like to do is to try to work this out in an amicable
way. We don't want a lot of people down there getting hurt . . .

RB: Oh, that's right.

JFK: --and we don't want to have a -- You know it's very easy to-

RB: Mr. President, let me say this. They're calling, calling me and others from all over the state, wanting to bring a thousand, wanting to bring f ive hundred, and two hundred, and all such as that, you know.

JFK: I know, well the . . .

RB: We don't want such as that.

JFK: I know. Well, we don't want to have a, we don't want to have a lot of people getting hurt or killed down there.

RB: Why, that's, that's correct. Uh, Mr. President, let me say this. Mr. Watkins is really an A-1 lawyer, an honorable man, has the respect and the confidence of every lawyer in America who
knows him. He's of the law firm of Watkins & Eager. They have, they've had an "A" rating for
many, many years, and, uh, uh, I believe this, that that he can help solve this problem.

JFK: Well, I will, uh, the attorney general will see Mr. Watkins tomorrow, and then I, after the
attorney general and Mr. Watkins are finished then, uh, I will be back in touch with you.

RB: All r ight. All right. I'll appreciate it so much, now, and, uh, there . . .. Watkins'll leave here in the morning, and I'll have him to get into touch with the, uh, attorney general as to when they, he, he can see him tomorrow.

JFK: Yeah, he'll see him and, uh . . .

RB: Yes, sir.

JFK: . . . we will, uh, then you and I'll be back and talk again.

RB: All right.

JFK: Thank you.
RB: All right.

JFK: Okay.

RB: I appreciate your interest in our poultry program and all those things.

JFK: Well, we're . . .

RB: Thank you so much.

JFK: Okay, Governor. Thank you.

RB: Yes, sir. All right now.

JFK: Bye now.

I guess that was JFK being forceful with ol'Ross. Even after that softly, softly approach, Governor Barnett was still recalcitrant, but Kennedy totally underestimated Barnett. Instead, he took the typical Northerner's view toward a hick, backwoods, dumbshit Southerner, as historian Taylor Branch exposed:-

President Kennedy apparently thought Barnett was a pushover. After the call, he turned to his brother and said, "You've been fighting a sofa pillow all week." But JFK was wrong. According to civil rights historian Taylor Branch, Ross Barnett had the president and attorney general wrapped around his finger.

"He's being kind of a yokel and saying 'Thanks for your help on the poultry program'," Branch says. "But Bobby Kennedy and Jack Kennedy are running Meredith up and down and trying to do whatever Barnett wants, so Barnett is not too upset...They're never sure whether he's making a fool of them or they're making a fool of him. But they know as the evenings go on, they feel less and less in control, so the suspicion starts to rise that maybe Barnett's making a fool of them."

So here's the second talk-tough phonecall:-


President Kennedy: Governor, this is the President speaking.

Governor Barnett: Yes, sir.

JFK: Now it's, I know that your feeling about the law of Mississippi and the fact that you don't want to carry out that court order. What we really want to have from you, though, is some understanding about whether the state police will maintain law and order. We understand your feeling about the court order and your disagreement with it. But what we're concerned about is how much violence is going to be and what kind of action we'll have to take to prevent it. And I'd like to get assurances from you that the state police down there will take positive action to maintain law and order. Then we'll know what we have to do.

RB: They'll, they'll take positive action, Mr. President, to maintain law and order as best we can.

JFK: And now, how good is--

RB: [interupting] We'll have 220 highway patrolmen--

JFK: Right.

RB: --and they'll absolutely be unarmed.

RB: Not a one of them'll be armed.

JFK: Well, the problem is, well, what can they do to maintain law and order and prevent the gathering of a mob and action taken by the mob? What can they do? Can they stop that?

RB: Well, they'll do their best to. They'll do everything in their power to stop it.

JFK: Now, what about the suggestions made by the Attorney General in regard to not permitting people to congregate and start a mob?

RB: Well, we'll do our best to, to keep them from congregating, but that's hard to do, you know.

JFK: Well, they just tell them to move along.

RB: When they start moving up on the sidewalks and different sides of the streets, what are you going to do about it?

