How Democrats Have Changed: The Kennedy Tax Cut

President Kennedy proposed cutting the top rate by 30%, and after his death Congress agreed to a 20% cut. Kennedy’s rhetoric is missing from today’s Democratic Party and he said:
“This nation needs a tax cut. . . A tax cut means higher family income. . . taxes siphon out of the private economy, too large a share of business and personal purchasing power. Taxes reduce the financial incentives for personal effort, investment and risk-taking.”
Speaking of the Kennedy tax cut, Harvard economist Ken Rogoff says “It wasn’t just that he pulled the country out of recession, but he put a tax system in place that laid the foundation for the boom that happened in the ’60s.”

The End of an Era: John F. Kennedy in South Carolina

The South Carolina state capitol is shown immediately after Vice President Richard Nixon addressed a campaign rally in 1960. He would come close, but South Carolina remained a part of the solid cotton South that year.
Eisenhower received only 2.9% in 1952, while Nixon increased the GOP vote in the state to 48.8%. Then Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-MA) addressed the South Carolina legislature on October 10, 1960. His speech did not receive wide attention, but it would be the end of an era.
It would be the last time a Democratic presidential nominee campaigned to the right of the GOP.
Kennedy had voted against the Eisenhower Administration’s 1957 Civil Rights Act. He repeatedly praised slavery’s champion, Sen. John C. Calhoun (1782-1852), and then attacked Nixon: “Popularity, not logic, is his standard. He promises a vast new Federal program for housing.
“He calls for a vast new Federal program for education. He pledges a vast new Federal program for health.
“He promises to outdo anything the Democrats can do in agriculture, public works, reclamation, foreign aid, defense, and all the rest. But then he journeys South and says he is against Federal spending, against Federal bureaucracy, and against the Democratic Party because we are supporting these programs.
“I do not believe that Washington should do for the people what they can do for themselves through local and private effort. There is no magic attached to tax dollars that have been to Washington and back.
“No expert in the Nation’s Capital knows as much about your local problems and how to meet them as you do. Big government is just as much a threat to our liberties as too little government.”

BOOK REVIEWS: "Upstairs at the White House" and "Backstairs at the White House"

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West (1973), Warner Books
My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House by Lillian Rogers Parks (1961), Fleet Publishing
Reviewed by Gregory Hilton
Margaret (Maggie) Rogers could not afford a babysitter so she often took her daughter to work. She was a maid and her daughter Lillian would follow her from room to room as she did her daily cleaning. One afternoon she was told to turn down the bed in the master bedroom. As soon as Mrs. Rogers finished, she was summoned to help the lady of the house with a dress fitting. Lillian, 9, was told to stay behind in the bedroom. Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW: “The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America” by Thurston Clarke, Henry Holt (2008).


If Robert Kennedy had lived, would he won the Democratic nomination?

This is the third memoir I have read of Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 campaign, and they are all well written. The other two were by journalists Jack Newfield and Jules Witcover who covered the campaign. This book was written four decades later but it serves as the most definitive account.
All of three books unquestionably have a liberal bias. Thurston Clarke does not pretend to be objective. He clearly idealizes Kennedy. He portrays the late Senator as a great moral teacher who was always in the forefront of efforts to combat poverty, racism and the Vietnam War.
Many of the authors claims can be easily rebutted by conservatives, but this book is still interesting because of the detail it provides regarding the campaign. To understand the story of 1968 you have to begin with the New Hampshire primary and the Tet Offensive.
A slate of electors pledged to President Lyndon Johnson won the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic primary, but the results were devastating for the incumbent. LBJ was challenged from the left by Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN), and the focal point of the campaign was his opposition to the Vietnam War.
When 1968 began the war appeared to be going well and Johnson had a significant lead in the polls. McCarthy was not considered a serious contender, and the Gallup Poll showed him at 12%. The news media portrayed him as a heroic but grossly underfunded peace candidate.
The massive Viet Cong Tet Offensive of January 31st changed everything. It involved attacks on practically every major city and town. Public perceptions about the war were reversed and negative stories about Vietnam dominated news media coverage. The public began to think the Vietnam War might not be winnable. McCarthy had not attacked Johnson directly up to that point, and the Senator made his first visit to New Hampshire just six weeks before the primary.
The political establishment was stunned by the news out of the Granite State on March 12, 1968 which showed Johnson defeating McCarthy by a slim 49% to 42% margin. When Republican write-in votes were later counted, McCarthy had come within 230 votes of upsetting Johnson.
New Hampshire changed the political landscape. Five days later Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) entered the Democratic contest. This book focuses on the 82 days of the Kennedy campaign. He was only 42 years old and GOP frontrunner Richard Nixon watched RFK’s announcement from Portland, Oregon hotel room. He thought Kennedy would be the Democratic nominee.
The ten week campaign was filled with drama. At the end of March, Johnson withdrew as a candidate. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4th, and riots erupted throughout the nation. Vice President Hubert Humphrey entered the campaign on April 27th, but he refused to enter the primaries. He would not give permission to have his name placed on primary ballots.
Kennedy won in Indiana and Nebraska, while McCarthy defeated the Johnson slate in Wisconsin. RFK refused to debate Senator McCarthy which damaged him in the Oregon primary in late May. McCarthy won and Kennedy reversed his position. He agreed to a televised date on June 1st, and California became a “must win” primary. The debate robbed McCarthy of his major issue, which was Kennedy’s reluctance to confront him.
The debate moderator was ABC’s Frank Reynolds who said “There doesn’t seem to be too many differences between Senator McCarthy and Senator Kennedy on anything, really.” Three days later RFK won his greatest victory in California. The next stop was the June 18th New York primary, and Kennedy never had the opportunity to make his pitch to party regulars.

