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Kengor Writes . . .

Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Values. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink (2012).

Who Killed the Kennedys? Ronald Reagan's Answer?

Last year marked not only the 50th anniversary of the shooting of John F. Kennedy but also the 45th anniversary of the shooting of Robert F. Kennedy, which occurred in June 1968. Was there a common source motivating the assassins of both Kennedys - that is, Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan?

That renowned political philosopher Mick Jagger speculated on a source. "I shouted out 'Who killed the Kennedys?'" asks the lyrics in a 1968 song by The Rolling Stones. "When, after all, it was you and me." The song was titled, "Sympathy for the Devil." It was, The Rolling Stones suggested, the Devil who had killed the Kennedys, along with his accomplices.

I must say I can't disagree with that one - a rare area of agreement between Mick Jagger and me.

There is, however, a more earthly answer. And it was provided, surprisingly, by a rising political star in the immediate hours after the shooting of Bobby Kennedy. That star was the new governor of California, Ronald Reagan.

RFK was shot in Governor Reagan's state. Reagan was no stranger to Bobby Kennedy. He had debated him a year earlier on national television, which didn't go well for RFK, with Reagan clearly outshining him. Kennedy told his handlers to never again put him on the same stage with "that son-of-a-b----."

That debate occurred five years after Bobby Kennedy had intervened to get Reagan fired from his long stint as host of the top-rated GE Theatre on CBS - a fact unknown until it was revealed by Michael Reagan in his excellent book, The New Reagan Revolution. Typical of Reagan, he harbored no bitterness toward RFK. That was quite unlike Bobby Kennedy, a man who knew how to hold a grudge.

On June 5, 1968, Reagan was full of nothing but sympathy for RFK. He appeared on the popular television show of Joey Bishop, one of the extended members of Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack. Bishop and Reagan were old Hollywood friends, and Bishop extended the governor a platform to address the shooting. A transcript of Reagan's appearance on that show was grabbed by his young chief of staff, Bill Clark, who died just a few months ago. Clark shoved it in a box that ended up in the tack barn at his ranch in central California. It lay there until I, as Clark's biographer, dug it out three decades later.

That rare surviving transcript reveals a Reagan who spoke movingly about RFK and the entire Kennedy family. Condemning the "savage act," Reagan pleaded:

I am sure that all of us are praying not only for him but for his family and for those others who were so senselessly struck down also in the fusillade of bullets. . . . I believe we should go on praying, to the best of our ability.

But particularly interesting was how Reagan unflinchingly pointed a finger of blame in the direction of Moscow. Reagan noted that Kennedy's killer, Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab and also a Communist, had shot Kennedy because of his support of Israel during the Six Day War that had occurred exactly one year earlier. On that, we now know beyond dispute what Reagan knew then: That war had been shamelessly provoked by the Kremlin.

Looking to exploit divisions in the Middle East and further exacerbate America's foreign-policy problems at the time (we were mired in Vietnam), Soviet officials cooked up false intelligence reports claiming that Israeli troops had been moved into the Golan Heights and were readying to invade Syria. They peddled the malicious, phony information to Egypt and other Arab states for the explicit purpose of creating a military confrontation with Israel. The Israeli leader, Levi Eshkol, immediately denounced the accusation, telling the Soviet ambassador to his face that there were no Israeli troops there whatsoever, and offering to personally drive him to the Golan at once. Acting on orders, the ambassador flatly refused, shouting "Nyet!" at Eshkol and storming out of the prime minister's residence. The Egyptians, too, checked their intelligence sources and found no evidence of Israeli troops in the Golan. Nonetheless, the pieces were in motion, and one thing dangerously led to another until everything spiraled out of control. Within mere weeks, the Six Day War was on - precipitated by the Kremlin. The egregious depths of Soviet disinformation spawned a major Middle East war.

RFK supported Israel in that war. Sirhan Sirhan never forgave him for that. He killed him for that.

Again, Ronald Reagan knew about the Soviet role in instigating the conflict, which he apparently pieced together via various reports at the time. As a result, he linked Bobby Kennedy's assassination to the USSR's mischief in the Middle East. "The enemy sits in Moscow," Reagan told Joey Bishop.

I call him an enemy because I believe he has proven this, by deed, in the Middle East. The actions of the enemy led to and precipitated the tragedy of last night.

Moscow had precipitated the Six Day War in June 1967, which, in turn, had prompted RFK's assassin in June 1968.

