JFK and Us


In Thursday’s WaPo:

“He has become fodder for aninterpretation industry toiling to make his life malleable enough to soothe the sensitivities and serve the agendas of the interpreters. The quantity of writing about him is inversely proportional to the brevity of his presidency.

He did not have history-shaping effects comparable to those of his immediate predecessor or successor. Dwight Eisenhower was one of three Americans (with George Washington and Ulysses Grant) who were world-historic figures before becoming president, and Lyndon Johnson was second only to Franklin Roosevelt as a maker of the modern welfare state and second to none in using law to ameliorate America’s racial dilemma.

The New York Times’ executive editor calls Kennedy “the elusive president”; The Post calls him “the most enigmatic” president.Most libidinous, certainly; most charming, perhaps. But enigmatic and elusive? Many who call him difficult to understand seem eager to not understand him. They present as puzzling or uncharacteristic aspects of his politics about which he was consistent and unambiguous. For them, his conservative dimension is an inconvenient truth. Ira Stoll, in “JFK, Conservative,” tries to prove too much but assembles sufficient evidence that his book’s title is not merely provocative.”"

You must go back to 1946, when JFK ran for the first time for Congress. He was defined in a Look Magazine article as a “fighting-Irish conservative”, which, as revisionist history has defined him, quite the opposite. Revisionist have tried to make him look like the second coming of the New Deal, when he was really a fiscal conservative and a believer of what is now called “supply-side economics”. During his remaining 17 years, he never really wavered from that concept.

While he had several Keynesian economists as advisors, as president, JFK chose as Treasury secretary a Republican Wall Street banker, C.Douglas Dillon, who 30 years after the assassination remembered Kennedy as “financially conservative.” Kennedy’s fiscal policy provided an example and ample rhetoric for Ronald Reagan’s supply-side tax cuts. Kennedy endorsed “a creative tax cut creating more jobs and income and eventually more revenue.” In December 1962, he said:

The federal government’s most useful role is . . . to expand the incentives and opportunities for private expenditures. . . .[I]t is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now.”

JFK was the penultimate “cold warrior”, who was a true anti-communist and a believer of a strong military. While he campaigned in 1960 to be in favor of changing our attitudes toward the old Soviet Union, once he became President, he recognized that his vision of the world view was not all that different from President Eisenhower’s.

We can certainly discuss the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the erection of the Berlin Wall, Vietnam and even the Cuban Missile Crisis as foreign policy blunders. But in each case, this man was not afraid to stand up to the Soviets and garner world opinion to his side. THAT was his success story, the winning of the hearts and minds of neutral powers to his side.

To me, Kennedy and Reagan were men cut from the same cloth, with like ideas and ideals, gifted with a great sense of humor and communication skills, and the ability to transcend party for the good of our nation. You cannot convince me otherwise.

So, on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the day the world and our nation changed forever, remember that JFK admonished us to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” And ask what happened over the last 50 years which made us change the order those goals.

Johnny, we hardly knew you.


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