The historian Ronald Steel said:

I think Bobby Kennedy continues to haunt our imagination because he represents what might have been. We can never be disillusioned, because it’s always in the unfulfilled future. He never failed, because he was denied the chance, of course. But he opened the sense of possibilities of change…. He spoke in a language that people could find their hopes, and their dreams. And so, I think we’ll always read in Bobby Kennedy, not what was, or what failed to be, but what might have been.

The general election between Nixon and Vice President Hubert Humphrey was very close, and many pundits argue that Democrats would have won if Kennedy had been their nominee. We will never know the answer. The Senator was assassinated the night of his California victory, June 4, 1968,  the results were as follows:


Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY): 46.3%

Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN): 41.8%

Attorney General Thomas Lynch (D-CA): 12% (Humphrey stand-in)

New Jersey

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY): 38%

Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN): 35%

South Dakota

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY): 53%

Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN): 30%

Delegate Projections as of June 6, 1968

Majority Needed For Victory: 1313

Vice President Hubert Humphrey (D-MN): 1030

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY): 890

Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN): 250

Unpledged: 456

The nomination process was far different in 1968 than the system we know today. Even if Kennedy had won all of the primaries it is still doubtful he would have won the nomination.  The primaries determined only 19% of the delegates. Humphrey needed just 300 delegates to secure the nomination and he had the united support of DNC members, the AFL-CIO, big city machines and party regulars. The exception was Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley who was undecided. McCarthy demonstrated considerable hostility toward Kennedy and threatened to throw his 250 delegates to Humphrey. To win, Kennedy would have to convince a number of Humphrey supporters to switch sides.

Trivia Questions About the First Ladies

1) Which brilliant First Lady used her own money to send 46 disadvantaged young people to college? The press never knew of her generosity and neither did her husband. He only discovered what she had done after her death. Continue reading

50 Years Ago Today: The First Kennedy/Nixon Debate

Opening statement of Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-MA):
“In the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln said the question was whether this nation could exist half-slave or half-free. In the election of 1960, and with the world around us, the question is whether the world will exist half-slave or half-free, whether it will move in the direction of freedom, or whether it will move in the direction of slavery. . . The kind of strength we build in the United States will be the defense of freedom. . . If we fail, then freedom fails. . . . Continue reading

50 Years Ago Today: John F. Kennedy Accepts Democratic Nomination and Launches the New Frontier

"The old era is ending. The old ways will not do. One-third of the world may be free, but one-third is the victim of a cruel repression, and the other third is rocked by poverty, hunger and disease. "Communist influence has penetrated into Asia; it stands in the Middle East; and now festers some ninety miles off the coast of Florida. . . Our ends will not be won by rhetoric, and we can have faith in the future only if we have faith in ourselves." - Senator John F. Kennedy, July 15, 1960

It was 50 years ago today that Senator John F. Kennedy (MA) accepted the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. He defeated Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson (D-TX) who had entered the race only one week before the convention. In responding to Johnson’s accusation, Kennedy denied having Addison’s disease, but it was later proven to be true. Kennedy had defeated liberal Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) in the primaries, and Johnson never came close to derailing Kennedy’s nomination. Continue reading