Stealing Kennedy: Conservatives Try To Hijack The JFK Legacy

Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

As the nation mourns the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, conservative media figures have attempted to appropriate his legacy and attribute to the beloved former president their conservative ideas and positions. This effort runs counter to Kennedy's stated positions, speeches, and other historical facts surrounding his presidency.

Kennedy was a self-described "liberal." In 1960 he accepted the presidential nomination of the New York Liberal Party and said:

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal?" If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of "Liberal." But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."

During his presidency, Kennedy was viciously attacked by conservatives. Famously, a flyer labeling him as "Wanted For Treason" was distributed in Dallas the week of the president's assassination. That flyer accused him of "betraying the Constitution" by "turning the sovereignty of the U.S. over to the communist controlled United Nations." Referring to Kennedy's support of civil rights activists, the flyer claimed he had "given support and encouragement to the Communist inspired racial riots."

Today's conservatives, by contrast, are in a full-on campaign to claim the slain President as one of their own. It's no surprise: Kennedy is incredibly popular. A recent Gallup poll found that Americans rate JFK as the "Top Modern President." 74 percent of respondents ranked Kennedy's standing in history as "outstanding/above average," 13 points higher than the next most well-regarded president, Ronald Reagan. Gallup also reported that Kennedy's presidency has maintained a high approval rating on a consistent basis for over 20 years of polling.

Here are seven right wing media figures who have used the anniversary of the week of Kennedy's death to try to minimize his liberalism and associate his successes with conservatism.

Glenn Beck: Kennedy Would Be "A Tea Party Radical." On his November 22 radio show, Glenn Beck claimed that Kennedy has been "co-opted by the left "and that "if you could bring back the politician JFK was, he wouldn't be accepted by the Republican Party because he would be a Tea Party radical" who "wouldn't even recognize what this country has become."

Rush Limbaugh: Kennedy "Was Not In Any Way A Liberal As You Know Liberals Today." On his November 21 program, Limbaugh claimed that President Kennedy "was not in any way a liberal as you know liberals today," citing his support for tax cuts and the fact that he was "proud to be an American." He added that Kennedy "was not a big believer in the Civil Rights Act."

In fact, President Kennedy called on Congress to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act in a speech on June 11, 1963.  As the bill was debated on the floor of the Senate, his brother Sen. Ted Kennedy said, "My brother was the first President of the United States to state publicly that segregation was morally wrong. His heart and his soul are in this bill."

Chris Wallace: "There Is A Growing Body Of Thought That In Fact President Kennedy Was Quite Conservative." During an interview on the November 17 Fox News Sunday with Kennedy's niece Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, host Chris Wallace claimed that "there's a growing body of thought that in fact President Kennedy was quite conservative in some of his policies." Wallace claimed Kennedy "believed that tax cuts spur the economy."

In response, Townsend laughed and noted that while conservatives often cite President Kennedy's support for lowering taxes, the 70 percent top marginal tax rate he favored is way above the current top rate that most conservatives still claim is too high.

Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby: "Kennedy Was No Liberal. By Any Reasonable Definition, He Was A Conservative." Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby also cited Kennedy's position on taxation and claimed that "Kennedy was no liberal. By any reasonable definition, he was a conservative" and that "Today's Democratic Party -- the home of Barack Obama, John Kerry, and Al Gore -- wouldn't give the time of day to a candidate like JFK."'s Joel Pollak: "JFK Would Have Rejected The Iran Deal." In a post headlined "JFK Would Have Rejected the Iran Deal," senior editor at large Joel B. Pollak wrote that the Obama administration's efforts to negotiate a deal to limit Iran's nuclear capabilities "reject[] the lessons, and the principles, of the Kennedy legacy."

Cavuto: Kennedy "Was More To The Right Than The Left Likes To Admit." On the November 18 edition of Your World, Fox's Neil Cavuto hosted Ira Stoll, the author of JFK, Conservative. In his introduction to the segment, Cavuto asked, "As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of JFK's assassination, what if I told you he was more to the right than the left likes to admit?"  Later in the interview, Cavuto stated that "No one has given a better argument for lowering taxes - and I include Ronald Reagan - than JFK. Go figure."

During the interview with Cavuto, Stoll claimed that Kennedy "was a conservative," which is the central thesis of his book. Critics who have examined Stoll's claims say the book "is filled with historical flaws" and that the author is making a "ridiculous argument."'s AWR Hawkins Highlights JFK's "Lifetime Membership In The NRA and His Defense of the Second Amendment." Breitbart's AWR Hawkins wrote that "two aspects" of Kennedy's legacy "that are not getting the attention they deserve are his lifetime membership in the NRA and his defense of the Second Amendment."

While President Kennedy was a member of the organization, the organization at the time was much more focused on "hunting, conservation and marksmanship" than the strident opposition to gun legislation that has become that group's stock in trade. The Gun Control Act of 1968, a federal law dramatically expanding the regulation of the firearms industry and firearms owners, was passed in part due to outrage over the killings of John Kennedy and his brother Robert.

At a ceremony where former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was given a JFK Profile in Courage Award in May, Kennedy's daughter Caroline (now the U.S. ambassador to Japan) noted that "our family is still suffering from the heartbreak caused by gun violence."

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