We hear plenty of talk these days about the rise of excessive partisanship and the decline of civil political discourse. Supposedly, things were so much more genial in the good old days.
That may actually be true at some level if we’re talking about politicians. If we’re talking about liberal pundits, probably not so much.
In researching my baseball article about the December 5, 1963 trade that sent Jim Bunning from Detroit to Philadelphia, I came across plenty of commentary about the assassination of JFK. The disappointment among liberal columnists that the assassin turned out to be a Communist was palpable, and largely elided.
Once it became clear that the assassin was not a right-winger, Drew Pearson, a nasty mainstream liberal pundit by the standard of any era, switched narratives. He argued that the assassination might have been prevented if the “hate lobbies” had not killed gun control legislation.
The most sensible commentary I encountered came from William F. Buckley. He declined to make hay out the fact of Lee Harvey Oswald’s communist views, writing instead (in the Dec. 2 issue of the Detroit Free Press):
The point to remember amid our grief is that the act in question, although it was done by a far-left winger, is not an act for which the left bears collective guilt. It was made by a fiend, a psychotic in all likelihood, and it is of no importance whatever whether his political delusions were of the left or of the right.
I try to make the same point when partisans seek advantage by parsing the incoherent writings of modern day mass killers. But I have never made it this well.
Incidentally, as far as I can tell Buckley’s columns did not normally appear in the Free Press during this period. I may be wrong, but it seems likely that Free Press cherry-picked this column because a conservative was arguing against a line of attack on the left.
As they say, the more things change, the more things stay the same.