Conservative film critic John Nolte has capped off his series on the “Top 25 Left-Wing films” with Oliver Stone’s JFK. In the preamble, explaining why he considers it a “liberal” film, Nolte writes: “Simply put, the Left cannot psychologically or emotionally reconcile their undying hatred of the Vietnam War with their undying love for the same president who escalated our involvement in that war.”
Well, I’m sure Nolte would consider me part of the “Left”, and I don’t believe in any of those conspiracy theories. In any event, however, whether Nolte’s claims are true or false is irrelevant for my purposes. What I want to discuss is the Republicans‘ peculiar attitude towards President Kennedy. For they too seem to have paradoxical feelings towards him. As in, for example, the conservative wiki Conservapedia’s analysis of him as “basically a conservative”.
Republicans have come lately to believe that his tax-cuts were the precursor to President Reagan’s supply-side, Laffer curve-based tax cutting program. (That Kennedy was in fact following the advice of Keynesian economics is strangely forgotten.)
They also seem to admire Kennedy for having a hawkish approach to foreign policy–and there is clearly some truth to this. After all, he had been a military man, and no doubt he certainly found himself in quite a few showdowns with Khrushchev. His anti-communism is hailed by the Republican party of today.
The Republican admiration for Kennedy isn’t complete, of course. There are still times when they find it useful to portray Kennedy as just another Liberal president, to be reviled like Woodrow Wilson and FDR. In what is perhaps the seminal work of the Tea-Party canon, Liberal Fascism, you can really see author Jonah Goldberg wrestling with this dilemma.
Goldberg doesn’t like a lot of Kennedy’s behavior in office, and draws upon it to further his “Liberalism resembles fascism” argument. But when, he gets right down to it, Goldberg can’t just lump JFK in with the rest of the supposedly “liberal fascists”, writing: “While not a modern liberal himself, JFK was turned after his death into a martyr to the religion of government.” Goldberg writes that Kennedy’s myth was “hijacked” by Lyndon Johnson to advance his own brand of (you know it) “liberal fascism”.
This is interesting because it illustrates just how complex the Republicans’ relationship to JFK’s legacy really is. Maybe they just think it would be too cruel to openly despise a man so tragically cut down, or maybe–as a cynic might put it–they are simply looking to do a bit of myth-hijacking for themselves.
Or maybe they feel compelled to offer gestures of bipartisanship, but cannot seriously claim that there was anything good about more recent Democratic Presidents for fear of implying that they were in fact legitimate politicians with reasonable ideas. Such an implication would no doubt draw a sharp rebuke from Rush Limbaugh. So, they are forced to reach back nearly a half-century to find some Democrat who they can like without risking much ideological ground.