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.'”…
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.
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