JFK: Practical Supply-Sider, Theoretical Hawk
With the 50th anniversary of the murder of President John F. Kennedy, the leftist media has attempted to claim JFK as one of their own: an ardent liberal on economics with pacifist tendencies, earning the hatred of the extreme right-wing at every turn. That’s why The New Republic tweeted a picture of anti-JFK protesters in Dallas circa 1963, adding “These JFK haters in 1960s Dallas look an awful lot like Obama haters today.”
But the reality of the situation is that JFK was, in fact, highly economically conservative, in practice if not in theory, and highly hawkish on foreign policy, in theory if not in practice.
On economics, JFK presided over one of the biggest tax cuts in American history. After inheriting office from non-conservative Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, JFK recognized that he faced a dangerous re-election cycle. To that end, he refused calls from his own party to ratchet up government spending, instead choosing to cut taxes and keep the deficit in check. As the JFK Presidential Library & Museum points out, “When liberal Democrats pressed him to promote progressive social programs, he would often point out that he had not won a mandate and remind them that he first had to be reelected.”
JFK tried to push for a Medicare program, but was stifled by an American people uninterested in redistributing medical care to the detriment of the economy and the quality of healthcare. He dropped that and instead cut income taxes from a high-end tax of 91% to 65%. He tried to cut corporate taxes as well, from 52% to 47%. Economic growth quickly jumped, putting his re-election efforts in solid shape after two years of a stagnant economy.
On foreign policy, Kennedy was in theory a hawk – but, as Ross Douthat of The New York Times points out, an incompetent one. Peter Schweizer has written at length about JFK’s awful foreign policy record; as Schweizer writes, the KGB was enthusiastic about Kennedy’s election over Nixon, going so far as to hold American U-2 pilot Gary Powers until after Kennedy’s victory.
Once Kennedy was in power, the Communists moved into eastern Laos, setting up the groundwork for the Vietnam War; JFK did nothing. JFK also undercut the Bay of Pigs operation by withdrawing aerial support, dooming the mission to public and dramatic failure. When the Soviets began building the Berlin Wall, JFK also did nothing. He actually said, “it seems particularly stupid to risk killing a million Americans over an argument about access rights on the Autobahn.” That prompted Khruschev to try to put missiles in Cuba – and even then, JFK’s handling of the crisis ended with the United States withdrawing Jupiter missiles from Turkey, a concession that didn’t need to be made.
That was the real JFK: a hawk in theory on foreign policy, but not in practice; a leftist in economic theory, but not in practice. The most obvious parallel would be to President Clinton a generation later, not to President Obama today. Nonetheless, there is little doubt that JFK’s actual accomplishments resemble those of a modern Republican far more than those of a member of the modern Democratic Party.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.