Former New York Sun managing editor Stoll (Samuel Adams: A Life, 2008) makes a correction to the JFK record.
The author hews closely to Kennedy’s speeches—from freshman Democratic congressman to senator to president—to revise what he perceives is a misrepresentation of the politician’s core beliefs. Indeed, he wasn’t a liberal, as defined as “big-spending, big government,” and as he noted of his liberal peers in Congress, “I’m not comfortable with those people.” Stoll reminds us that JFK’s conservative views were “hardly a secret during his lifetime.” They were recognized for what they were by the likes of Richard Nixon and Jacqueline Kennedy. JFK’s views on communism and fiscal restraint encapsulated the darling conservative theories propounded by leaders who came after him, notably Ronald Reagan. Since JFK wrote or heavily edited his speeches and penned numerous books, Stoll underscores what must have been JFK’s deeply held beliefs, starting with “Christian morality,” which emerged from his strong Catholic upbringing. His use of biblical passages (Rose Kennedy’s influence, apparently) to illustrate the struggle between good and evil as it was being played out during the Cold War is striking. Stoll sees in Kennedy’s deep religious convictions, fervent anti-communist stance, wariness of labor unions, and urge to exercise fiscal restraints and free trade more than rhetorical pandering to the electorate; they are essentially guides to how he intended to steer the country. His signature policies as president, besides attempting to defeat the communists in Cuba, were cutting taxes and bolstering the military, all of which were priorities before civil rights, which even Martin Luther King Jr. complained JFK had not done enough to advance. Stoll makes a solid case by carefully scouring the record.
A compelling textual study of how JFK became all things to all people.