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Was JFK a Liberal?


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Article by Rich Lowry:

http://www.townhall.com/Columnists/RichLow...nged_liberalism

From a distance of nearly 50 years, the liberalism of 1960 is hardly recognizable. It was comfortable with the use of American power abroad, unabashedly patriotic and forward-looking. But that was before The Fall.

In his eye-opening new book "Camelot and the Cultural Revolution," Jim Piereson argues The Fall was the assassination of President Kennedy. It represented more than the tragic death of a young president, but the descent of liberalism from an optimistic creed focused on pragmatic improvements in the American condition to a darker philosophy obsessed with America's sins. Echoes of the assassination -- and the meaning attributed to it by JFK's admirers -- can still be heard in the querulous tones of contemporary liberalism.

The real John F. Kennedy wasn't the paladin of liberal purity of myth. He was friends with Joseph McCarthy. In his 1952 campaign for Senate and his 1960 presidential campaign, he got to the right of his Republican opponents on key issues. "Kennedy did not want anyone to tag him as a liberal, which he regarded as the kiss of death in electoral politics," Piereson writes. As president, he was vigorously anti-communist, a tax-cutter and a cautious supporter of civil rights.

His kind of liberalism -- "tough and realistic," as Piereson puts it, in the tradition of FDR and Truman -- was carried away in the riptide of his death. In a crucial and counterintuitive interpretive act, the nation's opinion elite made JFK a martyr to civil rights instead of the Cold War. Kennedy had been killed by a communist, Lee Harvey Oswald, who a few years before had tried to defect to the Soviet Union. Liberals nonetheless blamed the assassination on, in the characteristic words of Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, "the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots."

Thus, the assassination curdled into an indictment of American society: "Kennedy Victim of Violent Streak He Sought to Curb in Nation," read a New York Times headline. Until this point, 20th-century liberalism had tended to see history as a steady march of progress. Now, the march had been interrupted by the country's own pathologies. "Kennedy was mourned in a spirit of frustrated possibility and dashed hopes," Piereson argues, and that sense of loss came to define the new liberalism.

American history no longer appeared to be a benign process, but a twisted story of rapine and oppression. "With such a bill of indictment," Piereson writes, "the new liberals now held that Americans had no good reason to feel pride in their country's past or optimism about its future."

Their agenda took on a punitive edge, focused on compensating victim groups and expiating the country's guilt.

The left developed ambivalence about national power, in which the old liberal reformers had placed such faith. In the paranoid theories that sprang up in the wake of Kennedy's assassination -- many of them to avoid the simple, uncongenial fact that a lone communist had killed the president -- the seat of American government had been the locus of a secret plot to kill JFK. The conspiracy theories and anti-Americanism that had so appalled liberals about the far right in the 1950s had now gravitated to the left. Bizarrely, after a liberal hero was slain by a Marxist, communist icons and ideas became more fashionable on the left than ever before.

Other things were going on obviously, most importantly the Vietnam War. But the war was seen through the prism of American malignancy established by the Kennedy assassination. This downbeat and adversarial disposition is -- more than any specific policy weaknesses on, say, national security -- a drag on contemporary liberalism's long-term appeal. One day a Democratic politician will emerge who is compelling enough to vanquish the foul spirit of JFK's assassination from the left.

Until that happens, JFK has to be remembered, in Piereson's words, as "the last articulate spokesman for the now lost world of American liberalism."

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JFK was a POLITICIAN, and a very smart one...but hard to label.

Compared to RIGHT-WING EXTREMISTS, I would label him a CENTRIST,

but NOT a liberal on many issues. As a Democrat, he was more liberal

than most Republicans.

I would place him far left of Lyndon Johnson, but far right of Hubert Humphrey,

which makes him MIDDLE-OF-THE-ROAD.

And you know what happens to those in the middle of the road. ROADKILL.

Jack

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Guest Gary Loughran

I believe he was pragmatic and made decisions based on this pragmatism and attendant consequences, practicalities and realities of each decision undertaken. From what I understand he was also quite cerebral and knowledgeable of history and political theory. His combining of these 2 decision making facets, seem to have shifted his perceived political position vis right, left, centre around.

Perhaps the inbility to pigeon hole and nail JFKs colours to the mast with respect to an entrenched political standpoint concerned others.

Wouldn't this make him harder to 'control' and predict?

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And your evidence of his leftward movement is?

You clearly have not read David Talbot's book "Brothers" or you would not have asked this question. David is only the latest historian to have argued this. See for example, David Kaiser's "American Tragedy" that deals with US foreign policy in the 1960s.

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Guest Gary Loughran
And your evidence of his leftward movement is?

You clearly have not read David Talbot's book "Brothers" or you would not have asked this question. David is only the latest historian to have argued this. See for example, David Kaiser's "American Tragedy" that deals with US foreign policy in the 1960s.

If he exhibited the leftward movement as described by Talbot then he was at some stage also right of the position. As his political career is incomplete I feel it is unwise to attempt to speculate and label JFK one way or t'other.

The best one can say is that at the time of death JFK had moved more to the left, as argued by Talbot etc. I'm not convinced though that he had disavowed the views he had held prior to this shift.

Hence I believe certain organisations and agencies found it difficult to clearly understand whether he was "with them or against them". It is this uncertainty where certainty was needed which I feel is more central to the theme than any perceived liberalism, on it's own.

