Was JFK a Liberal or a Conservative?


ImageI was three years old on November 22, 1963, the date that, until September 11, 2001, stood out as the darkest day in U.S. history in my lifetime. I have often wondered if I really remember that day or if I only imagine that I remember it, but regardless, it stands undeniably as a day that changed America. The 50th anniversary of the day that an assassin’s bullet claimed the life of our President is, unbelievably, one week away. As such, we can predict that next week will be filled with stories about John F. Kennedy. Indeed, they have already begun. I offer two articles about JFK:

The first is Forbes magazine’s proclamation that

Modern Democrats Would View John F. Kennedy As A Reaganite Extremist

The second, from New Republic, declares that

JFK Was an Unapologetic Liberal

I suppose it’s not surprising that both the liberals at New Republic and the conservatives at Forbes want to claim one of our most popular presidents as their own. And thus I imagine that everyone is waiting with bated breath to find out the answer to this question: what does Byron Harvey think?

Or not.

But I shall oblige whatever number that might be who ask that question. And my answer is simple: I think they’re both right. And this fact illustrates something I’ve long said about contemporary liberalism: it’s a progressive disease (pun intended). Allow me…

It seems pretty clear to me that Forbes is correct: if we were able to teleport JFK through time to now, with all of his political viewpoints intact, he’d fit fairly easily into the Republican party at most points (though he wouldn’t be a Tea Partier, I concede). At the very least, he’d be well to the right of where the Democratic Party finds itself these days.

But liberalism, as a philosophy, is truly “progressive” (particularly with regard to social issues) in the sense that lacking a clear fixed point of reference, movement (socially, away from notions of “traditional morality”) is the coin of the realm. Kennedy, were he to hold fast to liberalism (instead of to the exact positions he held when he was alive) would move progressively further and further left, this being a hallmark of liberalism itself. And for his day he was, in general, as New Republic argues: a liberal.

And so the question: was JFK a Liberal or a Conservative? Yes.

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