November 26, 2013

George F. Will’s Nov. 21 op-ed column, “JFK, the conservative ,” was frustratingly dependent on historical cherry-picking.

It’s true that Kennedy, like many postwar liberals, was a Cold War hawk. But on domestic policy, Mr. Will’s analysis does not survive scrutiny. Mr. Will did not mention that Kennedy’s tax proposals were based on a Keynesian approach to the economy (he had hand-picked Keynesian economist Walter Heller to chair the Council of Economic Advisors) and that they were coupled with proposed increases in domestic spending — all of which was meant to combat a recession, precipitated in large part by the preceding (Republican) administration’s insistence on balancing the budget.

While Mr. Will sees in the Kennedy approach the roots of Reaganism, he ignores the fact that Reagan himself abhorred Kennedy’s program: “Under the tousled boyish haircut, it is still old Karl Marx.” What was that ambitious program? One would not know it from the column, but it included expansions of Social Security, the minimum wage and the Fair Labor Standards Act, collective bargaining for government employees, a presidential commission on the status of women and the start of the modern food stamp system, as well as unsuccessful proposals including federal health insurance for the aged, unprecedented federal aid to education and transportation, a civil rights bill and those Keynesian tax cuts.

Robert Chiles, Baltimore

I must take issue with George F. Will’s assertion that “Lyndon Johnson was . . . second to none in using the law to ameliorate America’s racial dilemma.” Johnson made critical contributions by enacting laws that improved the legal status of African Americans in this country, but Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued a bit more than 150 years ago, and the subsequent enactment of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, making slavery illegal, were the most momentous legal acts for African Americans. Without Lincoln’s actions, Johnson’s would not have been possible.

Marc Chafetz, Washington

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