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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Watch the video clip below to hear Stewart explain:

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Watch the video clip below to catch the conversation:

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