It was bad enough when opponents of Obama’s economic recovery plan decided to drag FDR’s New Deal through the mud, quite wrongly, I might add. But there is a new talking point from the GOP, this time appropriating another liberal icon in support of their supply-side alternative to the present stimulus package.
Their contention is that JFK—along with Ronald Reagan, usually mentioned within the same breath—showed policymakers how to remedy recession woes back in the 1960s. JFK’s economic prescription? Tax cuts.
The Republicans are right, up to a point. Kennedy did push tax cuts, and his plan, which passed in February 1964, three months after his death, did help spur economic growth. But they’re wrong to see the tax reduction as a supply-side cut, like Reagan’s and Bush’s; it was a demand-side cut.
The above quotation is from historian, David Greenberg. He wrote it way back in 2004 when the conservative group, Club for Growth, invoked Kennedy’s name in an effort to rail against Howard Dean during his run for the Democratic nomination.
Before you question what this has to do with our present economic crisis, here’s another bit from Professor Greenberg:
This distinction, taught in Economics 101, seldom makes it into the Washington sound-bite wars. A demand-side cut rests on the Keynesian theory that public consumption spurs economic activity. Government puts money in people’s hands, as a temporary measure, so that they’ll spend it.
Ultimately, in the form that Lyndon Johnson signed into law, it reduced tax withholding rates, initiated a new standard deduction, and boosted the top deduction for child care expenses, among other provisions.
The most significant of the “other provisions” within Kennedy’s tax bill was its closing of massive loopholes within the corporate tax code, in effect, making it closer to a tax hike.
So, why is it that the GOP desires the association with JFK? I think it has a great deal to do with, as Greenberg mentioned, the Washington sound-bite wars.
Yes, the constant conflict of talking-point-driven propaganda from opposing ends of the ideological spectrum can be frustrating. Don’t think for a moment that I’m suggesting that this culture exists only in the GOP. To be sure, this problem crosses party lines.
What do you think? Is talking-point culture somehow a constructive force in our democracy? I suppose not. What made me want to address the JFK supply-side example was that I kept hearing it without anyone responding to the contrary. On Meet the Press last Sunday, for example, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) used it:
John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and after the towers fell in 2001 proved that the way you, you jump-start the economy, the way you jolt a free market economy…
David Gregory just let it go by, unchallenged. At least Jon Stewart made a crack about Pence being unable to mention George W. Bush by name.
For me the issue boils down to the results of the above mentioned tax cuts. JFK’s “tax cut” has been viewed as successful. Reagan’s tax cuts were arguably disastrous over the long term, and Bush’s results? Well, consider our present economic predicament.
I don’t think it’s a useful comparison. It would be better if they left JFK out of it.