Kennedy on Progressives and vice versa

“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.” ~John F. Kennedy, September 14, 1960

I found this quote, with no comment at all attached, as a post on a blog that I’m really not picking on. I’ve seen this before and had a similar reaction.

It seems to me a bit odd for a contemporary “Progressive” to wrap himself in one of Kennedy’s quotes. Like a 40 year old threadbare jacket, it does nothing to keep the winds out. A grumpy old independent like me sees a lot of holes.

“someone who is soft in his policies abroad” - Like ‘give peace a chance’ in 2002, after 10 years of peaceful containment. Like ‘bring our troops home now’ rather than finishing the job in Iraq and Afganistan like we did in Japan and Germany.

someone “who is against local government” - Like thinking Roe v Wade is good law, or Gonzales v Raich is good, or No Child Left Behind, or that United States v Lopez or United States v Morrison are dangerous, or that ‘public welfare’ is an enumerated power of Congress, or … well, you get the idea.

someone “who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar” - Federal Income Tax = 35%, Social Security and Medicare Tax = 15.3%. Does anybody think there’s no fat? BTW, since 1960 the per taxpayer taxes in constant dollars have gone from ~$9500 to near $18,000. Is the only concern how to get more taxpayer dollars?

“then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of Liberal.” - Using these arguments, and the record of the last 4 decades, it is amply demonstrated that this country has been dominated by exactly “that kind of Liberal”.

“someone who looks ahead and not behind” - Bush is Hitler. Iraq is Vietnam. Arab culture doesn’t allow them to have a functioning democracy. Racial quotas and affirmative action.

“someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions” - Well, see the previous item for some of today’s non-rigid reactions. Then think about the ‘Progressive’ reaction to the death of socialism, to all the UN failures, to school vouchers, to using private charity organizations, and other recent “new ideas”.

“someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health” - Driving vaccine makers out of the country, and obstetricians and trauma physicians out of rural areas, with obscene liability concepts and awards.

“– their housing” - Black families destroyed by welfare regulation, the ‘Progressive’ love of urban planning and eminent domain. The universally demonstrated fact that rent control eliminates new low-income housing from the market.

“– their schools” - Utterly failed public schools with no chance to learn and no choice available to the poor, opposition to vouchers that would give that choice.

“– their jobs” - Choking out jobs with oppressive regulation like Sarbanes-Oxley, or destroying the ability of individuals to provide jobs with huge and incomprehensible employment law volumes. Allowing unions to push wages to the point that jobs go overseas. Huge class action lawsuits that benefit only the lawyers while bankrupting employers.

“– their civil rights” - The bipartison Patriot Act. Sneak and peek searches, Internet regulation and wiretapping. Free Speech zones. Gun bans.

“– and their civil liberties” - McCain-Feingold restrictions on what private citizens can say about politics and politicians. Using environmental law to put farmers in jail for farming their own land. Asserting ‘public good’ to prevent the private use of private land. The War on Drugs.

“someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad” - When most of that grip today is simply the echo of the domestic stalemate and suspicions created by the ‘Progressives’ themselves.

This is why I can’t understand the ‘Progressive’s love of Kennedy. The modern ‘Progressive’ is in general everything that Kennedy was not, and is not what Kennedy was. The ‘Progressive’ of today vilifies anyone who actually tries to implement the vision of Kennedy.

So what’s with wearing such a threadbare and ill-fitting coat?

Update: Welcome to everyone from Kazablog. More outrage (if you like) and possible agreement on our main page as well.



  1. activist kaza said,

    November 22, 2005 @ 3:01 pm

    Well, thanks (I guess) for remembering JFK on 42nd anniversary of his death (I was 4 at the time, but it was a trauma even I haven’t forgotten). There’s much food for thought here - some of your points are well-taken, but others I think, less so. Rather than respond in kind, I’ll resist the temptation and simply tackle one rather erroneous notion (that undergirds the rest of your thesis…thereby calling much of it into question).

    You write about 4 decades of liberal dominance and yet, in those 42 years we’ve had Dem control of both Houses and the WH for precisely 12 years (1960-68, 1976-80 and ‘92-’94). Since 2000, with Rs in control of everything, we’ve amassed the biggest deficits in our history, had a disastrous misadventure in the Middle East and watched the country became more divided than at any point since the Civil War (none of which hardly represent conservative values or virtues).

    Therefore, even if we accept your argument to be true, to suggest that Progs or Liberals (that out-of-fashion term) today are wearing a 40-year-old thread-bare coat is a most disingenuous argument. Any real conservative who today embraces President Bush’s policies must find their garments wearing out faster than the cheapo threads found at Old Navy.

  2. Dave said,

    November 23, 2005 @ 9:00 am

    I actually didn’t notice until well after this post that it was the anniversary of his death, so I don’t earn any credit there. And I did not make the common mistake of conflating a political concept (progressivism, liberalism, etc) with a particular party. You should have noticed that I pointed out excesses of both major parties in chastising ‘that kind of “Liberal”‘. IMO, this excess of both parties proves the dominance in our culture of the “Liberal” ideas that Kennedy was denying in himself, which was one point of all that. The main point is that today’s Progressivism is exactly what Kennedy was in this quote calling a straw man description of Liberalism.

    Now, not being a progressive myself, I don’t follow all the literature and I rely on progressives to describe themselves. I can easily be in error about the philosophy and its application. That’s why I look for conversation.

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment

Your first comment is human moderated to reduce spam. It can take us a while (hours) to do that. Subsequent comments will appear much faster. We greatly sympathize with any frustration this causes, but given the amount of spam we have to deal with already we're not likely to change things soon.

You must be logged in to post a comment.