May 29, 2020

JFK in posterity’s light

 

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

JFK in posterity’s light

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – It has become commonplace to say the myth of John F. Kennedy exceeded the reality of his brief presidency, and that 50 years after his death, we celebrate the hope of what he might have been rather than what he actually did. The intent of this column is to set the record straight, to document what this young and charismatic president achieved in his too short time in office.

The Cuban Missile Crisis: The world is fortunate we had Kennedy in the Oval Office at a time when the U.S. and the Soviet Union came within a hair’s breadth of nuclear war. The generals, admirals, and the CIA told Kennedy he had no choice but to go to war over Soviet missiles in Castro’s Cuba; he said no, and succeeded in forcing the Soviets to back down through a blockade instead of an invasion. He had learned from the Bay of Pigs fiasco the year before, where he learned the hard way not to blindly follow the experts. The Bay of Pigs failure led to the Cuban Missile Crisis success.

Civil rights: Lyndon Johnson deserves enormous credit for pushing legislation through Congress, but Kennedy got it started. In 1962, he confronted Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett and sent federal marshals, troops, and nationalized National Guard troops to ensure that James Meredith could enroll as the first African-American in the University of Mississippi. A year later, Kennedy met with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., following the historic March on Washington.

NASA: Kennedy dreamed big, saying we could put a man on the moon, and we did. We’re learning more about the debate that led up to his declaration, how he was concerned about the cost, and whether the feat was even achievable. But the fact remains that when the internal administration debates were concluded, Kennedy launched the Apollo Program, and the country has benefitted ever since.

The Kennedy tax cut: JFK was the author of perhaps the most famous tax cut of all, the one that Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush cited as inspiration for their own tax-cutting policies. What was significant is that he significantly lowered taxes and almost like magic revenues soared. The difference between then and what Reagan and Bush did is that Kennedy was working with a very high marginal rate – 90 percent. He cut it to 70 percent and the dynamism it unleashed was immediate. Reagan went all the way down to 28 percent, and the impact was quite the opposite – the Treasury was starved of revenue.

War on Poverty: The phrase is associated with President Johnson, but the idea began to take root during the Kennedy presidency. It grew out of JFK’s campaigning in 1960 in the crucial West Virginia primary, where he saw up close a level of poverty that he never imagined existed in the U.S. This is not to take away anything from LBJ, who put his heart and soul into the programs of what he called the Great Society. It is to remind future generations of how much social change Kennedy initiated, most of which he didn’t live to see.

The Peace Corps: Deploying young people around the world for peaceful development purposes helped change the way the world looked at Americans, dispelling the 1950’s image of what was popularly called the Ugly American. Kennedy championed the notion that we are our brother’s keeper.

Vietnam – This is the most problematical part of JFK’s imagined presidency, what would he have done if he had lived? He proved in the Cuban Missile Crisis that he would stand up to the spread of communism, but he would do so short of war if possible. In any event, we will never know how he would have thwarted the North Vietnamese communists, and in this the advocates of the what-might-have-been theories may find solace.

Posterity’s light will surely shine on John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

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