JFK: Well, now, as I understand it, Governor, you would do everything you can to maintain law and order.

RB: I, I, I'll do everything in my power to maintain order--

JFK: Right. Now--

RB: --and peace. We don't want any shooting down here.

JFK: I understand. Now, Governor, what about, can you maintain this order?

RB: Well, I don't know.

RB: That's what I'm worried about you see. I don't know whether I can or not.

JFK: Right.

RB: I couldn't have the other afternoon. There was such a mob there, it would have been impossible. There were men in there with trucks and shotguns, and all such as that. Not a lot of them, but some, we saw, and certain people were just, they were just enraged.

JFK: Well, now, will you talk--

RB: You just don't understand the situation down here.

JFK: Well, the only thing is I got my responsibility.

RB: I know you do.

JFK: This is not my order, I just have to carry it out. So I want to get together and try to do it with you in a way, which is the most satisfactory and causes the least chance of damage to people in Mississippi. That's my interest.

RB: That's right. Would you be willing to wait awhile and let the people cool off on the whole thing?

JFK: Until how long?

RB: Couldn't you make a statement to the effect, Mr. President, Mr. General, that under the circumstances existing in Mississippi, that, uh, there'll be bloodshed; you want to protect the life of, of, of James Meredith and all other people? And under the circumstances at this time, it just wouldn't be fair to him or others to try to register him at this time.

JFK: Well, then at what time would it be fair?

RB: Well, we, we could wait a, I don't know. It might be in, uh, two or three weeks, it might cool off a little.

JFK: Well, would you undertake to register him in two weeks?

RB: Well, I, you know I can't undertake to register him myself--

JFK: I see.

RB: --but you all might make some progress that way, you know.

JFK: Yeah. Well, we'd be faced with, unless we had your support and assurance, we'd be--

RB: I say I'm going to, I'm going to cooperate. I might not know when you're going to register him, you know.

JFK: I see. Well, now,Governor, why don't, do you want to talk to Mr.Watkins?

RB: I might not know that, what your plans were, you see.

JFK: Do you want to, do you want to talk to Mr. Watkins then?

RB: I'll be delighted to talk to him, and we'll call you back.

JFK: Okay, good.

RB: Call the general back?

JFK: Yeah, call the general, and then I'll be around.

RB: All right. I appreciate it so much.

JFK: Thanks, Governor.

RB: I thank you for this call.

JFK: Thank you, Governor.

RB: All right.

JFK: Right.

RB: Bye.

Right. Now the negotiations begin about registering Meredith as a student - backroom negotiations, secret negotiations between Bobby Kennedy and Barnett's people. One aborted plan called for state police to confront Barnett at Ole Miss, with one officer drawing his gun, upon which Barnett would step aside and allow Meredith to register. Think about that - Bobby Kennedy, the Attorney General, not only signed off on that plan, he fomented it. You can read the transcripts of Kennedy's and Barnett's plottings here.

Why was this done? Well, it's simple. The Kennedys were Democrats; Ross Barnett was a Democrat. Different sorts, but Democrats all the same. In the early 1960s, the South was solidly Democratic, and - moreso than they do today - the Democrats actually needed the South. So this elaborate piece of kabuki theatre was devised so that Ross Barnett could save face. He could say that he had been forced, at gunpoint, to register James Meredith as a student at Ole Miss. Desegregation, it could be said, would have arrived at gunpoint. And it wouldn't hurt Kennedy either - both men could say that the Constitution was being enforced at gunpoint. But this plan was abandoned as too risky.

The situation in Mississippi was too volatile at that minute to register him as a student. Barnett then threw Kennedy a lifeline, saying things would quiet down in about three weeks. Kennedy haggles for two weeks, and Barnett gets cagey. Then Kennedy asks him if he could maintain order. Barnett assures him that he could - unless Meredith were registered - then he couldn't guarantee what might happen.

And Kennedy passes the buck. He caves.

