Tags: Ira Stoll | JFK | conservative | John F Kennedy

Ira Stoll Thinks JFK Was Conservative

By    |   Monday, 25 November 2013 07:54 AM

Ira Stoll, former managing editor of the late, lamented New York Sun, made a presentation recently at the famous Washington, D.C., bookstore Politics & Prose of his book "JFK Conservative."

This is the first of three reviews of books that interpret the records of Presidents Kennedy and Reagan, respectively, as the nation reflects on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. This article serves as a warm up. The next one, also on the JFK presidency, offers better support for its arguments and a blockbuster revisionist theory.

The author went to a great deal of trouble to construct his argument, based on old speeches JFK gave as a congressman and a generous interpretation of his record as president.

Before getting one's ire up and what Stoll has done, the reader might pause to consider why he would even think about going down this perilous road.

In answer to a question, he specifically denied that he was trying to convey a message to conservatives and Republicans.

Perhaps the answer is obvious. Since only a handful of people alive today were alive when Calvin Coolidge was president, very few people have had any experience with an actual conservative administration.

Also, since Stoll was born in 1972, nearly a decade after JFK was killed, he might be susceptible to ideas that would be inconceivable to anyone who was politically conscious during the Kennedy Camelot years.

Two themes that Stoll finds in the old speeches are JFK's anti-communism and religiosity, and he also referred to some statements about the struggle of the individual against the arbitrary power of the state.

Certainly being anti-communist and religious are in no way inconsistent with being a liberal, and these qualities do not qualify one as a conservative.

As for the statements about JFK's view of the individual against the state, it's an interesting point, but this idea seems to have been left behind as JFK's political philosophy evolved.

It is easy for historians to put too much stock in speeches of presidents, because for one thing, they might have been written by someone else. In the case of JFK, this would have been Ted Sorenson. I attended a presentation by Sorenson of his own book at the same venue where Stoll and the author of the next article, Thurston Clarke, appeared. Even though blinded by a stroke, Sorenson was still in great voice and espoused an expansive vision of the role of government.

Stoll put a great deal of stock in JFK's principles of leadership, including getting a wide range of advice and sticking to a decision once it is made.

Perhaps JFK learned something from the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs.

Even I, who had yet to take any Military Science at that point, realized immediately that it is folly to invade a beach without control of the air over it.

Stoll further cited JFK's promotion of tax cuts and free trade, as well as his ambivalence toward the civil rights agenda as evidence that JFK had conservative tendencies.

To one who lived through — one might say endured — this period of Camelot and the New Frontier, Stoll's thesis is unpersuasive and a non-starter.

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Monday, 25 November 2013 07:54 AM
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