But Reagan wasn't finished positioning blame where it deserved to be placed. Eight days later, on July 13, 1968, Reagan delivered a forgotten speech in Indianapolis. Both the Indianapolis News and Indianapolis Star reported on Reagan's remarks, but the only full transcript I've seen was likewise located in Bill Clark's private papers. In that speech, Reagan leveled this charge at international Communism, with an earlier Kennedy assassination in mind:

Five years ago, a president was murdered by one who renounced his American citizenship to embrace the godless philosophy of Communism, and it was Communist violence he brought to our land. The shattering sound of his shots were still ringing in our ears when a policy decision was made to play down his Communist attachment lest we provoke the Soviet Union.

Reagan was spot on. As many conservative writers are currently noting, liberals in the immediate moments after the JFK assassination sought to blame everything but Oswald's love of Communism, love of the Soviet Union, and love of Castro's Cuba as motivations for what he did. Some blamed the climate of alleged "hate" and "bigotry" and "violence" in Dallas for the shooting. They ached to blame the right, fulfilling James Burnham's timeless maxim: "For the left, the preferred enemy is always to the right." Amazingly, they attempted to label Oswald a "right-winger," which was utterly upside down. He was a left-winger, as far left as one could get. Oswald was a completely committed Communist. He was head over heels for Castro's Cuba in particular. He adored Fidel. After defecting to and then leaving the Soviet Union after a long stay there, he went back to Texas (with a Soviet wife) and then tried everything to get to Havana and serve the revolution there. JFK and Fidel despised one another; each wanted the other dead. Guess who Oswald sided with on that one?

The Warren Commission later agonized over the possible motivations of Oswald. In the end, it determined that it "could not make any definitive determination of Oswald's motives." To its credit, the commission

. . . endeavored to isolate the factors which contributed to his character and which might have influenced his decision to assassinate President Kennedy.

It listed five factors, which appear on page 23 of the huge commission report. Among the five, the fifth underscored Oswald's "avowed commitment to Marxism and Communism," and noted specifically his ardor for Moscow and Havana. The commission concluded that this did indeed contribute to Oswald's "capacity to risk all in cruel and irresponsible actions."

Nonetheless, Oswald's passion for international Communism, from Russia to the Western hemisphere, has been downplayed by the American left and many Americans generally from the literal moment we learned that John F. Kennedy had been shot.

One American who was never blind to that motivation was Ronald Reagan. More than that, Reagan wasn't naive to the role of international Communism in the shooting of RFK either.

For the record, this is not to say that Lee Harvey Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan acted as conscious, deliberate agents trained and ordered by the Soviets or the Cubans, though some - such as Ion Mihai Pacepa - have examined that possibility in depth. Their actions, however, cannot or should not be separated from the malevolent force of international Communism, which unquestionably played a role in their ultimate deadly actions.

Who killed the Kennedys? Ronald Reagan told us the answer 45 years ago.

Mister Rogers vs. the Unity Tree

I was walking by Stanwix Street and Penn Avenue last week when struck by our city's "Unity Tree." It's a curious thing about the Unity Tree: it only comes out at Christmas time - yes, Christmas. This self-proclaimed source of "unity," like much of modern liberalism, preaches inclusion while it excludes. It boldly expunges "Christmas" from what everyone knows is a Christmas tree. Remarkably, even the banner adorning the tree takes care to exclude Christmas. "Season's Greetings," it tells us.

Well, what season? We know but can't say.

As I continued down Stanwix, I was struck by a legitimate source of unity, one that didn't divide us, and who didn't refrain from the Christmas message. There he was, captured in a big poster in a window: Fred Rogers. Mister Rogers.

Some readers might remember that Mister Rogers recorded an hour-long primetime Christmas special in 1977. His first primetime show, it was titled "Christmas Time with "Mr. Rogers," not "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays" with Mr. Rogers.

At the same time, it featured real unity. Fred Rogers discussed Hanukkah as well as Christmas. The trolley clicked through the Neighborhood of Make-Believe with a banner wishing "Happy Chanukah" on one side and "Merry Christmas" on the other. "Silent Night" was sung. It wasn't like today's phony "unity" where the apostles of "diversity" banish references to Christmas.

When I saw that poster in the window on Stanwix, it occurred to me that it has been 10 years since Fred Rogers left this world. Can you believe it?

What is it about the man that still makes us smile? That still touches a soft spot? That still genuinely unites us?

For me, it's partly my age. I was born in 1966, when there were a handful of TV channels. "Kids programming" consisted of a few PBS mornings shows, with Pittsburgh's own Fred Rogers the feature attraction. His comforting, patient demeanor drew you in. He was more than a friendly face in the neighborhood. He was a teacher.

One of my favorite Mister Rogers stories was told by my pastor at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Bridgeville in the 1990s.

The pastor had a friend, a pious businessman who lived in Connecticut. Though very successful, he was being tugged to make a move of address. That wasn't what his wife wanted to hear, especially when a Pittsburgh company showed interest. Her image of Pittsburgh was smoky, rusty, and smelly. She and her husband prayed for guidance. It would be in God's hands.

