Skip to comments.Would Democrats Embrace a JFK Today?
Posted on 10/21/2013 4:50:15 AM PDT by Kaslin
As Democrats begin maneuvering for the 2016 presidential race, there isn't one who would think of disparaging John F. Kennedy's stature as a Democratic Party hero. Yet it's a pretty safe bet that none would dream of running on Kennedy's approach to government or embrace his political beliefs.
Today's Democratic Party the home of Barack Obama, John Kerry, and Al Gore wouldn't give the time of day to a candidate like JFK.
The 35th president was an ardent tax-cutter who championed across-the-board, top-to-bottom reductions in personal and corporate tax rates, slashed tariffs to promote free trade, and even spoke out against the "confiscatory" property taxes being levied in too many cities.
He was anything but a big-spending, welfare-state liberal. "I do not believe that Washington should do for the people what they can do for themselves through local and private effort," Kennedy bluntly asserted during the 1960 campaign. It was a message he memorably restated in his inaugural address: "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country." One of his first acts as president was to institute a pay cut for top White House staffers, and that was only the start of his budgetary austerity. "To the surprise of many of his appointees," longtime aide Ted Sorensen would later write, he "personally scrutinized every agency request with a cold eye and encouraged his budget director to say 'no.'"
On the other hand, he was a Cold War anticommunist who aggressively increased military spending. He faulted his Republican predecessor for tailoring the nation's military strategy to fit the budget, rather than the other way around. "We must refuse to accept a cheap, second-best defense," JFK said during his run for the White House. He made good on that pledge, pushing defense spending to 50 percent of federal expenditures and 9 percent of GDP, both far higher than today's levels. Speaking in Texas just hours before his death, he proudly took credit for building the US military into "a defense system second to none."
Since that terrible day in Dallas 50 years ago, popular mythology has turned Kennedy into a liberal hero. Some of that mythmaking, as journalist and historian Ira Stoll argues in a new book, JFK, Conservative, was driven by Kennedy aides, such as Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who had always wanted their boss to be more left-leaning than he was. Some of it was fueled by the Democratic Party's emotional connection to the memory of a martyred president, and its understandable desire to link their priorities to his legacy.
But Kennedy was no liberal. By any reasonable definition, he was a conservative and not just by the standards of our era, but by those of his era as well.
Stoll draws on an embarrassment of riches to make his case.
When the young JFK launched his first political campaign for the US House in 1946, a profile in Look magazine homed in on his conservatism:
"When young, wealthy, and conservative John Fitzgerald Kennedy announced for Congress, many people wondered why," it began. "Hardly a liberal even by his own standards, Kennedy is mainly concerned by what appears to him as the coming struggle between collectivism and capitalism. In speech after speech he charges his audience 'to battle for the old ideas with the same enthusiasm that people have for new ideas.'"
He hadn't changed his political stripes by the time he ran for the Senate in 1952, challenging incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Stoll notes that Massachusetts newspapers wanting to back a liberal in that race came out for the Republican the Berkshire Eagle, for example, endorsed Lodge as "an invaluable voice for liberalism." When his re-election in 1958 made it clear that Kennedy would be running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Eleanor Roosevelt was asked in a TV interview whom she would support if forced to choose "between a conservative Democrat like Kennedy and a liberal Republican [like] Rockefeller." FDR's widow, then as now a progressive icon, answered that she would all she could to make sure Kennedy wouldn't be the party's nominee.
Many on the left felt that way about JFK. When he decided to resume nuclear testing in 1962, Bertrand Russell attacked him as "much more wicked than Hitler," and Linus Pauling, who would receive that year's Nobel Peace Prize, predicted that he would "go down in history as one of the greatest enemies of the human race." Left-wing intellectuals raged against Kennedy's failed attempt to topple Fidel Castro (the renowned sociologist C. Wright Mills said the administration had "returned us to barbarism"). Liberals within the administration expressed dismay for Kennedy's unwavering support for cutting taxes. A dismayed Schlesinger called one of Kennedy's tax-cut exhortations "the worst speech the president had ever given."
Nearly 30 years ago, an essay in Mother Jones magazine asked: "Would JFK Be a Hero Now?" If the answer wasn't obvious then, it certainly is now. In today's political environment, a candidate like JFK a conservative champion of economic growth, tax cuts, limited government, peace through strength plainly would be a hero. Whether he would be a Democrat is a different matter altogether.
Even the Republicans would blame him on the TEA Party.
He wouldn’t even have been elected Senator in Taxachussetts...
He also fought the Federal Reserve. Which is why he’s dead.
There isn’t one America loving, constitution respecting democrat today. Not one. That’s all I know. This article serves no relevance except to rub salt in the wound of any liberty and freedom loving American.
I just wish this country would stop worshipping him as some sort of demi-god. He’s benn dead 50 years - do we still need to see him on the cover of all the magazines?
It’s ironic that the modern Democrat Party fully embraces the myth of a liberal JFK yet completely ignores his successor,LBJ, who was a COMPLETE lefty and whose policies are responsible for many of today’s government problems .
It has been fifty YEARS, people. Children have been born, grown, up, married, produced children of their own, and those children have produced another generation in that span of time.
Teddy pretty much single-handedly subverted whatever memory there was of JFK, and the assassination of Robert pretty much sealed the record of whatever real accomplishments the original JFK may have produced. Much of JFK’s rhetoric is also similarly deleted or de-emphasized.
Sorenson gave Kennedy the expression, “A rising tide lifts all boats” in a speech, something he had seen in some New England newsletter, and Kennedy was on it like a duck on a junebug.
I suspect that he would be appalled by the Browns, Obamas, Clintons and Bidens. And the Sharptons, Jackson-Lees, McKinneys, et al? All the free-spending, whining grievance-mongers?
Senator in Taxachussetts? Based on the article, the GOPe would call JFK a “Tea Party” wacko bird and do everything possible to marginalize him if they couldn’t beat him, a la Senator Ted Cruz.
Senator in Taxachussetts? Based on the article, the GOPe would call JFK a Tea Party wacko bird and do everything possible to marginalize him if they couldnt beat him, a la Senator Ted Cruz.
That was my point. The democratic party today is a step away from communism.
Yes they would embrace him because his policies would have “evolved” over time and he would not be saying the same things as he did as President. Let’s keep in mind that Senator Ted Kennedy was a strong pro lifer in the early 70’s.
Didn’t we see this same article, or similar, during the Clinton presidency?
JFK’s policies were too conservative for today’s GOPe.
JFK was only leftist on unions and government unions. On economics and defense, he was conservative.
They’d embrace a JFK just as much as a Zell Miller.
One other tidbit of information on JFK to drive the left nuts, he was an NRA lifetime member....
A Democrat? He couldn’t even be an Establishment Republican.