Was JFK actually a conservative? Author Ira Stoll makes the case

After pondering where on the political spectrum President John F. Kennedy would fall today, Glenn was joined on radio this morning by Ira Stoll, author of JFK, Conservative. Glenn and Ira discussed how the left has co-opted JFK’s legacy, and Ira explained why he believes the death of President Kennedy was the death of the conservative wing of the Democratic Party.

Glenn first asked Ira to “make the case” of why he considers JFK to be conservative.

“Well, you know, Kennedy believed in tax cuts. That was actually his top priority was tax cuts, and free trade, and winning the Cold War against the Soviet Union. President Reagan recognized that when he used to talk about Kennedy all the time, and it drove his liberal opponents crazy,” Ira explained. “Kennedy was for the death penalty, he appointed the Supreme Court justice who wrote the dissent in the Roe v. Wade abortion case, he campaigned against corrupt labor unions, he worried about how welfare destroyed families, he warned about the dangers of atheism and cynical intellectuals. There’s really the whole spectrum of issues where Kennedy was, surprisingly to me when I started researching it, pretty conservative.”

While those particular issues are largely inline with conservative beliefs, Glenn questioned the timeliness of JFK’s alleged conservatism. Was JFK a conservative by the standards of the early 1960s, or is JFK a conservative by today’s standards?

“Well, both in today’s world and by the standards of his time, he was a conservative,” Ira said. “I mean Eleanor Roosevelt was asked in a 1958 television interview, ‘What would you do if the Democrats nominate a conservative like Kennedy and the Republicans nominated a liberal like Rockefeller?’ She said she hoped it didn’t come to that. The liberals at the time were protesting the Kennedy tax cuts and the escalation in Vietnam. Albert Gore, Sr., the democratic senator from Tennessee who is Bill Clinton’s vice president’s father, denounced the Kennedy tax cut plan as a bonanza for fat cats. John Kenneth Galbraith, the Keynesian Harvard economics professor who was Kennedy’s ambassador to India, goes back and met with Kennedy at the White House – he was for more government spending to stimulate the economy – and he went back to the White House mess after that meeting with Kennedy and he said to his fellow economists, ‘You know what, guys? You’ve won. The president finally told me to shut up about my opposition to the tax cut.’”

If President Kennedy did in fact represent a more conservative element of the Democratic Party, Glenn asked if the Democratic Party we know today would exist had JFK not been assassinated.

“One of the reasons [the assassination] was a terrible, terrible thing was it was the end to the conservative wing of the Democratic Party in this country,” Ira said. “I mean… Bill Clinton finally signed the welfare reform and when he argued for free trade, Bill Clinton went to the Kennedy Library in Massachusetts to argue for it. But, you know, a lot of that has just been lip service. And since [the assassination], the conservatives in this country moved into the Republican Party and the TEA Party.”

“So how come we remember him as such a liberal icon,” Glenn asked.

“Well, that is really a deception… which was perpetrated by two of Kennedy’s more liberal aides: Ted Sorensen, who was so left-wing that he was a conscientious objector in World War II; and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who would have preferred a ‘President Adlai Stevenson’ and wasn’t even that close to Kennedy when he was alive,” Ira explained. “The conservatives in the Administration, like Douglas Dillon, the Republican treasury secretary under Kennedy, didn’t write books. And I point out in my book how those Sorensen and Schlesinger books, which were amazingly influential, actually edited out some of the more hawkish lines from Kennedy’s speeches and even changed the chronology to make it look like Kennedy became this raving peacenik in the final months of his life.”

Watch the more from the interview in the clip below:

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  • http://www.artinphoenix.com/gallery/grimm snowleopard (cat folk gallery)

    JFK was a conservative Democrat, of that there is no doubt.

    Hence we have the reason that the left has been determined to rewrite history for so many years, and make a martyr of the man so they can castigate America, and use it as justification for their social transformation of the nation.

    • Jayne Nielsen

      I agree. Just as there are Liberal Republicans, JFK presided as a Conservative Democrat. He believed strongly in social programs (taking care of people) but he apparently also believed in free enterprise and I heard because of his strong Catholic faith, he was also pro-life. I often wonder, had JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. not been assassinated, how different would things be and would those two identify with “their” people as Liberals like Sharpton and Jessie Jackson claim. Neither fought for one side. They fought for both sides. They were feared because they were bringing people together and that’s why I believe they were assassinated.