Even though Barnett eventually promised Kennedy he would keep order, this happened the following day at the Ole Miss-Kentucky football game. Keep in mind that this is September 1962:-

Pay particular attention to the Governor's words against a backdrop of Confederate flags. That was on the night of Saturday, September 29th, 1962.

Earlier that Saturday, President Kennedy thought he had a deal brokered with Governor Barnett. James Meredith would be allowed to register for classes in Jackson, Mississippi, whilst the Governor would be in Oxford. That way, Barnett could say he didn't know about the registration and he could blame the Federal government for duping him.

More kabuki theatre.

Once again, Barnett backed out of this agreement, and the plan now reverted to the original one - Meredith would be escorted into Oxford by Federal marshals, in order to register for classes. When word of this leaked, angry mobs formed in Oxford, awaiting Meredith's arrival. When Bobby Kennedy heard of the situation, he phoned Ross Barnett and issued a bare threat: Allow Meredith to register, or the President would go on national television that evening and reveal all of the backroom negotiations concerned with this registration - titbits that would expose Barnett for the duplitious liar that he was. You can read the transcript of this bizarre phonecall here.

At any rate, the Attorney General's threat worked. If Barnett had been exposed as having been in secret negotiations with the Kennedys, his political career would be over. He agreed with the President and Attorney General to get James Meredith safely onto the University campus that Sunday evening, and he could register safely for classes on Monday morning.

The President thought he had effected a bloodless coup, and therefore, with confidence, he addressed the nation that evening, emphasizing what had, apparently, been accomplished, non-violently, in this desegregation effort.

Americans are free, in short, to disagree with the law but not to disobey it. For in a government of laws and not of men, no man, however prominent or powerful, and no mob, however unruly or boisterous, is entitled to defy a court of law. If this country should ever reach the point where any man or group of men by force or threat of force could long defy the commands of our court and our Constitution, then no law would stand free from doubt, no judge would be sure of his writ, and no citizen would be safe from his neighbors.

This speech, however, was precipitate. As Kennedy spoke, the air in Oxford, Mississippi, was blue. Riots were in full force, riots that would result in the deaths of two people. Once again, the President was on the phone with the Governor, demanding that he take control of the situation in Oxford.


President Kennedy: Well, we can't consider moving Meredith as long as, you know, there's a riot outside, 'cause he wouldn't be safe.

Governor Barnett: Sir?

JFK: We couldn't consider moving Meredith if you -- if we haven't been able to restore order outside. That's the problem, Governor.

RB: Well, uh, I'll tell you what I'll do, Mr. President. I'll go up there myself--

JFK: Well, now, how long will it take you to get there?

RB: --andI'll get a microphone and tell 'em that uh, you have agreed for him to be removed.

JFK: No. No. Now, wait a minute. How long--Wait a minute, Governor. Now, how long is it going to take you to get up there?

RB: 'Bout an hour.

JFK: Now, I'll tell you what you- if you want to go up there and then you call me from up there. Then we'll decide what we're gonna do before you make any speeches about it.

RB: Well, all right.

JFK: No sense in, uh...

RB: ...I mean, whatever you, if you'd authorize...

JFK: You see, if we don't, we got an hour to go, and that's not, uh, we may not have an hour.

RB: Uh, this, this man--

JFK: Won't it take you an hour to get up there?

RB: --this man has just died.

JFK: Did he die?

RB: Yes.

JFK: Which one? State police?

RB: A state policeman.

JFK: Yeah, well, you see, we gotta get order up there, and that's what we thought we're going to have.

RB: Mr. President, please. Why don't you, uh, can't you give an order up there to remove Meredith?

JFK: How can I remove him, Governor, when there's a riot in the street, and he may step out of that building and something happen to him? I can't remove him under those conditions.

RB: Uh, but, but--

JFK: Let's get order up there, then we can do something about Meredith.

RB: We can surround it with plenty of officials.

JFK: Well, we've gotta get somebody up there now to get order and stop the firing and the shooting. Then when, you and and I will talk on the phone about Meredith. But first we've got to get order.

RB: I'll call and tell them to get every official they can.

JFK: That's right, then you and I will talk. When they've got order there, then you and I will talk about what's the best thing to do about Meredith.

