Agitate, America!: JFK’s tax cuts
By Nancy Churchill
A Progressive Visionary
Pundits on the right, like Rush Limbaugh, have taken to cleverly cherry-picking John F. Kennedy’s own words lately to claim his tax-cut posture is exactly what is needed today.
They extract a tiny fraction from one of two addresses the Democratic icon gave in 1962 — the State of the National Economy, Aug. 13, and the Economic Club of New York address on Dec. 14 — to make him sound like a supply-side economist.
Let’s clear this up: you can’t turn JFK into a supply-sider by cherry-picking his quotes.
Earlier in the State of the Nation speech, he’d praised President Roosevelt and others for making it possible to “move ahead in the period since the war.” He praised Congress, too, as having “done more in the last 18 months to combat the recession and strengthen the economy than any Congress since the end of [World War II],” by providing “benefits for nearly 3 million unemployed men and women.”
He said, “I know that there are those who oppose all these moves … much as they opposed Social Security, much as they opposed minimum wage, much as they opposed a ban on child labor and, more recently in the Senate, medical care for the elderly.” Hmmmm. Social Security, minimum wage, benefits for the elderly and unemployed? Take note, today’s Republicans! No austerity there!
He promised to “provide a dollar of service for the dollars that we spend”; “to close down [military] installations and activities that are not essential”; to end the postal deficit of $600 billion a year; “to save $1 billion a year on farm surpluses”; “and to close those tax loopholes enjoyed by a comparative few that will otherwise cost the taxpayers … a billion dollars annually.” Pay as you go? Raising revenue? No trickle-down there!
Let’s take a closer look at those tax cut proposals.
Robert Schlesinger said (US News & World Report, Jan. 26, 2011): “JFK was not expounding an implacable economic philosophy; he was speaking about a very specific circumstance. The top marginal tax rate was 91 percent, which JFK wanted reduced to a ‘more sensible’ 65 percent. Compare that with today’s 35 percent top rate, and ask: If supply-siders are so enamored of JFK’s tax policies, would they advocate a return to a ‘more sensible’ 65 percent top rate? Applying Kennedy’s tax talk to the current structure, JFK biographer Robert Dallek says, is like comparing ‘apples and watermelons.’”
One conservative pundit, after quoting JFK exclusively, implies his “tax cut” accounts for “Jobs and tax receipts [rising] dramatically thereafter.” What the columnist omits, whether from being too lazy to investigate or to be deliberately deceptive, is that JFK was unable to pass his tax cut prior to his assassination. Jobs and tax receipts indeed rose after his speeches — under Eisenhower’s 91 percent marginalized tax rate! How that can be, and why no one actually paid a 91 percent tax, is the subject of another column.
Highlights of Nancy Churchill’s life are growing up in Congo, Africa, until she was 15, racing stock cars as an adult from 1976 until 2001, and writing as a liberal political junkie since the early ’90s. She lives in Oregon, Ill.
From the Dec. 19-25, 2012, issue
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