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2568Why John Kennedy would have lost in 1964

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  • Brian Todd
    Nov 24, 2007

      Polls?  Facts are indeed stubborn things, but you haven't presented any.  Polls can yield highly subjective result, not presumptive facts as you present them.  Bill Buckley has as much ability to be mistaken as anyone else, as much as I admire him.

      Let's set the backdrop for the times.  JFK is elected by a narrow margin, 34.2 million votes to Nixon's 34.1 million.  Thus, there was no mandate to begin with for the "New Frontier" platform Kennedy campaigned on.  Once in office, his fellow Democrats controlling the House and Senate were also lukewarm on his agenda.  The Kennedy Brain Trust was prolific at conceiving new programs, but dismal at getting them enacted into law.  The president's personal appeals to Congress fared no better, whose members recognized many of Kennedy's "new" ideas labeled part of the "New Frontier" as old policies Harry Truman championed, and also failed to get approved by Congress.

      Kennedy's legislative successes were almost entirely limited to extending existing welfare programs established under FDR and Truman.  He did manage to get appropriations for some recreational and historical restoration projects, though these were chance opportunities, and never mentioned in the "New Frontier" proposals he campaigned on.

      But when it came to getting "New Frontier" programs through Congress, they were systematically rejected.  The best publicized of these was Congress' rejection of the Peace Corps, which Kennedy created under an Executive Order, and was approved by Congress after it was already in existence.  Even without Kennedy's costly new social spending, the federal budget was rapidly increasing, growing $16.2 Billion in the final Kennedy budget from Eisenhower's final budget just 2-1/2 years earlier.

      Nearly all of Kennedy's policy proposals failed, and his administration was crisis-ridden and divisive.  Americans were so split over his domestic and foreign policies that Kennedy was frequently and harshly criticized.  The first major instance was the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, which failed because Kennedy failed to provide the U.S. air support he had promised, and which was necessary for the operation to succeed.  He was blamed and heavily criticized for causing the invasion to fail, establishing widespread perception he was a weak, indecisive leader since he had neither called off the attempt or provided the support necessary for the operation to succeed.

      Kennedy's demonizing of steel producers generated widespread resentment in the business community.  When companies led by U.S. Steel struck wage increase agreements with labor unions to be offset by higher steel prices, Kennedy was infuriated, and bizarrely accused the steel producers in a televised press conference of a "pursuit of private power and profit."  He then ordered defense contractors not to business with these companies, eventually forcing the largest steel manufacturers to rescind their price increases and 'eat' the wage increases their employees had received.  Kennedy created many new enemies in the process.

      In 1962, Kennedy improved his his public popularity by successfully forcing the withdrawal of Russian nuclear missiles and troops from Cuba, but by doing so reinforced the public perception that his administration led the country from crisis to crisis.  But this positive action was undercut by Kennedy's civil rights agenda.  In September, 1962, he stripped the Governors of Mississippi and Alabama of their command of those states national guards, federalizing what had been state militias, and sent military troops to protect three black students attempting to enter the Universities of Mississippi and Alabama.  Kennedy's unpopularity in the Democratic bastion of the South plummeted to an all-time low.

      Kennedy had become publicly perceived as prone to formulating policy reactively, in the midst of each crisis, rather than setting and announcing policy in advance and being prepared.  As a result, Republicans were confident they could defeat Kennedy in the election of 1964; record contributions to the GOP and public opinion reflected this assessment.  Kennedy's campaign staff briefed him in mid-November 1963 on how vulnerable he was, and the voters' unfavorable opinions of him.

      All such questions became moot on November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated, and his presidential legacy in public opinion underwent a radical change.  This is what cast the die for what is recorded in most historical accounts of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's short presidency.

      In Liberty,


      Ram Lau wrote:

      You are biased. Admit it. Facts are pretty stubborn stuff:

      http://blog. washingtonpost. com/behind- the-numbers/ 2007/07/approval _highs_and_ lows.html

      "With approval ratings near sixty percent, Kennedy's worst was never
      very bad. His worst rating at 30 percent disapproval occurred twice in
      the last months of his presidency."

      http://www.national review.com/ flashback/ buckley200407011 031.asp

      "Kennedy's approval rating in Gallup polls had dropped from 76 per
      cent to 59 per cent during 1963, and he recited those numbers to
      dampen a certain overconfidence in the White House. That decline,
      [Census Bureau Director Richard] Scammon said, was attributable almost
      entirely to civil rights."

      If what I just cited isn't explicit enough, JFK became unpopular in
      the south because of his increasingly liberal stance on civil rights.
      But 59 percent of the population still APPROVED his performance BEFORE
      his assassination. Recall what you learned in your grade school math
      class, 59 percent is a clear majority. There's no doubt that he could
      have defeat Barry Goldwater handily in 1964.

      Full disclosure: I believe that JFK and Reagan are the two most
      overrated presidents in US history. I also believe that JFK handled
      the Cuban missile crisis clumsily and find his ideological shift
      towards civil rights from an apathetic attitude during his Senate
      years to a cautiously lukewarm stance during his presidency
      opportunistic at best.

      In short, I'm no big fan of JFK. But your blatant prejudice got me to
      defend a political figure whom I don't particularly like.

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