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The best one can say is that at the time of death JFK had moved more to the left, as argued by Talbot etc. I'm not convinced though that he had disavowed the views he had held prior to this shift.

Hence I believe certain organisations and agencies found it difficult to clearly understand whether he was "with them or against them". It is this uncertainty where certainty was needed which I feel is more central to the theme than any perceived liberalism, on it's own.

The turning point was JFK refusual to bomb or invade Cuba during the missile crisis. This more liberal foreign policy was reinforced by the secret negotiations with Castro in 1963. Other examples of his shift to the left was over civil rights and taxation policies. His 1963 tax bill was being blocked by Congress at the time of his death. One of LBJ's first phone-calls as president was to George Smathers, who was his "man" on the committee that was looking (blocking) JFK's tax bill.

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The key word here is "movement."

To this very day pundits searching for a "gotcha" moment will confront political figures with contradictions between, say, their current policy positions and previously offered, contradictory stances.

And almost none of these exalted statesmen or women exhibit the insight and courage necessary to respond, "Would you have me learn nothing from experience? Would you have me impervious to change?"

John and Robert Kennedy did not arrive on the national stage fully formed. They did not make their exits without having matured as thinkers, politicians, statesmen, and human beings.

Was JFK a Liberal? When?

What is a liberal?

Charles

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I think President Kennedy was well beyond liberal and even beyond progressive.

He was positively revolutionary.

Three words: American University speech.

Talk about being out of the mainstream.

Furthermore he was out of the mainstream on pretty much every subject or issue.

And the mainstream was crawling with fossils and fascists.

As David Talbot said:

"He is still a man ahead of his time."

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/...35905-4,00.html

A revolutionary idealist.

I suppose there never will be a time for someone like that.

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I think President Kennedy was well beyond liberal and even beyond progressive.

He was positively revolutionary.

Three words: American University speech.

Talk about being out of the mainstream.

Furthermore he was out of the mainstream on pretty much every subject or issue.

And the mainstream was crawling with fossils and fascists.

As David Talbot said:

"He is still a man ahead of his time."

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/...35905-4,00.html

A revolutionary idealist.

I suppose there never will be a time for someone like that.

I wholly agree.

Charles

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Was JFK a Liberal? When?

What is a liberal?

Charles,

Let me offer three useful criteria by which to judge JFK's position on the American spectrum.

Until the time of Truman, it was common for New Deal Democrats to describe the big business right and the family corporate dynasties as "Tories." For American High Tories, as for their British predecessors, power unutilised was (and remains) power surrendered. The neo-cons are today intermittently very frank about this: Occasionally, we must go out and blat a weaker power to encourage the others. Kennedy's persistent refusal from the very earliest days of his administration - pre-Bay of Pigs - to deploy US military power to the full marked him irrevocably as "not one of us." He was, in short, a multilateralist, not a nationalist.

Second, Kennedy was entirely relaxed about foreign governments using the state to intervene economically to improve the lot of their people. He said as much in the course of his visit to Mexico (in 62?). He again evidenced powerful sympathy for the economic predicament of developing nations by throwing his weight behind the Volta Dam project, the hope being, of course, that a country such as Ghana would cease merely to export its raw materials.

Third and finally, he threw his full weight behind the attempt to prevent the Congo being balkanised by US and European mining interests, a policy in which he was predictably resisted by the CIA, as part of a determined effort to woo neutralists to the US cause, not exterminate or overthrow them. His contempt for the CIA policy of murdering those it did not like was unwavering: He even sent a trusted emissary, at considerable risk to his good friend's life, to Saigon in a vain attempt to save Diem.

Paul

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I think President Kennedy was well beyond liberal and even beyond progressive.

He was positively revolutionary.

Three words: American University speech.

Talk about being out of the mainstream.

Furthermore he was out of the mainstream on pretty much every subject or issue.

And the mainstream was crawling with fossils and fascists.

As David Talbot said:

"He is still a man ahead of his time."

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/...35905-4,00.html

A revolutionary idealist.

I suppose there never will be a time for someone like that.

I wholly agree.

Charles

***********************************************************************

My father, a former Democrat and supporter of FDR, became a Republican after Truman took office. He voted Republican for the rest of his life.

He had respect for JFK, especially after witnessing his stance on the Bay of Pigs incident, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and his proposal to withdraw the "advisers," that had been stationed, in Vietnam by 1964. He referred to Kennedy as a Liberal-Conservative, and admired the way he handled the steel workers strike and the coal miners' grievances.

FWIW, I would call JFK a progressive revolutionary. Although, I'm sure the hawks surrounding his administration would've balked at any POTUS seeming so bold as to garner recognition as some kind of "revolutionary." A term they preferred to label back-water, Third World, insurgents who refused knuckle under to their demands, or those of the puppet dictators they installed amidst bloody coups. For a country, whose birth was delivered during the American Revolutionary War, how easily these hawks were wont to forget their own bloody, and humble beginnings.

It wouldn't be until the year 1994, when Newt Gingrich, and his conservative "revolution," as he would refer to the Republican take-over of the House, would the term be used in reference to the U.S. gov. And then, only in this utmost bastardized form. It never ceases to amaze me at how a "play on words" can turn a simple descriptive noun, or adjective, into a metaphorical sword to be turned around and used against you. Semantics... Oh, to master the logistics of it all...

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