The unsinkable Representative Charles B. Rangel appeared on C-SPAN over the weekend. Why unsinkable? Well, in 2010 the House of Representatives censured the New York Democrat by a vote of 333 to 79 (when the body was still majority-Democratic) for violating 11 ethics rules and “bringing discredit to the House.” The New York Times called it a “staggering fall” for the senior Democrat. But fall/shmall, he’s since been reelected and will retire at his leisure.
While chatting with Brian Lamb, Rangel dropped a few falsehoods as casually as cigar ash. This isn’t to pick on Rangel; he’s just illustrative. His assertion — that the Republican and Democratic parties “changed sides” in the 1960s on civil rights, with white racists leaving the Democratic party to join the Republicans — has become conventional wisdom. It’s utterly false and should be rebutted at every opportunity.
It’s true that a Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson, shepherded the 1964 Civil Rights Act to passage. But who voted for it? Eighty percent of Republicans in the House voted aye, as against 61 percent of Democrats. In the Senate, 82 percent of Republicans favored the law, but only 69 percent of Democrats. Among the Democrats voting nay were Albert Gore Sr., Robert Byrd, and J. William Fulbright. Read the rest of this entry »
The columnist Ira Stoll has managed to obtain a hard-to-get interview with the author Ira Stoll, whose new book, JFK, Conservative, is being published this week by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. An edited version of the exchange follows.
Q. Why did you write this book?
A. A lot of my conservative friends were contemptuous of the whole Kennedy family. I wanted to set them straight. And a lot of my left-of-center friend admired Kennedy, but for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to set them straight.
Q. Why does it matter now what people think of Kennedy? He’s been dead for nearly 50 years.
A. The same issues that Kennedy grappled with — economic growth, tax cuts, the dollar, free trade, peace through strength, immigration, welfare reform — are still with us today. I think he had some ideas that can inform our current debates over politics and policy.
Q. Oh, come on. When Kennedy wanted to cut taxes the top marginal rate was 91 percent. And when he built up the military we were in a global conflict with the Soviet Union. It was a totally different situation than the one we face today.
A. Well, read the book. You may be surprised by how similar some of the arguments then were to the arguments today. Al Gore Sr., the Democratic senator from Tennessee who was the father of Bill Clinton’s vice president, was denouncing tax cuts as a bonanza for fat cats. John Kenneth Galbraith, the Keynesian Harvard economist, opposed tax cuts and preferred, instead, more government spending. The top long-term capital gains tax rate in the Kennedy administration was 25 percent, and Kennedy wanted it lowered to 19.5 percent. In 2013, if you include the Obamacare tax, the top long-term federal capital gains tax rate is 23.8 percent.
Q. Why is the title of the book JFK, Conservative and not JFK, Libertarian?
A. There’s a lot in the book that will probably resonate with libertarians. Kennedy was likely influenced by a libertarian writer called Albert Jay Nock. Early in his political career, JFK gave some amazing speeches about the individual versus the state. On January 29, 1950, at Notre Dame, he said, “The ever expanding power of the federal government, the absorption of many of the functions that states and cities once considered to be the responsibilities of their own, must now be a source of concern to all those who believe as did the Irish Patriot, Henry Grattan: ‘Control over local affairs is the essence of liberty.’” And the Inaugural Address line “Ask not what your country can do for you” was a call for self-reliance and an attack on the welfare state. Other parts, like Kennedy’s foreign policy and his stance on some social issues, libertarians might find less attractive.