Would JFK Be a Democrat?

August 31st, 2009

I’ve always considered myself a Democrat in terms of party preference.  I came to that position in the context of the ideas and policies of people like John F. Kennedy and other liberals and Democrats of that era (such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan).  But when I think about today’s Democratic Party, including many of the people who speak for it and the ideology and policies they favor, I have to wonder what happened over the past couple of decades.  I have to wonder if JFK himself would be a Democrat today. 

As a Democrat, I believe that society, meaning government, has a responsibility to help the less fortunate; all men and women should have equal rights and equal opportunity; government should operate with maximum openness and transparency; capitalism and the free market are the best economic system, but business must be reasonably regulated and controlled to protect the people; taxes are required to fund the operations of an effective and efficient government, although under the right circumstances lower taxes can produce greater revenue; progressive taxation that places more burden on those who earn higher incomes is necessary and proper; and constitutional and human rights must be respected and protected by government. 

I’m also pro-choice, in favor of gun control, against the death penalty, tolerant of gay marriage, indifferent to sexual orientations, opposed to censorship, insistent on absolute freedom of speech, and against mixing religion and government.

I believe we should be strong in defense of our nation and our values, which includes maintaining strong armed forces.  We should never shrink from challenges overseas, employing force wisely but as necessary to protect our interests and those of our allies.

JFK most likely would have agreed with everything I just said, with the exception that he may have been pro-life because of his Catholic beliefs. 

The difference between then and now is the degree to which Democrats pursue these principles and the way they do it.  The primary voice of the Party seems to come mostly from the far left.  There’s no longer much room for compromise, the extremes of every principle are pursued to the maximum, and those who disagree are viciously attacked.

Would JFK be a Democrat today?  I think he would find it difficult.  Or maybe with more leaders like him, the Party itself would be different.

I say none of this with reference to the Republican Party.  They have their own strengths, failings, and problems.  But I’m not one of them, so it doesn’t bother me so much.  What does bother me is the current state of the Democratic Party.  I haven’t left it, but more and more it seems to have left me.

I was motivated in part to write this article by a Jeff Jacoby column in The Boston Globe, ‘Kennedy’ once meant ‘tax cutter’.  It’s worth reading.

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10 Responses to “Would JFK Be a Democrat?”

  1. Brian Bagent |

    Tom, what is occurring within both major parties now is a natural progression from the ideas that were popular in the 50s and 60s. We have to keep in mind that there are unintended consequences, almost always injurious, to everything that government does.

    Who is not in favor of equal opportunity? The result of government mandating it, however, has resulted not in raising standards, but lowering them. I wrote a paper years ago about the folly of mandating this, and used the UCLA med school as an example. In 1997, UCLA admitted 51 minority (black and hispanic) candidates to their freshman med class, and about 300 whites and Asians. Of the 51 blacks and Hispanics admitted, only 1 of them had MCAT scores and an undergrad GPA comparable to the whites and Asians. This trend exists to a greater or lesser extent nationwide. Nationwide, the average failure rate for national medical boards part II (taken at the end of the sophomore year) is about 11 or 12%. For those minority candidates, it exceeds 40%.

    Who is not in favor of punishing criminals for brutalizing others? But now, we’ve gone so far as to codify additional punishment for so-called hate crimes. I’ll be honest: I’ve never seen an assault, rape, or murder committed out of love. The unintended consequences of this (perhaps it was intended – even FDR admitted that government never does anything by accident) is that whites are largely singled out for these hate crimes, while blacks and Hispanics mostly get passes. The one exception is where the victim of a hate crime is homosexual – everybody gets extra time for that. While so far the courts have not found that hate crimes violate the equal protections clause, no sane mind can look at these laws and come to any other conclusion.

    Who doesn’t want things to be better for the poor? But injuring you or me to help them is, as I have repeatedly pointed out, immoral. What’s worse is that in order to “help” them, an absolutely Byzantine set of tax laws has “had” to be created, granting powers to the federal government that were never intended. Not only were those powers never intended, but the constitution was constructed largely in an effort to prevent this sort of accumulation of power within the federal government. The founders knew that the end result would be a patronage system, which is a large reason why the revolutionary war was fought to begin with. Today, both major parties regularly abuse this tax system for the benefit of their friends and to the detriment of the rest of us. I actually went to the downtown library several years ago just to look at Title 26 U.S.C. and Chapter 26 of the CFR. It is no exaggeration to say that combined, those tomes are at least double my height. No one human can know everything that is in the tax code. Any rational mind should be able to see the danger inherent in such a code. Again, though the courts have repeatedly ruled against this position, the internal revenue code violates both the 4th and 5th amendments. The IRS sending out letters saying “pay or else” is not due process, and only the irrational or dishonest would argue otherwise..

    When you advocate for expanded powers, how can you complain when those powers are abused? It seems that it should be axiomatic to say so, but I’ll say it anyway: power-hungry people (of the left and right – Nixon and Clinton were the same) will always be drawn to positions of power. The more power we give to the government, the more we are going to see tyrants and thugs occupying those positions, and they are not going to willingly give up that power.

