Wanted: Another ‘John McCain Lakeville moment’

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, takes back the microphone from Gayle Quinnell who said she read about Sen. Barack Obama and "that he was an Arab," during a question and answer time at a town hall meeting at Lakeville South High School Friday, Oct. 10, 2008 in Lakeville, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Dallas knows a thing or two about presidential assassinations so even if one presidential candidate wasn’t suggesting the assassination of another — and we don’t think he was, for the record — the increasing political mob mentality in today’s politics is stirring memories in the city where President Kennedy was gunned down.

Writing in the Dallas Observer (Dallas’ version of City Pages), Jim Schutze recalls a conversation with the late Stanley Marcus, of the Neiman-Marcus chain, who said the likelihood that Lee Harvey Oswald was motivated by the “atmosphere that attracted that kind of fanatical nut” was far worse than the rumored conspiracy behind the hit.

“I found it very difficult to go to a dinner party without getting into violent discussions. If you disagreed, you were automatically labeled a communist,” Marcus said of the difficulty of socializing even privately.

Schutze notes the significance of this moment in the 2008 campaign. It happened in Lakeville, Minn., when candidate John McCain stopped the vitriol of a woman.

“Would that have been enough here in 1963?” Schutze asks. “We can’t know. But if Marcus was right, if the local climate of intolerance and extremism was the tuning fork that resonated with the mad internal orchestra inside Oswald regardless of political ideology, then what might have happened if someone had forcefully sounded another conflicting note? Nothing? How do we know that?”

We search for conspiracies in political violence, he says, because the alternative is to look at the atmosphere that breeds the fanatical killers.

These people are from central casting. It’s not possible — not for me anyway – to look at this plague of public shootings and not see ritual, one acted out in public at an accelerating tempo, in which the same kind of loosely moored soul steps forward each and every time, as Oswald did to shoot Kennedy, as Amir did to kill Rabin, because they have seen it all on television before and have heard the call.

And each time it happens, we make the same foolishly self-exculpatory mistake. We look for some hard-edged conspiracy to explain what happened.

We are relieved a little, are we not, when ISIS takes credit, even though we know ISIS would take credit for a tsunami if it killed the right people. If there is a conspiracy, after all, then that will mean that we didn’t do it.

And that, by the way, is the thing we know here in Dallas, the inconvenient truth. We are all conspirators when we fail to repudiate the climate that sends up the drumbeat call to violence.

McCain’s Lakeville moment is the fulcrum, “the point of resistance that will bend the future to the good. Or not,” he says.

We didn’t know it at the time. But it was the high point of recent presidential politics.