From a distance of nearly 50 years, the liberalism of 1960 is hardly recognizable. It was comfortable with the use of American power abroad, unabashedly patriotic, and forward-looking. But that was before The Fall.
The real John F. Kennedy wasn't the paladin of liberal purity of myth. He was friends with Joseph McCarthy. In his 1952 campaign for Senate and his 1960 presidential campaign, he got to the right of his Republican opponents on key issues. "Kennedy did not want anyone to tag him as a liberal, which he regarded as the kiss of death in electoral politics," Piereson writes. As president, he was vigorously anti-communist, a tax-cutter and a cautious supporter of civil rights.
His kind of liberalism -- "tough and realistic," as Piereson puts it, in the tradition of FDR and Truman -- was carried away in the riptide of his death. In a crucial and counterintuitive interpretive act, the nation's opinion elite made JFK a martyr to civil rights instead of the Cold War. Kennedy had been killed by a communist, Lee Harvey Oswald, who a few years before had tried to defect to the Soviet Union. Liberals nonetheless blamed the assassination on, in the characteristic words of Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, "the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots."
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