On Kennedy’s Connection

President Kennedy on Turtle Creek Boulevard, en route to Dealey Plaza and then to the Dallas Trade Mart, where he was to give his first speech of the day. Photo credit: The Kennedy Gallery.

It is often forgotten, perhaps downplayed entirely, what brought JFK to Texas in November of 1963. Certainly, he was actively seeking to sew up his renomination at the party’s convention set to occur nine months ahead. He, by no means, had a lock on that achievement, let alone reelection in 1964. He needed Texas. But, in the more immediate present, he was deeply invested in breaking the Congressional logjam over his initiative to cut taxes. Campaigning in 1960 to “get America moving again,” Kennedy’s direction on the domestic front had stalled in 1962 and he needed new traction. Tax reduction out of the punishing rates under the FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower administrations (without resort to simultaneous spending cuts) was just the battle to take up. The economy, Kennedy had been arguing, desperately required this fiscal booster if unemployment and market recovery were to become facts not mere projections. Deficits would not run out of the control either but be lowered by the “rising tide that lifts all boats.” It was beyond time to get moving away from a crushing top marginal rate of ninety-one percent. A maximum rate of sixty-five percent would be a good start in the right direction. For Kennedy, the entire country could get moving again when the roadblocks of taxation and legislative inaction were removed. America could not wait for Congressional grandstanding or posturing either. Some had begun sensing this change of wind. The House Ways and Means Committee had cleared his bill in August. Now, Kennedy needed to channel that strong pressure of the electorate to clinch final passage before both houses of Congress. If he could do that, the linchpin of his domestic program achieved, overcoming the setbacks and furnishing long-delayed results, Kennedy might sweep the field. He was in Texas to take this long fight directly to voters, the people for whom Congress owed their employment.

It is not surprising then, while engaged in the Coolidgean task of tax reduction that November of 1963, Kennedy should appeal to the same obvious source of things, not only for where power lies but to what great responsibility Americans’ energies are best served. We see this not merely in the speeches he gave but those he was prepared to give on this day, fifty-seven years ago.

First, Kennedy’s undelivered remarks to the Dallas Citizens Council and Dallas Assembly to be given at the Trade Mart:

“Our adversaries have not abandoned their ambitions, our dangers have not diminished, our vigilance cannot be relaxed. But now we have the military, the scientific, and the economic strength to do whatever must be done for the preservation and promotion of freedom.

“That strength will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions – it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations – it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.

“We in this country, in this generation, are – by destiny rather than choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men.’ That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’ “

Second, JFK’s undelivered admonitions to the Texas party committee at the Municipal Auditorium in Austin:

“For this country is moving and it must not stop. It cannot stop. For this is a time for courage and a time for challenge. Neither conformity nor complacency will do. Neither the fanatics nor the faint-hearted are needed. And our duty as a party is not to our party alone, but to the Nation, and, indeed, to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom.

“So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation’s future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause–united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future–and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.”

None of these appeals would be at all surprising or out of place for that earlier man from Massachusetts, Calvin Coolidge. Perhaps that is what drew Kennedy, whatever partisan criticisms he threw at his predecessor’s feet from time to time, to accept sponsorship of the Coolidge Memorial Foundation’s work to promote Cal’s legacy nationwide. It is fitting then, that Kennedy enjoys more than an incidental connection to Cal. Their political affiliations aside, it is perhaps JFK’s highest tribute to the inspiration and effort of POTUS #30 that he chose, when so many other domestic issues clamored for priority, to make his stand on the reduction of taxation and a clear departure from three decades of confiscatory rates.

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