The husband liked what he saw, and the company liked him. Mom and the kids would be a tough sell. The company flew them in, as mom prayed for a sign.

When they landed at Pittsburgh International, she was sure the sign had come: a giant "no way." Their youngest child had vanished. They frantically searched the airport, shouting his name. Just then, mom spotted her son wide-eyed speaking to a gaunt man in an overcoat. She assumed the worst and readied to scold the stranger . . . until she saw his face. It was Mister Rogers.

In that trademark voice, he tenderly explained to the mom that her little boy, who he identified by name, had told him his concerns about moving. Mister Rogers explained that although moving can be difficult, it's often for the better, for dad, for mom, for the children. The boy would adjust, make new friends, and so on.

Mom got her sign. It was not only a man of the cloth (Rogers was an ordained minister) but . . . well, Mister Rogers. Could there be a better ambassador?

The family moved, and grew to like Pittsburgh - that is, Mister Rogers' neighborhood.

You want unity, Pittsburgh? Fred Rogers represented it.

Bad Sports: Virtue & Vice at the Ballpark?

If there be (no virtue among us), we are in a wretched situation. -James Madison

This isn't a year for complaints about the Pirates. So, forgive me while I complain not about the Pirates but a certain element of Pirates fans. This "element" is not unique to Pirates fans; it's symptomatic of many fans nationwide and, sadly, our culture and nation at large.

I'm prompted by a recent piece in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review sports section ("Biertempfel: In left field, they have Pirates' backs," Aug. 4), accompanied by a photo. The photo captured Cardinals' left fielder Matt Holliday being taunted, mocked and jeered at by Pirates fans after a ball bounced off his glove and into the bleachers, giving Andrew McCutchen a home run. The image is ugly: children, men, women, young and old, faces contorted, making hand gestures and hissing at Holliday.

They appear in all shapes and sizes, skinny and fat, barefaced and unshaven - united in their nastiness. Other than their vitriol, the one thing they share is that not one could have caught the ball Holliday chased down, certainly not without tripping like fools into the left field wall. For that matter, none could hit a ball like Holliday.

It reminded me of hecklings past. I've never forgotten a moment when a college roommate unloaded on an innocent member of the opposing team's bullpen at Three Rivers Stadium. The poor pitcher had done nothing other than sit with a visible name on his jersey. That was enough for my roommate to unleash himself on this fellow's character. The unsuspecting ballplayer did his best to ignore the unmerited insults. My buddy kept it up: "Hey, (name deleted), you (expletive deleted)!" I told him to knock it off.

I recall a later game my wife and I attended. A young Hunter Pence was in right field for the Astros. An unattractive threesome decided to have some "fun." Pretending to applaud Pence and cheer him on, they got his cheerful attention. Once they did, the bile flowed. A stunned Pence was unsure how to react. Even crueler were the fans observing the spectacle. They laughed and joined in, relishing the wretched display.

I felt bad for Pence. He was green, unseasoned in assimilating the hate that athletes must endure with heroic virtue in the onslaught of vicious fans harboring no virtue at all.

In the end, it really comes down to that - virtue vs. vice.

To overflow with vice is to be vicious. That's what I too often see at the ballpark. Certain fans can be not only mean but craven. Imagine the cowardice: The fan is unrestrained. So long as he doesn't physically assault the much stronger ballplayer, his behavior is largely unchecked by authorities or conscience. The ballplayer, however, must instantly become a paragon of virtue, turning the other cheek and enduring a litany of barbs from vulgarians slopping down beers and choking down hotdogs and nachos.

If he dares to react in the way he ought to be forgiven for reacting, he will find himself attacked not just by the protected cowards who couldn't hit a curveball but by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Twitter and every sports show in America. That athletes don't react, or do so only rarely, is an extraordinary testament to their character.

"Each new generation," says John Howard, senior fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion, & Society, "must be trained to be virtuous." Unfortunately, laments Howard, society today "is such that becoming virtuous is a monstrous chore."

When virtues are not inculcated - at home, at school, in media, and in popular culture - they lay desiccated upon the national landscape and we are in a wretched situation. The ballpark is no exception.

The Progressive Income Tax Turned 100

Maybe it's a measure of progressives' refusal to look back, to always move "forward." Otherwise, they should be celebrating right now. In fact, President Obama and fellow modern progressives/liberals should have been ecstatic all last year, rejoicing over the centenary of something so fundamental to their ideology, to their core goals of government, to their sense of economic and social justice - to what Obama once called "redistributive change."

And what is this celebratory thing to the progressive mind?

