Candidate Kennedy wouldn’t yell bigot!


And look where he ended up: Yesterday, we discussed Andrew Rosenthal’s use of the pleasing term “bigot.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/29/12.

Later, we were reading the Q-and-A from Candidate Kennedy’s famous speech about church and state in September 1960. Kennedy spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. The gathering included a number of ministers who didn’t seem especially friendly to the idea that a Catholic president would avoid serving the Pope.

Some of the questioning didn’t seem real friendly; to read the transcript or watch the tape, just click here. We were struck by this statement by Kennedy as the session was ending:
KENNEDY (9/12/60): Let me just—I guess our time is coming to an end, but I believe in it. Let me say, finally, that I am delighted to come here today. I don't want anyone to think because they interrogate me on this very important question, that I regard that as unfair questions or unreasonable or somebody who is concerned about the matter is prejudiced or bigoted. I think this fight for religious freedom is basic in the establishment of the American system, and therefore any candidate for the office, I think, should submit himself to the questions of any reasonable man.

My only objection would be—my only limit to that would be that if somebody said regardless of Senator Kennedy's position, regardless of how much evidence he's given that what he says he means, I still wouldn't vote for him because he is a member of that church, I would consider that unreasonable. What I consider to be reasonable, and an exercise of free will and free choice, is to ask the candidate to state his views as broadly as possible, investigate his record to see what whether he states he believes and then to make an independent rational judgment, as to whether he could be entrusted with this highly important position. So I want you to know that I'm grateful to you for inviting me tonight. I'm sure that I have made no converts to my church. But I do hope—I do hope that at least my view, which I believe to be the view of my fellow Catholics, who hold office, I hope that it may be of some value in at least assisting you to make a careful judgment. Thank you.
Were some of these ministers “bigots?” It’s always possible. But that is a very important term in modern American history. (You might even call it a “sacred” term.) Candidate Kennedy made it a point—he wouldn’t throw B-bombs around.

Many state legislators in New Hampshire oppose marriage equality. Does that make them bigots? Yesterday, Rosenthal sprayed the term around in the promiscuous way he favors. He forgot to say that President Obama opposes equality too.

We’re old enough to recall the time when that term referred to the kinds for people who chased children through the streets with dogs, then went off and murdered their parents. Today, it’s a casual throw-away term, directed at those we dislike.


  1. Of course he wouldn't throw the "b-word" around! He wanted to get elected! He also knew that many of those same "church" leaders in 1959-1960 were eagerly supporting racial discrimination and white supremacy. Do you think he was going to dare call them bigots? He would not have won the state of Texas, even if Lyndon Johnson had promised everyone down there $1 million/head of household!

    Come on, Mr. Bob Somerby, you lived during that era, you know better than this. Yes, Rosenthal was a bit over the top, but even with President Obama, in 2008, do you think he would ever dare publicly denounce not just the anti-Democratic hate that Clinton encountered, but the overt racism directed at him? Do you? Had he done so, instead of giving his remarkable speech on race (i.e. his speech that softened the needed critique on the long history of American racism and white supremacy), he would not be the incumbent President of the United States of America.

    Citing Kennedy really doesn't fly here. I'd love to know what he said privately about these ministers. Given his and his wife's history of private candor, I'm sure it wasn't all sweetness and roses.

  2. Come now Bob. I think your discussion of this issue--and your last two paragraphs here, especially--suggest that you have a bit of a blind spot with respect to gay rights (I do not know what your personal situation is and will not speculate).

    I can tell you this much: as a gay man, I am comfortable classifying every legislator (and probably every person) who opposes marriage equality as a bigot. In your move to emphasize your respect for the 1960s civil rights movement (a respect that is entirely deserved), you cannot help but demean the significance and pain of the bigotry that gay Americans face every day, including the inability to have an equal marriage (or to get married at all).

    It is entirely unclear to me why you think I should have to be charitable to people who are unprepared to allow me to fully participate in my own society. And no, that is not overstatement.

    1. Thank you for this comment, andgarden, and how refreshing. It's rare on this site that we hear from self-identified *targets* of bigotry: gay men like yourself in this instance; or blacks, in response to posts in which Bob and others seem to bend over backward, forward, and sideways to avoid acknowledging bigotry in cases where *just about any sentient being* can see it --- not least the target of bigotry.

      Mostly, this site appears to be white liberals arguing with other white liberals, and the occasional conservative, about what does or doesn't constitute bigotry, racism, etc. Rarely if ever do we hear from any self-described TARGETS of bigotry, to whom Bob's and others' empathy doesn't always seem to extend.

      Of course, darlings, this is what we white liberals love to do! We love to argue about and dictate what other people feel, or should feel. Can we talk?

      Thank you again,andgarden, for a nice touch of common sense and an illuminating dispatch from Planet Earth.

    2. "It is entirely unclear to me why you think I should have to be charitable to people who are unprepared to allow me to fully participate in my own society."

      You don't have to.


      Ever hear of a guy called Martin Luther King, Jr?

      Being "charitable to people who were unprepared to allow him to fully participate in his own society" was, like, his whole shtick...

      It was a pretty good strategy.

  3. You don't have to be anti gay to think gay marriage doesn't pass the laugh test.

  4. I completely agree with andgarden. As a gay man I have been verbally and physically harassed in the streets and I think the culprits believed the same thing that many legislators opposed to gay right believe...that I am not worthy of the full rights heterosexuals enjoy in this society. This is indeed bigotry.

    1. You shouldn't be harassed and you should have a right to visit your friends in the hospital but you shouldn't call people bigots who think gay marriage makes as much sense as abortion rights for men since marriage was only invented because heterosexuality exists and results in children.

    2. sorry but I should and I think your logic is a mess

  5. "He forgot to say that President Obama opposes equality too."

    This is a flat-out misstatement. The President has said his position on this is "evolving." (Set aside the weasel wording and political BS; he's playing it safe; fine.) He used to say he did not personally believe in gay marriage, now he says his position is evolving. And he hasn't done one single thing to STAND IN THE WAY of the advancement of gay marriage. He has not obstructed, or opposed, in any meaningful way. He has stood out of the way and allowed the states to work it out.

    Please provide fresh, recent evidence of the President's opposition to marriage equality, Bob. Otherwise, please correct or amend your statement. [Not holding my breath either way.]

    1. President Obama supported same-sex marriage when he was an Illinois State Senator.

      He supported same-sex marriage and gay rights "unequivocally." If we had a media worth anything more than an empty salt-shaker most people would know this. Of course there is the Google, but I know, it's hard to type in search terms....

      His position evolved so that he could be elected to the presidency. He is not anti-gay. But he is too cautious and fearful of offending bigots a good deal of the time.

  6. A rather naive interpretation of Kennedy's remarks. Of course he used the "B" word, while trying to make it look like he wasn't.

  7. Swan, only the very domesticated MLK appears on this site. He also said, a la Rev Wright, that America will go to hell. Had rough things to say about white folks too. All justifiable and surely understandable in context. As always happens, over time we make our prophets into cuddly little creatures who magically say what we think.

    MLK, a great man, is a far more complex, disturbing, and challenging figure than the domesticated creature appropriated here.

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