This gets brought up from time to time, but it never gets less annoying. Republicans have long been using the talking point that JFK would be a Republican primarily because he lowered taxes. Ted Cruz goes a bit further by claiming the late Democratic president also supported limited government and religious liberty. Unsurprisingly, Cruz, once again,, happens to be wrong on everything.Just days after attacking the values of New Yorkers, GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) traveled to New England on Sunday and attempted to claim that he was heir to the mantle of one of the nation’s most beloved presidents, Democrat John F. Kennedy.“JFK campaigned on tax cuts, limiting government and standing up and defeating Soviet communists,” he told a New Hampshire audience. “JFK would be a Republican today. He stood for religious liberty, and he would be tarred and feathered by the modern Democratic Party.”
First off, it's true that JFK proposed sweeping tax cuts, lowering the top rate from 91% to 65%. However, there are several key distinctions when comparing it to the kind of tax policies Cruz and his ilk support. As Brother Benen explains:
In the years following World War II, both Truman and Eisenhower kept high tax rates in place in order to help pay off war-era debts and help in post-war reconstruction. By the time Kennedy took office, the nation could afford to reduce rates, so he lowered the top marginal tax from 91% to 65%. (For comparison, note that a 65% top bracket is still far higher than today’s 39.6%.)Furthermore, the type of tax cuts that JFK supported were not the kind that would be proposed by a proto-Reaganite:
In an amusing twist, many congressional Republicans opposed JFK’s plan – Republicans had not yet made the transition in earnest from an anti-deficit party to an anti-tax party, and many GOP lawmakers from the era questioned whether the nation could afford Kennedy’s tax breaks.
Does that suggest JFK was some knee-jerk supply-sider, who’d be comfortable with contemporary Republican policies? Um, no. Not only was Kennedy’s plan rooted in Keynesian economics, it was also designed to spread the wealth around – the Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation determined that the bottom 85% of the population received 59% of the benefits of JFK’s tax cut. The top 2.4% received 17.4% of the tax cut, and the top 0.4% received just 6% of it.As opposed to the tax cuts signed into law by Reagan and Bush II, where nearly all the wealth went to the richest among us (aka the "job creators").
It should also be pointed out that by the time JFK came into office, a top tax rate of over 90%, which was in place for a good while, probably was hurting job growth and tax receipts. This may have been one of the few times where a tax cut was legitimately helpful to the economy. This is a situation that most Democrats probably wouldn't have too much of an issue with. We don't reflexively hate tax cuts on the wealthy, we just think that most tax cuts (especially nowadays with current rates) wouldn't have any significant positive effects and in the case of revenue, would almost always have a negative effect. We're not ideologues, we're pragmatists, and infinitely more so than Republicans.
Moving along, Cruz's claim about JFK supporting "limited government" is even more laughable. The 37th president supported a significant expansion of welfare and anti-poverty programs, endorsed tremendously strengthening civil liberties, created a massive socialized health care program that President Obama could only dream of passing. Not to mention he greatly increased spending for education, particularly in the areas of science, something that would be anathema to a flat-Earther like Cruz.
No matter how you slice it, JFK was in no way someone who advocated limited government.
Finally, there's Cruz's assertion about JFK's support for religious liberty. Now this one Cruz actually happens to be correct on. JFK did indeed support religious freedom. The problem though, is that this is a completely different kind of "religious freedom" that Cruz and the Republican Party support. JFK was a strong proponent of the separation of Church and State. Cruz wants to allow Christians to ban gay people from shopping at their stores. Not exactly the same thing.
I think we'd all appreciate it if Republicans would stop co-opting one of the most popular Democratic presidents. It's already annoying enough when they glorify Republican presidents that they would probably hate if they were alive today.