John F. Kennedy: Right Wing Hero

“On the strength of our free economy rests the hope of all free nations.”  John F. Kennedy

When Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy on November 22nd of 1963, he was striking a blow for Socialism; but don’t expect to hear that in a typical college history class.

College professors and other leftist like to depict President Kennedy as a liberal, and the man who murdered him simply as a “troubled former marine,”1 whose motives are best left unexamined. In reality, Kennedy’s policies, both foreign and domestic, were so far to the right of the ideas in vogue on most campuses today that any honest appraisal would portray him as the enemy of everything most history professors believe in. The man who assassinated him, on the other hand, was a committed Marxist who saw Kennedy’s conservatism as a threat.

It’s easy to understand why no one on the left tries to portray Kennedy as a villain. Unlike his friends Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon; John F. “Jack” Kennedy was handsome, witty, and charming. His exploits in WWII were the subject of a Hollywood movie. His wife was the beautiful and glamorous Jacqueline Kennedy, a fashion icon admired and emulated by women around the world.

Heroes and Villains

It is widely acknowledged that college faculties lean to the left, so it shouldn’t be surprising that history professors tend to look for heroes among the ranks of liberals, and for villains among the ranks of the right wing.  Having that agenda, historians have labored to re-package National Socialist leader Adolf Hitler as a right winger, despite abundant evidence to the contrary. For similar reasons, left-leaning scholars have been willing to re-write history to some extent to move the dashing figure of John F. Kennedy from the right wing over to the left.

The textbook Making a Nation, for example, uses the word “liberal” no fewer than fifteen times, in just two pages, in introducing Kennedy’s presidency.2 According to this textbook, the only thing that kept President Kennedy from charging forward with a left wing agenda was the narrowness of his electoral victory over Republican opponent Richard Nixon: “The president (sic) maintained a dynamic, energetic image, but his administration, hampered by a weak electoral mandate, did not venture too far out onto the liberal New Frontier…Kennedy gave voice to the new liberalism, but he seldom translated liberal ideas into action.”

The truth is very different. Kennedy’s close race against Richard Nixon in the 1960 election did not keep him from furthering his agenda; he pushed his ideas aggressively and with significant success. But his ideas were not liberal. In actual fact, President Kennedy was conservative on many issues, both foreign and domestic.

Kennedy the Tax-Cutter

During his short presidency Kennedy pushed through Congress a twenty-one percentage point cut in the top marginal tax rate, despite the vocal opposition of actual liberals. In a series of public speeches promoting his tax cut idea he predicted that an increase in tax revenues could be the result of a cut in tax rates; an idea that President Ronald Reagan would echo while pushing for further rate reductions twenty years later. In a speech before the Economic Club of New York, for example, Kennedy said “In short, it 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.” Reagan couldn’t have said it any better.

Kennedy’s tax cut was signed into law after his death, and went into effect for 1965. Tax revenues rocketed upward, just as he had predicted.

Kennedy and “McCarthyism”

Liberals who lionize President Kennedy and demonize Joseph McCarthy are reluctant to mention that the two men respected and liked each other. In actual fact, McCarthy was on good terms with the whole Kennedy family. Patriarch Joseph Kennedy was an “admirer and backer”3 of McCarthy during his confrontations with various government figures in the early 1950’s. Two of Joe’s daughters (JFK’s sisters) dated McCarthy.

When John Kennedy was in the House of Representatives from 1947 through 1952, he often broke with his party  to vote with the Republicans. During his time in the house he also vocally denounced some of the same suspected Communist agents McCarthy would go after in the early 1950’s.4

When Jack Kennedy first ran for the Senate as a Democrat in 1952, leaders of the Republican Party pressured McCarthy to campaign for Kennedy’s Republican opponent, incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge. McCarthy refused,5 and John F. Kennedy took a Senate seat from the Republicans during a year when the Democratic Party as a whole was losing congressional seats.   

John’s brother Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, who would be head of the Justice Department during John’s presidency, worked for McCarthy from 1952 to 1953, as part of his Permanent Sub-committee for Investigations, looking into allegations of Communist activities among government employees. Bobby Kennedy had such respect for McCarthy that he named McCarthy godfather to his daughter Kathleen.

Kennedy and Nixon

Joseph McCarthy was not the only Commie-baiting Republican John F. Kennedy counted among his friends. A young Congressman named Richard Nixon made a name for himself in 1948 by exposing former State Department employee Alger Hiss as a Communist agent. Hiss was eventually convicted of perjury for denying his connections to the Soviet Union, and Nixon became a leader of the anti-Communist movement. Jack Kennedy, being just as fiercely anti-Communist as Nixon, soon became a friend. When Nixon ran for the Senate in 1950 John F. Kennedy donated a thousand dollars to his campaign.6

The friendship continued while both men served in the Senate. In 1954 Kennedy nearly died from complications arising from back surgery, and the thought of losing his friend moved Nixon to tears

The Russians and the “Missile Gap”

In 1960 Jack Kennedy ran against Nixon, who had been Vice President under President Dwight Eisenhower, for the Presidency. Kennedy’s defining campaign issue was the “Missile Gap;” his claim that the Soviet Union had gained an advantage over the US in nuclear weapons because the Republican Eisenhower/Nixon administration had not spent enough money on the military.

In a speech before the American Legion, Kennedy quite accurately stated that “We and the Communists are now locked in deadly embrace,” because of the “The implacable Communist drive for power.”

In his American Legion speech, Kennedy insisted that the US needed to build nuclear missiles and missile-launching submarines in larger numbers: “we must step up crash programs on the ultimate weapon. The Polaris submarine, the Minuteman missile, which will eventually close the missile gap.”

To make sure that no one could doubt his aggressiveness toward the Communists, Kennedy called out Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev by name: “And I want Mr. Khrushchev and anyone else to understand that if the Democratic Party wins this election, he will confront in the 1960’s an America which is not only militarily strong, but which is waging the offensive for freedom all over the globe.”

When John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as President, he took the opportunity to re-state yet again his firm opposition to Soviet expansionism: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

In words that presaged the “Bay of Pigs” and Cuban Missile Crisis confrontations President Kennedy would have with the Soviets over Cuba, Kennedy went on to say “Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.” Hardly the words of a liberal.

Next week’s post will examine how Kennedy’s aggressive anti-Communism would eventually motivate a young American Communist named Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate him.

1Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty, p. 854
2Boydston, Cullather, Lewis, McGerr, and Oakes; Making a Nation, 2004 edition, pp. 667, 668
3M. Stanton Evans, Blacklisted by History, p. 444
4Ibid., p. 449
5Ibid., p. 444
6Volkan, Itzkowitz, and Dod; Nixon: A Psychobiography, p. 55

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