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Jun 26, 2017
Presented by
Larry Elder

John F. Kennedy lowered taxes, opposed abortion, supported gun rights, and believed in a strong military. And he was a proud Democrat. But would he be one today? Author and talk show host Larry Elder explains.

Democrats revere JFK, yet on many key issues—the military, taxes, racial preferences, and abortion—he held conservative views. 

  • Though he’s still lionized by the Democratic Party, the reality is President John F. Kennedy held political views that align far more closely with modern Republicans than Democrats, including his embrace of “peace through strength” and across-the-board tax cuts, and his rejection of racial quotas and abortion.View Source
  • Related reading: “JFK, Conservative” – Ira StollView Source

While Democrats now embrace identity politics, JFK rejected using racial preferences and quotas to make up for historic discrimination.

  • President John F. Kennedy opposed the use of racial preferences in his policies and decision-making.View Source
  • “I don't think quotas are a good idea,” said Kennedy. “I think it is a mistake to begin to assign quotas on the basis of religion or race or color, or nationality.”View Source
  • WATCH: Ira Stoll on JFK’s conservative political views.View Source

Democrat hero JFK embraced conservative views on taxes, strongly supporting across-the-board tax cuts for rich and poor alike.

  • President John F. Kennedy understand the economic importance of keeping taxes low.View Source
  • Kennedy once famously said, “In short, it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now.”View Source
  • Related reading: “Kennedy and Reagan: Why Their Legacies Endure” – Scott FarrisView Source

Inconvenient fact for anti-gun Democrats: JFK was one of eight U.S. Presidents who was a lifetime member of the NRA.

  • President John F. Kennedy believed that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms.View Source
  • Here’s Kennedy on the importance of an armed citizenry: “Today we need a nation of minute men; citizens who are not only prepared to take up arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as a basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom. The cause of liberty, the cause of America, cannot succeed with any lesser effort.”View Source
  • Related reading: “JFK, Conservative” – Ira StollView Source

Unlike the leaders of the modern Democratic Party, JFK believed in peace through strength, not strength through peace.

  • Like Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy believed in peace through strength, not strength through peace.View Source
  • Kennedy took a hardline stance against Communism.View Source
  • According to Kennedy, “For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.”View Source
  • Related reading: “Kennedy and Reagan: Why Their Legacies Endure” – Scott FarrisView Source

JFK—one of the heroes of the Democratic Party—opposed abortion, arguing that “human life, even at its earliest stages,” has rights.  

  • Here is President John F. Kennedy on abortion: "It is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old. ... Once life has begun, no matter at what stage of growth, it is my belief that termination should not be decided merely by desire."View Source
  • WATCH: Ira Stoll on JFK’s conservative political views.View Source
  • Related reading: “JFK, Conservative” – Ira StollView Source

He was one of America’s most popular presidents -- handsome, charismatic, a war hero. He believed a strong military was the best guarantor of peace; he explained that cutting taxes was the best way to grow the economy; he firmly opposed racial quotas, and was horrified by the idea of unrestricted abortions.

Can you name him?

Here’s one more clue: He was not a Republican. The answer is: John F. Kennedy.   

When he was elected president in 1960, Kennedy’s views were considered mainstream in the Democratic Party. But while the Kennedy name is still revered by the Democrats today, the policies he espoused are not. 

Ronald Reagan, America’s 40th president, who was a Democrat much of his life, famously said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.”

So, if Kennedy were alive now, which party would he belong to? It’s impossible to know, of course. But we can compare his political positions to those of today’s Democratic Party.

On race:

JFK disliked the idea of using racial preferences and quotas to make up for historic racism and discrimination. Today, affirmative action is Democratic Party orthodoxy, but Kennedy thought such policies were counterproductive. 

“I don't think we can undo the past,” Kennedy said. “We have to do the best we can now...I don't think quotas are a good idea...We are too mixed, this society of ours, to begin to divide ourselves on the basis of race or color.”

On taxes:

Kennedy was an ardent proponent of across-the-board tax cuts, believing that more cash in the hands of all Americans, including the so-called wealthy, and a lighter footprint from the IRS would grow the economy. “A tax cut means higher family income and higher business profits,” Kennedy said in an address to the nation shortly before his death. “Every taxpayer and his family will have more money left over after taxes for a new car, a new home, new conveniences, education and investment. Every businessman can keep a higher percentage of his profits in his cash register or put it to work expanding or improving his business.”

On foreign policy: 

Kennedy was very firm about his red lines. When the Soviet Union built missile sites in Cuba, leading to what is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy threatened a decisive military response. The Soviet Union backed down. JFK believed, as Ronald Reagan did, in peace through strength, not strength through peace. In his inaugural address, Kennedy made the case for a strong U.S. military. He saw this as the only way to deter America’s enemies. “Only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt,” he said, “can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.”

On gun rights:

Kennedy was one of eight U.S. presidents who was a lifetime member of the NRA. Here’s what he said about the Second Amendment: “We need a nation of minutemen – citizens who are not only prepared to take up arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as a basic purpose of their daily life, and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom.”

On abortion:

Kennedy was assassinated a decade before the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. Abortion was not a major issue during his administration.  

But we do know that he nominated Justice Byron White, a Democrat, to the Supreme Court. White was one of two justices who dissented in Roe v. Wade. We also know that Kennedy abhorred Japan’s post-WWII use of abortion as a means of population control, saying: "On the question of limiting population: As you know, the Japanese have been doing it very vigorously, through abortion, which I think would be repugnant to all Americans." 

Today, if a Democrat advocated the positions on race, taxes, foreign policy, guns and abortion that our 35th president once did, he wouldn’t be a Democrat. He’d belong to that other party. 

I’m Larry Elder for Prager University.

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