In a wide-ranging interview with Blaze Books in connection with his newest title, JFK, Conservative, Ira Stoll provided his insights on JFK’s political ideology, religiosity, foreign policy views and a whole host of other topics. Below is the final part of our interview, conducted via email. You can find Part I here and Part II here. The interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
In your book you indicate that JFK took a number of public stances that were fiscally and monetarily conservative. Who were some of the thinkers that influenced his economic philosophy?
Stoll: His father was a successful businessman who was quite concerned about the flow of gold. His Treasury Secretary, Douglas Dillon, was a Wall Street Republican who wanted tax cuts. Kennedy’s friend Phil Graham, the owner and publisher of the Washington Post, was also pushing Kennedy for tax cuts to spur economic growth. I also detect in Kennedy’s speeches the influence of a libertarian writer named Albert Jay Nock, author of a book called Our Enemy, the State and of an introduction to Herbert Spencer’s The Man Versus the State, both of which were on Kennedy’s bookshelf.
How do we reconcile the more leftist items on Kennedy’s agenda such as increased social spending with his ideological principles?
Stoll: Increased social spending wasn’t an item on Kennedy’s agenda, at least not in any significant way that he fought for or achieved while in office. He gave a speech or two in favor of Medicare and for increased aid to education, but liberals within the administration were disappointed that instead of pushing for those things he focused on free trade and the tax cuts. Anyway, one can be for a modest government safety net for the elderly, disabled, and mentally ill, and for efforts to expand opportunity to the young through education, as Kennedy was and as many conservatives are even today, while still being skeptical of or resistant to the excesses of the ever-expanding federal welfare state.