JFK Conservative

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from The American Spectator,

Was Jack Kennedy really such a liberal?

“I’d be very happy to tell them I’m not a liberal at all.” — John F. Kennedy, 1953

John Fitzgerald Kennedy after the July 4, 1946, speech at Boston’s Faneuil Hall caution of the hazards of drawing too many conclusions from a single talk. So if, to contemporary ears, the language—his references to “Christian morality” and the “right of the individual against the state,” or his attack on the “cynical philosophy of many of our intellectuals”—seems off-key for a president who has become an icon of liberalism, there is no shortage of possible explanations. Perhaps it was the immature speech of a twenty-something who changed his views as he got older. Perhaps the young politician was led astray by a speechwriter with strong views of his own. This, though, is unlikely. Kennedy’s White House spokesman, Pierre Salinger, recalled, “Actually, speeches were not written for the president but with him. He knew what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. The role of the speech writer was to organize JFK’s thoughts into a rough draft, on which he himself would put the final touches. His revisions would often change it dramatically.” Kennedy’s secretary in the Senate and in the White House, Evelyn Lincoln, remembered, “He usually dictated a rough draft of his speeches.” Though Salinger and Lincoln joined Kennedy’s staff some years after 1946, marks on drafts of his speeches from this earlier period show a Kennedy who was more than capable of editing either speechwriters’ or his own drafts.

Was Kennedy’s July 4, 1946, speech simply a case of political pandering? Probably not. Less than a month before, Kennedy had won the Democratic primary for Massachusetts’ 11th Congressional District. It was a reliably Democratic district, and if the candidate was trying to appeal to independent or Republican crossover voters, a speech on a holiday weekend, months before the November election, would have been an odd vehicle. Perhaps Kennedy’s words were just rhetoric from a hypocritical politician who, once in office, would, in his public actions and private behavior, disregard them. Maybe the stress on religion was convenient Cold War shorthand for anticommunism, a way of drawing a contrast between the United States and the atheistic Soviet Union, or a way for an ambitious Catholic to reassure and win the trust of Protestant voters.

Maybe, just maybe—and here is the most dramatic and intriguing possibility of them all—Kennedy actually, deeply believed what he said, and would go on to serve as a congressman and senator and president of the United States according to those principles. He would take a hard line against communism in China, the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Vietnam, and even in America’s own labor unions, weathering protests and criticisms from academia, European intellectuals, and left-wing journalists. He would be supported personally in this struggle by his own strong religious faith, and he would often refer publicly to God and to America’s religious history in his most powerful and important speeches. On the home front, Kennedy cut taxes and restrained government spending in marked contrast with Lyndon Johnson’s subsequent War on Poverty.

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