Reading this provocative and compelling analysis of John
F. Kennedy’s political vision, I could not help but think of the
reaction Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. had when his colleague John P.
Diggins told him he was writing a book favorable to Ronald Reagan’s
presidency. “Please,” Schlesinger said, “don’t make him look too good.”
If Schlesinger were still alive and able to read Stoll’s new account, he
would undoubtedly turn purple. One thing is certain: Ira Stoll’s
Kennedy is not the same as Arthur Schlesinger’s.
For a long time, the writers who evaluated the brief Kennedy presidency have discussed him as the epitome of liberalism, as a president who carried out the liberal agenda and paved the way for Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and its dramatic increase of the welfare state from New Deal days.
What Ira Stoll has accomplished is the first real
challenge to this consensus view, which has been widely shared by both
historians and journalists. Stoll argues that Kennedy’s politics and
programs, rather than being liberal in the tradition of Franklin D.
Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, were closer to those of Ronald Reagan
than to anyone else. Stoll argues, and presents evidence to back up his
claim, that Kennedy was a conservative by both the standards of his own
day and ours....