Just days after attacking the values of New Yorkers, GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) traveled to New England on Sunday and attempted to claim that he was heir to the mantle of one of the nation’s most beloved presidents, Democrat John F. Kennedy.
“JFK campaigned on tax cuts, limiting government and standing up and defeating Soviet communists,” he told a New Hampshire audience. “JFK would be a Republican today. He stood for religious liberty, and he would be tarred and feathered by the modern Democratic Party.”
Cruz is not the first conservative to attempt this revisionist history approach with Kennedy. But an examination of Kennedy’s rhetoric and record finds it in stark contrast to Cruz’s.
Cruz’s vision of limited government is derived from a radical interpretation of the 10th Amendment that deems much of what the federal government does unconstitutional, including programs like Medicaid. Kennedy, in addition to his famous soaring rhetoric about the importance of national service (“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country”), the University of Virginia’s Miller Center notes that Kennedy proposed significant federal programs including “federal aid to education, medical care for the elderly, urban mass transit, a Department of Urban Affairs, and regional development in Appalachia.” Cruz has vowed to eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Cruz backs a balanced budget constitutional amendment, Kennedy rejected the idea of a balanced budget as outdated and misleading “mythology.”
Cruz is correct that Kennedy proposed tax cuts — but his 1963 proposal was to cut the top tax individual rates from 91 percent to 65 percent and to bring the corporate rate to 47 percent. Today, Cruz calls much lower rates as too high, vowing to create a flat tax so “No longer will American businesses face the highest top tax rate, 35 percent, in the developed world.”
The hawkish Cruz also gets Kennedy’s approach to foreign policy wrong. While Kennedy was a strong critic of Communism, he tried diplomacy with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev first. When the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of war, Kennedy ignored calls for rash action from within his own administration and agreed to a compromise that avoided nuclear Armageddon. Cruz, on the other hand, has denounced U.S. negotiations with Iran and, even when they have been fruitful, decried “negotiating with terrorists and making deals and trades that endanger U.S. safety and security.”
And the Republican presidential candidate’s view of “religious liberty” is starkly different from Kennedy’s. Cruz, who has highlighted support from supporters of the United States becoming a Christian theocracy, has proposed differing standards for Muslim refugees and Christian ones. He has also attacked non-religious people for having too much influence and claimed that, “If you don’t begin every day on your knees asking God for His wisdom and support, I don’t believe you’re fit to [be president].” Instead, he urged, Evangelical Christians should outvote secular Americans as “nothing is more important that having people of faith stand up and just vote our values, vote biblical values and that’s how we turn the country around.”
But in his 1960 Democratic convention speech, John F. Kennedy struck the opposite tone, promising not to let his own religion interfere with his ability to do the job and to keep religion out of government entirely. “And you have, at the same time, placed your confidence in me, and in my ability to render a free, fair judgment — to uphold the Constitution and my oath of office — and to reject any kind of religious pressure or obligation that might directly or indirectly interfere with my conduct of the Presidency in the national interest,” he told the delegates. “My record of fourteen years supporting public education — supporting complete separation of church and state — and resisting pressure from any source on any issue should be clear by now to everyone.”
Cruz is not the first young Republican with national aspirations to attempt to wrap himself in the mantle of the popular Democratic president. In the 1988 vice presidential debate, then-Sen. Dan Quayle (R-IN) was lambasted by then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) for attempting to compare his qualifications for national office with President Kennedy’s in 1960. “I served with Jack Kennedy,” Bentsen scolded. “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Bloomberg Business called the moment the “best debate zinger ever.”
But perhaps it was another line in Kennedy’s 1960 convention speech that would have been the best zinger to Cruz’s claim of the mantle of great presidents whose record starkly conflicts with his own. “We know they will invoke the name of Abraham Lincoln on behalf of their candidate,” Kennedy warned, “despite the fact that the political career of their candidate has often seemed to show charity toward none and malice for all.”