It is the progressive income tax. Last year, 2013, it turned 100. Its permanent establishment was set forth in two historic moments: 1) an amendment to the Constitution (the 16th Amendment), ratified February 3, 1913; and 2) its signing into law by the progressive's progressive, President Woodrow Wilson, October 3, 1913. It was a major political victory for Wilson and fellow progressives then and still today. By my math, that ought to mean a long, sustained party by today's progressives, a period of extended thanksgiving.

President Obama once charged that "tax cuts for the wealthy" are the Republicans' "Holy Grail." Tax cuts form "their central economic doctrine." Well, the federal income tax is the Democrats' Holy Grail. For progressives/liberals, it forms their central economic doctrine.

As merely one illustration among many I could give, former DNC head Howard Dean and MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell were recently inveighing against Republican tax cuts. Dean extolled "what an increase in the top tax rate actually does." He insisted:

. . . that's what governments do - is redistribute. The argument is not whether they should redistribute or not, the question is how much we should redistribute. . . . The purpose of government is to make sure that capitalism works for everybody. . . . It's government's job to redistribute.

What Dean said is, in a few lines, a cornerstone of the modern progressive manifesto. For Dean and President Obama and allies, a federal income tax based on graduated or progressive rates embodies and enables government's primary "job" and "purpose." They embrace a progressive tax for the chief intention of wealth redistribution, which, in turn, allows for income leveling, income "equality," and for government to do the myriad things that progressives ever-increasingly want government to do.

And so, in 1913, progressives struck gold. The notion of taxing income wasn't entirely new. Such taxes existed before, albeit temporarily, at very small levels, and for national emergencies like war. The idea of a permanent tax for permanent income redistribution broke new ground. The only debate was the exact percentage of the tax. In no time, progressives learned they could never get enough.

In 1913, when the progressive income tax began, the top rate was a mere 7 percent, applied only to the fabulously wealthy (incomes above $500,000). By the time Woodrow Wilson left office in 1921, the great progressive had hiked the upper rate to 73 percent. World War I (for America, 1917-18) had given Wilson a short-term justification, but so did Wilson's passion for a robust "administrative state."

Disagreeing with Wilson were the Republication administrations of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, his immediate successors. Along with their Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, they reduced the upper rate, eventually bringing it down to 25 percent by 1925. In response, the total revenue to the federal Treasury increased significantly, from $700 million to $1 billion, and the budget was repeatedly in surplus.

Unfortunately, the rate began increasing under Herbert Hoover, who jacked the top rate to 63 percent. It soon skyrocketed to 94 percent under another legendary progressive, FDR, who, amazingly, once considered a top rate of 99.5 percent on income above $100,000 (yes, you read that right).

Appalled by this was an actor named Ronald Reagan, himself a progressive Democrat - though not much longer. Reagan often noted that Karl Marx, in his Communist Manifesto (1848), demanded a permanent "heavy progressive or graduated income tax." Indeed, it's point two in Marx's 10-point program, second only to his call for "abolition of property."

The upper tax rate wasn't reduced substantially until 1965, when it came down to 70 percent. President Ronald Reagan took it down to 28 percent. And despite claims to the contrary, federal revenues under Reagan increased (as they did in the 1920s), rising from $600 billion to nearly $1 trillion. (The Reagan deficits were caused by excessive spending and decreased revenue from the 1981-3 recession.)

The upper rate increased again (to 31 percent) under George H. W. Bush and under Bill Clinton (39.6 percent). George W. Bush cut it to 35 percent. Barack Obama has returned it to the Clinton level of 39.6 percent.

Here, 100 years henceforth, the wealthiest Americans - the top 10 percent of which already pay over 70 percent of federal tax revenue - will be paying more in taxes this year than any time in the last 30 years. For progressives, this is justice. But it is also bittersweet: As progressives know deep inside, it still isn't enough. For them, it's never enough.

To that end, my enduring question for progressives is one they typically avoid answering, especially those holding elected office: In your perfect world, where, exactly, would you position the top rate? I routinely hear numbers in the 50-70 percent range.

Democrats like President Obama complain about Republican intransigence in raising tax rates but, truth be told - and as any liberal really knows - if it wasn't for Republican resistance, progressives would rarely, if ever, cut taxes. America would remain on a one-way upward trajectory in tax rates, just like under Woodrow Wilson and FDR, and just as it has been in its unrestrained spending for nearly 50 years. Like their refusal to cut spending (other than on defense), progressives are dragged kicking and screaming into tax cuts. They need high income taxes for the government planning and redistributing they want to do; for Obama's sense of redistributive justice.

In 2013 the progressive income tax turned 100. For progressives, getting it implemented was a huge triumph. Their success in making it a permanent part of the American landscape is a more stunning achievement still. *

Read 3872 times Last modified on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 17:34
Paul Kengor

Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and the executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. Paul Kengor is the author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007) and The Communist — Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink 2012).

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