RB: All right then.

JFK: Well, thank you.

RB: All right.

Though there were several more conversations, in the end, Kennedy had to do what he really didn't want to do - send in Federal troops. But that escapade in no way taught the recalcitrant Southern governors that segregation was simply unconstitutional, and it would take a subsequent President, a Southerner, to sign the actual Civil Rights Act in 1964.

The actual truth was, although Chris Matthews refuses to admit it, that Kennedy didn't give much priority status to civil rights at all. As the BBC documentary, JFK: The Making of Modern Politics assessed:-

In office Kennedy made some terrible overseas blunders (though kept his nerve over the Cuban missile crisis) and was slow on domestic policy, particularly civil rights. Had he lived longer, I think he would have had a lower presidential reputation.

However, the UK's History Learning website offers this assessment of Kennedy's attitude toward civil rights' issues:-

Kennedy put political realism before any form of beliefs when he voted against Eisenhower’s 1957 Civil Rights Act. The route from bill to act nearly served to tear apart the Republicans and the Democrats were almost united to a politician in their opposition to the bill/act. Kennedy had aspirations to be the Democrats next presidential candidate in the 1960 election. If he was seen to be taking the party line and demonstrating strong leadership with regards to opposing the bill, this would do his chances no harm whatsoever. This proved to be the case and Kennedy lead the Democrats to victory over Richard Nixon in 1960.

However, during the presidential campaign and after he was nominated for the Democrats, Kennedy made it clear in his speeches that he was a supporter of civil rights. Historians are divided as to why he was ‘suddenly’ converted. Some saw the opposition to the 1957 Act as understandable from a political point of view. Others have adopted a more cynical view which is that Kennedy recognised that he needed the ‘Black Vote’ if he was to beat Nixon. Hence why he said in his campaign speeches that discrimination stained America as it lead the west’s stance against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.


Regardless of his promises, in 1961 Kennedy did nothing to help and push forward the civil rights issue. Why? International factors meant that the president could never focus attention on domestic issues in that year. He also knew that there was no great public support for such legislation. Opinion polls indicated that in 1960 and 1961, civil rights was at the bottom of the list when people were asked "what needs to be done in America to advance society ?" Kennedy was also concentrating his domestic attention on improving health care and helping the lowest wage earners. Civil rights issues would only cloud the issue and disrupt progress in these areas. Kennedy also argued that improving health care and wages for the poor would effectively be civil rights legislation as they would benefit the most from these two.

What did Kennedy do to advance the cause of civil rights?

He put pressure on federal government organisations to employ more African Americans in America’s equivalent of Britain’s Civil Service. Any who were employed were usually in the lowest paid posts and in jobs that had little prospect of professional progress. The FBI only employed 48 African Americans out of a total of 13,649 and these 48 were nearly all chauffeurs. Kennedy did more than any president before him to have more African Americans appointed to federal government posts. In total, he appointed 40 to senior federal positions including five as federal judges.

Kennedy appointed his brother (Robert) as Attorney General which put him at the head of the Justice Department. Their tactic was to use the law courts as a way of enforcing already passed civil rights legislation. No southern court could really argue against laws that were already in print - though they were very good at interpreting the law in a cavalier way !! The Justice Department brought 57 law suits against local officials for obstructing African Americans who wished to register their right to vote. Local officials from Louisiana were threatened with prison for contempt when they refused to hand over money to newly desegregated schools. Such a threat prompted others in Atlanta, Memphis and New Orleans to hand over finance without too many problems - few if any were willing to experience the American penal system which had a policy of punishment then as opposed to reforming prisoners.

Kennedy was very good at what would appear to be small gestures.

Chris Matthews is a man who loves and admires John F Kennedy and for obvious reasons, but hindsight is 20/20 vision, and as we distance ourselves from the heady days of the first rock star President, we often find that we are forced to believe he accomplished more than he actually did because of his martyrdom.

Chris needs to stop thinking of Kennedy in the religious and ethnic terms they hold in common, if he wants any book he writes about this subject to be taken seriously ... or to sell.

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