Sunday, November 24, 2013

JFK: The Conservative?

Or so a bizarre new meme among the right is going around the internet now. Well, it's not really new. Right-wingers have tried to point to Kennedy's advocating of tax cuts on the wealthy and corporations as "proof" that he was fiscal conservative for a few years now. Kennedy's policy has been given the Heritage Foundation seal of approval. However, when Kennedy was advocating tax cuts in 1962, the top marginal tax rate was 90%. It was common sense that that was too high. Kennedy cut it down to 70%. The economy boomed in the 1960s, so obviously this is proof that the tax cut worked, right? Well, Reagan massive slashed the tax rate in the '80s, and the economic growth, while solid, was not as robust as that of the 1960s. And George W. Bush, of course, had has own tax cuts as part of his economic policy. Economic growth was significantly lower than predicted by Bush's economists. If you're using Kennedy's cutting of taxes as evidence that tax cuts spur economic growth, than you're not looking at the whole package, you're just looking at the data you want to see.

There was also a period during the Bush years when neo-cons loved to point out Kennedy's support of a strong national defense and defense spending. And it's true that Kennedy was very much for a strong national defense in his foreign policy. He is what my History teacher called a "Cold War Liberal" in that regard. Supported the usual progressive domestic policy but had hawkish foreign policy views. Sort of like Hilary Clinton.

Regardless, I still find it bizarre to see wingnuts like Rush Limbaugh and writers for Townhall and National Review praising a President who advocated a 65% marginal tax rate on the wealthiest bracket (it was put at 70% due to a compromise) as a conservative while calling Obama a socialist for advocating the Clinton era 39.6% marginal tax rate. That's not even getting into the other parts of JFK's decidedly non-conservative domestic policy. Kennedy expanded collective bargaining rights to public-sector unions--something today's right-wingers get apoplectic over--and passed an economic stimulus that increased the minimum wage, extended unemployment benefits, extended aid to the children of unemployed workers, and broadly expanded federal funding to education. Kennedy's program also proposed several billion dollars in urban renewal and providing affordable housing to middle and low-income families. Kennedy also signed an Equal Pay Act in 1963 aimed at reducing gender discrimination in wages. Funny, I don't recall Rush Limbaugh or anyone on Fox News being too thrilled about these kinds of programs. A quote from Kennedy during the 1960 Presidential debates pretty much summarizes the default Democratic Party domestic position for the last several decades:

 "I don't believe in big government, but I believe in effective governmental action. There is a national responsibility. A cotton farmer in Georgia or a dairy farmer in Wisconsin cannot protect himself against the forces of supply and demand; but working together in effective governmental programs he can"
What self-defined "small-government" conservative is saying something like that? That quote isn't much different than what you'll find in much of Obama's speeches--just replace "cotton farmer in Georgia" with "struggling family in Detroit." Most Democratic politicians since the New Deal have said something like that in their speeches.

The most hilarious thing about the right-wing trying to claim Kennedy as their own (with the always reliable and astute Glenn Beck claiming that he would't even be accepted by the Republican Party because he'd be a Tea Party radical) is that Kennedy supported something that makes the big shots on the right--Limbaugh, Beck, Breitbart, especially Michelle Malkin--go into seven levels of batshit cuckoo. Kennedy supported immigration reform. Specifically, he supported a liberalization of the immigration laws that existed in the country during most of his life. Kennedy advocated the removal of the racial quota requirements that had a part of immigration policy since 1924. He was killed before the law he advocated eventually became the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. This was quite a major change in immigration policy that most conservatives were strongly opposed to.

If one wants to argue that Kennedy is a conservative, you'd have to compare to him to someone more progressive. Kennedy was undoubtedly more moderate than many liberals think he was, but for rank-and-file right-wingers like Limbaugh and Beck to claim him as one of their own is beyond idiotic.

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