Was JFK a conservative?

No, he was not.

One contemporary author, Ira Stoll, has made this claim in a new book, but no conservative thinker alive during JFK presidency ever expressed the thought,

In fact, the leading voices of the American right in the early 1960 including Clare Booth Luce, William F. Buckley, William Rusher, and Barry Goldwater reviled Kennedy for his liberal policies, especially on civil right and Cuba.

In a piece for Salon.com Paul Rosenberg punts Stoll and other right-wing polemicists who attempt to co-opt Kennedy’s popularity for contemporary conservatism.

Stoll’s argument is so implausible that Rosenberg ultimately concludes it is not factual.

“It’s not just that Stoll is wrong on the facts. He has utter contempt for them. He is not even trying to make a factual argument. He’s only trying to create the appearance of one … he’s going through the motions of pretending to show Kennedy was a conservative, so that other conservatives can pretend to be convinced. It’s a form of play-acting ritual, meant to claim Kennedy as a member of the conservative tribe. This is not a rational exercise, but an ethno-religious one.?

JFK is most accurately characterized as a center-left president

See also in JFK Facts:

JFK’s foreign policy: Douglas Horne v. Robert Dallek (Oct. 29, 2013)

What the New York Times doesn’t get about JFK and Vietnam (Oct. 29, 2103)


  1. Dan says:

    JFK aggressively courted and received heavy labor union backing throughout his political career. His policy positions in office strongly favored the labor union movement, which was a leading progressive force in American politics at the time. JFK was in the FDR liberal Democratic tradition.

    • Photon says:

      Actually he wasn’t. The liberal Stevenson wing of the party distrusted him, the largest Union in the country was in open warfare with him and Labor’s candidate in 1960 was Humphrey, not JFK.Of course, after the election the unions went loyally with him He took them for granted, which was politically correct.
      He was no Conservative, nor was he what we define as a Liberal today . On the ideological spectrum he wasn’t much different than Nixon ; their big differences were in foreign policy, where Ironically JFK ran as a Cold Warrior, pledging to overcome the “Missile Gap” that was actually in favor of the U.S., not the other way as JFK claimed.

      • Dan says:

        JFK enjoyed strong labor union support during his Congressional career starting in 1946, and was supportive of their policy issues as a Member of Congress.

      • leslie sharp says:

        If this is true, why were the conservatives, including the John Birch Society and the Southern Baptists, and very specifically, most of the Dallas Establishment lead by H.L. Hunt and the powerful oil community so violently opposed to him?

      • JSA says:

        An argument could be made that JFK ran for president in 1960 as a moderate Democrat, or what he termed as being an “Adlai Stevenson with balls.” Kennedy was distrusted by the Liberal Establishment, and by Eleanor Roosevelt in particular, because of his father’s political record and because he didn’t vote to censure Senator Joseph McCarthy. What modern day pundits seem to forget however is that Kennedy ALSO ran on strong support for Medicare, something the right didn’t like. He tepidly supported the civil rights movement, but was distrusted by civil rights leaders to some extent, although that changed during his presidency. His labor record also shot up during his confrontation with US Steel in 1962. And his record in foreign policy, which became more dovish as this site has posted in other places, stands for itself, the nuclear test ban and move to negotiate post-missile crisis with Castro capping his liberal foreign policy record. By today’s standards, and certainly if he had lived to run for president against Barry Goldwater in 1964, Kennedy would be labeled a “Liberal.”

  2. John Fembup says:

    “JFK is most accurately characterized as a center-left president”

    For that time, yes. But not for our time.

    Your characterization only serves to point out how far to the left the Democrat party has drifted over the past 50 years.

    JFK’s positions and thinking fit square in the center of today’s conservative thinking.

    Would JFK have thought and believed differently today than he did 50-70 years ago? Maybe, maybe not – who knows? But it’s very clear how he thought and acted back then.

    I’m a registered Democrat – a Kennedy Democrat. That definitely makes me a conservative Democrat. My friends and fellow Democrats rib me about that all the time. But I don’t worry, because eventually the best ideas win out . . . even in politics.

    Again, this only demonstrates just how far to the left the mainstream Democrats have drifted over the past 50 years.

  3. Today’s Democratic Party has moved to the left?! Ha! More accurately is you’ve moved more to the right. Way right! Today’s Dems are neo-liberal and would make good Reagan Republicans! The GOP has shifted so right they dominate political discourse and any real liberal would be tarred as a leftist commie! JFK was a hawk and dragged his ass in civil rights.

  4. John Fembup says:

    Frank, I said I was a Kennedy Democrat in 1962. I said I’m still a Kennedy Democrat. Did you miss that?

    In the past 50 years, the Democrat Party moved away from me.

    Unlike people like Ronald Reagan who reacted by switching parties, I stayed a Democrat.

    Why do people like you dis me? I think because – as I’ve said – the party (including you) has moved way far to the left since 1962.

    Me? I’m still in the same place as I was in 1962 . . . with John Kennedy.

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