    If the government controls certain aspects of the market through regulation (for example, minimum wage laws), then by definition, that market isn’t free. Making it more difficult to fire at-will employees, especially for cause and even for no cause, is not a good thing.

    Ensuring that the captains of industry do not collude to fix prices is a legitimate function of government. Ensuring that the captains of industry can collude to fix prices (remind me what it is that union leaders are doing) is not a legitimate function of government.

  2. larry |

    You did an excellent job of putting things into perspective. As to whether JFK would be a Democrat today, I suspect he would. A more vexing question is would the party have swung so far left had Kennedy have lived.
    Tom seems to not be quite able to accept that what he is seeing to day operating under the guise of the Democratic party. This President and his party are trying to replace everything that Brian has mentioned with a new world order. Don’t waste time lamenting the failure of the Democratic party. Stand with us against Obama and his new world order advocates.

  3. Brian |

    Larry, as I pointed out, it isn’t just Obama. He’s presently an easy target, but few of his predecessors in the last 70 or 80 years have been any different. From FDR to Obama, perhaps Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Reagan were the only ones to not fit the mold.

  4. Harvey |


    I agree completely with your comments.

    I’ve said all along that FDR (with all good intentions I’m sure) put the governments toes across the line that separates proper governmental functions from the power of the states and the people.

    As the government assumes power, it begins to consume liberties and freedom.

  5. Tom |

    Brian, I agree with much of what you said, but you’re coming at it from a different direction. I favor what are normally considered liberal positions on social issues because I think they’re right and can be effectively addressed by government. You look at these issues from a more libertarian standpoint, noting that the government is more likely to limit freedom than it is to effectively address social ills.

    Take just one example — laws and regulations designed to prevent discrimination and foster equal opportunity, many of them part of what is often broadly called affirmative action. I supported these policies over the years because I knew for certain that without them, discrimination would be routine and less-favored people would continue to suffer. In the beginning, that’s what was supposed to happen. In one well-known exchange, when Barry Goldwater stated that certain parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would encourage quotas, Hubert Humphrey responded,

    It the Senator can find in Title VII…any language which provides that an employer will have to hire on the basis of percentage or quota related to color, race, religion, or national origin, I will start eating the pages one after another, because it is not in there.

    One of my principal points in the article is that Democrats today, at least the far left, which makes up much of the base, actually seek, even demand, the extremist outcomes that Democrats like Humphrey decidedly did not. That’s a substantial change in the wrong direction.

  6. Brian Bagent |

    And yet here we are, just as Goldwater predicted we would be. Better that government had never been empowered to do such things. I hold that society will change, more slowly than we might sometimes like, and eventually do the right thing. It doesn’t need coercion from government to do it. A great many things in Europe changed for the better over the centuries without the government having had to force people into those changes.

    I am convinced that Plessy v Ferguson would have been eventually overturned by simple societal changes (as opposed to legal ones). Imagine the difference today if those who favored the Civil Rights Act of ’64 had instead simply started their own businesses that would allow blacks and Hispanics to patronize them. Economics would have eventually forced those that did not to do so or face business failure. It certainly would have taken a while, but imagine the difference if people had come to those positions of their own volition, rather than being forced to do so.

    The right is just as guilty. Rosa Parks was a NAACP plant, so she was no heroine, but what happened need not have happened if those southerners had not used the coercive power of law to force blacks to the back of the bus.

    Sometimes, very occasionally, we have to fight fire with fire. However, that seems to be the first response of nearly everyone in the last 40 or 50 years. Don’t like homosexuals? Let’s not permit them to marry. Never mind the fact that marriage is a religious institution, not a civil one. Don’t like the fact that minorities are underrepresented in medicine, law, and corporate America? Let’s force those institutions to accept them. Never mind the fact that Asians, who many whites don’t care for any more than they care about blacks or Hispanics, have been able to succeed without relying on a coercive government to get them into those places.

    Force exercised for the benefit of one will always be exercised to the detriment of another. Always.

  7. Brian Bagent |

    A friend of mine sent me a couple of links to some things that Milton Friedman said, and I think they are relevant to this discussion.



  8. doris |

    Come to think of it, Brian, how can the gov. not allow any kind of marriage, due to the fact that it is a religious institution? Isn’t the gov. supposed to stay out of religion, no actually totally separate? In my opinion, the state and all other and feds. need to butt out of all marriage. How does anyone marrying anyone get to be anyone’s business, but the bride and groom or groom and groom or bride and bride and so forth. It’s none of my business.

  9. Brian Bagent |

    Doris, there is a 3rd partner in marriage – the church (pastor) that sanctions it. If a pastor or rabbi wishes to marry Bob and George, well, I’d think they’ve not been reading their Bible or Torah/Talmud very closely, but it is their business.

  10. doris |

    I agree, but I still don’t see it as my business to judge them or the law to judge them, only them, their church and their God, not us. The rules of God are to be enforced by God, not the government or the people of other churches. This is a decision to be made in their own church with their own pastor and themselves. I believe religion to be a personal thing and a private thing, as God intended it to be. Just my take on it.

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