I have to admit I have never read an entire book about JFK. I guess it’s because I’m not a fan of the whole Camelot thing. The title of this book intrigued me, and it reminded me of an excerpt of one of Kennedy’s speeches that I heard. It was given in December 1962 to the New York Economic Club and was promoting his proposed tax cut. The theme of JFK,Conservative, is basically found in a quotation from the first paragraph of the penultimate chapter. “President Kennedy spent—and planned to spend—Friday, November 22, 1963, in Texas doing just what he had done for his entire presidency and for much of his political career: quoting the Bible, making the case for a strong military that would defend freedom against the Communists, and promoting economic growth through a tax cut.” (181) Ira Stoll, who has previously written a book on patriot Sam Adams, goes through every stage of Kennedy’s career, beginning with a speech he delivered on July 4, 1946, at Feneuil Hall in Boston. The challenge of the book is defining the terms “conservative” and “liberal,” as they have stood for many things over the years. Stoll shows that Republican presidents Eisenhower and Nixon were actually more “liberal” in their policies regarding Communism, economic policy and social policy, while Kennedy was more “conservative” in those areas. As evidence, Stoll cites numerous Kennedy speeches and the many protests by economists and peace activists. Even his advisors were often frustrated with him, and many of them sought to change his record after his death.
Stoll examines Kennedy’s conservative legacy as well, pointing out the numerous ways every succeeding president has referenced him and adopted at least one of his core beliefs. Stoll concludes that it is Ronald Reagan who is the true successor to Kennedy, and most readers will recall that it was Reagan who signed the biggest tax cut and had the greatest success against communism since Kennedy. I finished this book with a new respect for Kennedy, one that did not relate in any way to the current Kennedy world view that we are all familiar with.