JFK, Conservative: A book review

JFK, Conservative.

image A Conservative? A Tea Party Conservative? A Ronald Reagan precursor? A Liberal?

I’ve always resisted the urge to rank John F. Kennedy among the presidents, either among the best or worst, and always placed him somewhere in the muddled middle. My rationale was that he didn’t serve long enough to accumulate the gravitas needed to place him. I’ve been wrong, and this book by Ira Stoll now allows me to fill in much of what I had been missing all these years about the life and times of a man I am now willing to place in the upper ranks of American presidential greatness.

Let me begin by summarizing the world of the early 1960s, and the world in which John Kennedy became President of the United States – and the world in which I was becoming of age as an adult:

The freedom of West Berlin had been threatened by a Soviet ultimatum, backed by boasts of medium-range ballistic missiles targeted on Western Europe. The existence of South Vietnam had been menaced by a campaign of guerrilla tactics and terror planned and supported by the Communist regime in Hanoi. The independence of Laos had been endangered by pro-Communist insurgent forces … The Russian and Chinese Communists had competed for a central African base in Ghana, in Guinea, in Mali and particularly in the chaotic Congo. The Russians had obtained a base in the Western Hemisphere through Fidel Castro’s takeover in Cuba and his campaign to subvert Latin America. Red China was busy building it’s own Afro-Asian collection of client states and its own atomic bomb.  (Theodore Sorensen’s book  Kennedy – 1965)

Pretty scary times.

In reading Stoll’s account, I found myself walking down a path of surprising reactions and revelations:

  • The man was indeed a legitimate war hero as the account of his PT-109 exploits show – not in his valor and bravery in battle, but in how he reacted to save lives among his crew following the collision with a Japanese destroyer.
  • The man was a indeed a conservative as Stoll documents so well.
  • The man seems much like a modern Tea Party kind of guy.
  • The man truly believed in the rights of the individual man over the tyranny of the state.
  • The man was a deeply religious man, and held a high opinion as to America’s place in the world – quoting John Winthrop, he said in 1974: “We will be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.”
  • Kennedy projected a posture of: economic growth, limited government and peace through strength.
  • The man was strongly anti-Communist in both his speech and actions – witness Berlin and the Cuban missile crisis. But it wasn’t an anti-Communism as just opposing a differing political and economic system. No – Kennedy was genuinely repulsed by the staggering abuses of humanity this atheistic world view  was imposing on the world – especially its own citizens, and the threat it represented to free and independent people around the world.
  • The man seems a pre-cursor to Ronald Reagan.
  • Kennedy, politically and economically, was well to the right of most of his successors, including: Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and most certainly Barack Obama.
  • The man, at his core, comes across as a genuine American patriot.

I first became acquainted with JFK while taking an economics course my first year of college at the Montana School of Mines in the 1962-63 school year.  The Kennedy economic policies and ideas matched very nicely time-wise, with the course, and we studied them. Somewhere in my archives, I believe I still have my notes from those studies – I’ll have to find them some day and review what I was learning then. But I do remember the impact his economic policies had in the 1960s, and I match those policies and successes with the similar policies of Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

But then life happened.

I left school … married … was drafted but joined the Navy; LBJ became president and I was off to the war in Vietnam – started and strongly advocated by Kennedy and escalated sharply by Johnson and Nixon. So my thoughts of Kennedy went dormant for many years, and I guess I mildly bought into the notion he was just another “Liberal.”

In the past dozen or so years I have been playing catch-up in my knowledge of American Presidents and founders. I’ve read and learned a great deal about Hamilton, Madison, Lincoln, Reagan, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Truman – and yes, even filled in a dearth of knowledge of the greatest of all … George Washington.

Now I am pleased to report a rekindled interest in and knowledge of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. And I hope you will join me in that interest.

Don Johnson – December 2013


4 responses to “JFK, Conservative: A book review

  1. It is interesting that you mentioned JFK in this post, because I would like to find out more about him as well while reading The American Leadership Tradition: Moral Vision from Washington to Clinton. Just read about Grover Cleveland who seems to be one of the best presidents the Democratic Party has to offer in the US history.

    • Good to hear from you Scott. Thanks for the tip and the link – it’s hard to find the time to bone up on more than just a few of the 44 presidents we’ve had thus far.
      Happy New Year.

  2. Here is an excerpt of Marvin Olasky’s book on John Kennedy:

    Herve Alphand, French ambassador to the United States, described President Kennedy as a man who “loves pleasure and women. His desires are difficult to satisfy without causing fear of a scandal and its use by his political adversaries. That could happen one day because he does not take sufficient precaution in this puritan country.” During his life, amazingly, Kennedy got by, but when the facts trickled out, cynicism grew. In 1960, Newsweek reported that the typical American college student “believes in romantic love, yet attaches scant importance to chastity. He is religious, but in a hazy, uncommitted way.” Kennedy proposed to make those college students hear the call of trumpets, not strumpets, and for a while they did, but as the real story came out, the belief that presidents should not be believed grew. … Kennedy had no opportunity to utter any memorable last words. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., however, records that someone in the White House once asked Kennedy what he regretted most. He replied, “I wish I had had more good times.” He had given the country the opportunity for good times–but, oh, what he could have accomplished! The legacy he actually left was a time bomb. For a time he was remembered for establishing such a high standard of leadership that experienced politicians like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon became despondent over their inability to emulate him. But when it became known years after his death that Kennedy’s gods were sex and power, many Americans came to believe that any gold they perceived in politics was fool’s gold. The only way not to be fooled was to define deviancy down.

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