    • jen

      JFK was a ‘moderate’ democrat at the worst. Though JFK in reality is more of a moderate libertarian or moderate democrat with heavy libertarian leanings with his view of the federal reserve system, etc..
      Dems and Republicans don’t get assassinated – JFK wasn’t a real democrat.
      And by no means was JFK a conservative or republican.

    • jen

      JFK was a ‘moderate’ democrat at the worst. Though JFK in reality is more of a moderate libertarian or moderate democrat with heavy libertarian leanings with his view of the federal reserve system, etc..
      Dems and Republicans don’t get assassinated – JFK wasn’t a real democrat.
      And by no means was JFK a conservative or republican.

  • ThorsteinVeblen2012

    Kennedy was carrying on a secret dialogue with Nikita Khrushchev, he would not support the military and the CIA during the Bay of Pigs, met with Indonesian President Sukarno, who the CIA later ousted in a coup, retaliated against big steel using the government to roll back their price increase, stood up to Curtis LeMay who wanted to use the Cuban Missile Crisis as a pretext for a war, and was going to rollback our presence in Vietnam.

    Kennedy’s speech at the American University was broadcast approvingly in the Soviet Union.

    Yeah a conservative alright, like he was going to drop Lyndon Johnson to pick up Barry Goldwater on his ticket in 1964.

    • A Real Libertarian

      Of course Bob Kennedy was a conservative! Not Ted though, he survived the 60s and therefore was around recently enough to make historical revisionism impossible.

      Nixon did serve in the military, but not in a combat role.

      Reagan on the other hand didn’t do squat.

    • Anonymous

      Bravo, sir!

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8FvmesaxXg Sam Fisher

    I think he was and we all know the liberals today would call JFK racist for lowering taxes on the rich. He also hanged out with many Conservatives.

  • Anonymous

    Compared to today’s democratic party, I think JFK would be considered at least moderate, if not conservative. I truly think that both JFK & RFK would be embarrassed to be a part of the present day democratic party.

  • Anonymous

    JFK was a Conservative by today’s standards. It seems like these days each party has moved one space to the left. But at the same time he wouldn’t be part of the Tea Party seeing as they are more like the wing of the Republican party that were more Bircher.

  • http://suzeraining.wordpress.com/ suz

    …and how do the liberals get back at conservatives who make this claim that jfk was more right than left ? they claim lincoln was a democrat.

    na na na na na in true 8-year old fashion.

    • A Real Libertarian

      Lincoln was a socialist.

      “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the
      fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first
      existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher

      Plus Karl Marx signed a letter congratulating Lincoln on his reelection:


      • http://suzeraining.wordpress.com/ suz

        your love of the labor movement as being superior to capitalism is like saying without judaism we’d never have christianity, a truth.

        there was always something before capitalism — that’s why … america!

        lincoln wasn’t a socialist but you have the right to believe he was even though the letter does not prove it as it wasn’t penned by lincoln. in fact, we know he dealt w/issues of slave labor in a way no president had — he sought to abolish it for it was not right, moral or superior.

  • labman57

    Was Kennedy a progressive or a conservative?

    It depends … on whether, at that particular moment, tea-chugging pundits and the right wing blogosphere are attempting to praise JKF or condemn him.

  • Anonymous

    I was there and was a “youth for Kennedy”… like Ronald Regean The democrat party went way south liberal and left us on the curb….personally I think that happened as a direct result of Kennedy’s Murder.

  • Anonymous

    I was there and was a “youth for Kennedy”… like Ronald Regean The democrat party went way south liberal and left us on the curb….personally I think that happened as a direct result of Kennedy’s Murder.

  • Benjamin Dover

    A brief overview of Hussein Obama’s war against the financial stability of the middle class: http://www.savageleft.com/resources/hostility.html

  • Defend The Constitution

    Patriots: It is time to go on the offensive against the illusions and superstitions of today’s liberals and progressives: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0094KY878

    • Anonymous


  • William L

    He called himself a Liberal. I think he WAS a liberal Democrat when he was president. The problem is that the whole nation has shifted so far to the left that compared to today he seems like a fairly conservative Republican.

  • JoyB

    I think that Glenn Beck should be in an institution. It’s obvious that he pulls this crap out of his behind much like his brain dead from the neck up followers. Kennedy was a proud liberal and stated it many times and was killed by the very conservatives that have tried to smear his name and now we have a moron like Glenn dumb as a stump Beck who tries to say he wasn’t a liberal. JFK was a great man and a liberal and some might say glen beck is nothing by a moronic paid shill of the Koch brothers and the wealthy of this nation that would destroy this country because of their own greed and selfishness.

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