The Myth of JFK as Supply Side Tax Cutter

Kennedy was a Keynesian, not a a Reagan forerunner.

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And the debate about JFK and tax cuts speaks to a broader misconception in our politics, that Republicans always want to cut taxes, while Democrats don't. Although it's true that tax cuts have become the alpha and omega of GOP economic policy, an astonishing number of conservatives actually advocate tax increases for lower-income Americans because those who don't make enough to pay federal income taxes lack "skin in the game" to really understand big government's villainy. Seriously.

But if ever advocating a tax cut makes someone a supply-sider, then JFK joins the ranks of other conservative economists like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama (the tax cuts in the stimulus package, for example, were arguably the largest in history). The key distinction is that JFK and his successors saw tax cuts as one of many available economic tools. Indeed Kennedy, like Obama, favored both tax cuts and spending increases to stimulate the economy. He moved first on tax cuts because he didn't think increased spending was initially politically viable, but it remained a large part of his agenda for 1964. "First we'll have your tax cut," he told chief economic adviser Walter Heller, 11 days before his assassination, "then we'll have my expenditures program."

Kennedy's economic philosophy was less about means—tax cuts versus spending increases—than ends. As he put it in his first address as president: "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

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