JFK’s Corporatist and Imperialist Presidency

Part 1: Power, Privilege, and JFK’s Cabinet

In April, Jeffrey M. Jones of Gallup wrote that “…Americans rate John F. Kennedy [JFK], Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan much more positively in retrospect than they did while the men were president.” This positive rating has continued for years, with Americans rating JFK as the highest rated President in 2010.  It is no surprise that this love for the royal Camelot dynasty has translated into the many conspiracy theories about his assassination in 1963, whomever they deem the culprit, which mainly circulate around the idea that the Vietnam war would have ended and the world would have been more peaceful if he had been alive. Now is not the time to specifically go through these intricate and sloppy theories to disprove them. Instead, it is better to set the record straight and say something that will get those Kennedy lovers out there real mad: President John F. Kennedy (JFK) was a proto-Reagan. The following piece will explain in excruciating detail about JFK’s presidency while challenging the idea that he was some kind of savior or was overturned by a ‘fascist’ coup.

In the first paragraph of an article by John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus, he states:

John F. Kennedy essentially bought his way into politics. His father, the wealthy Joseph Kennedy, picked out a nice congressional seat in Massachusetts and basically paid the occupant of the position to step down and run instead for the Boston mayoralty. JFK’s father then tried to pay off the Democratic frontrunner to drop out of the race, and when that didn’t work, persuaded William Randolph Hearst not to run any of the candidate’s ads or pictures in Hearst-owned newspapers. Joe Kennedy even paid a janitor named Joseph Russo to run in the race in order to dilute support for another leading candidate named Joseph Russo. Recognizing the importance of PR, the Kennedy family contributed $600,000 – an enormous sum in 1946 – for a children’s hospital in the district where JFK was running for office.

Before one goes further, it is important to recognize who influenced and made up the Kennedy Administration itself. It must be recognized that JFK came from a rich family with wealth possibly ranging in the 100s of millions of dollars and so rich as to create a labyrinth that would be safe from public scrutiny.   The Miller Center writes that “John F. Kennedy was born into a rich, politically connected Boston family of Irish-Catholics”, the Kennedy estate was worth almost $1 billion dollars, and JFK was so spoiled, he believed he needed “special treatment”.  If this isn’t enough, consider that in the midst of the Depression, 1934, JFK’s father who was the patriarch of the family and a Wall Street speculator, is appointed as the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; and on the day JFK is assassinated Wall Street closes shortly afterwards to prevent panic selling.

In addition, there was a deep connection between red-baiter Joe McCarthy and the Kennedy family, with McCarthy being a close friend of JFK’s father, who gave sizable contributions to his campaign, and dated two of his daughters which is rarely discussed. This is probably why JFK, “didn’t speak out against McCarthy…[and] McCarthy’s insistence that Communism had won in China because of softness on Communism in the American government was close to Kennedy’s own view, expressed in the House of Representatives, January 1949, when the Chinese Communists took over Peking.” 1 Additionally,  Kennedy’s Vice-President, Lyndon Johnson, in the 1950s as a “Senate minority leader, worked not only to pass the censure resolution on McCarthy but also to keep it within the narrow bounds of  “conduct . . . unbecoming a Member of the United States Senate” rather than questioning McCarthy’s anti-Communism.” 2 All of these deep connections would definitely influence who would serve on his cabinet.

Let us first recognize that during the presidency of Kennedy, there was still what author and journalist Chris Hedges would later call a “liberal class”. This included the appointment of pragmatic liberal Abraham Ribicoff as the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare; former OSS agent and labor lawyer Arthur Goldberg as the Secretary of Labor; conservationist and liberal Stewart Lee Udall as Secretary of Interior; the first and second Postmaster Generals J. Edward Day and John A. Gronouski; military man and Lutheran Orville Freeman as Secretary of Agriculture. Reportedly, Freeman would later be dismissive and downplay the USDA’s role in giving subsidies to big agribusiness. Still, there were some that had obvious connections to the business community. This began with former Governor and Secretary of Commerce, Luther H. Hodges, who worked for the department store, Marshall Fields and Company (Marshall Field’s) as  “secretary to the general manager, personnel manager, general manager for all Marshall Fields mills…and vice president…[and as Secretary] he reorganized the department, pushing international trade and job/industrial development for American economically depressed areas” according to the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame. At the same time, two of the members of JFK’s cabinet were members of the Rockefeller Foundation, which after WWII, among other foundations, said that any opposition to Western capitalism was “anti-Americanism” while fostering what some call “knowledge networks” which were “comprised of intellectuals at universities, think tanks, government agencies, and media outlets committed” that would maintain the existing global hierarchy since they were at the ‘power center’ of the Establishment at the time as noted by F. William Engdahl and the Foundation Center. The first of these members was Secretary of State Dean Rusk who was President of Rockefeller Foundation from 1952 to 1961. Rusk also was deeply involved in postwar compensation of Japan to the countries it destroyed, and splitting Korea into U.S. and Soviet spheres following WWII while also believing military action could counter communism.

The second member was someone who was even worse: Secretary of the Treasury, C. Douglas Dillon. Dillon, as noted by the Havard Gazette, was vice president and director of the huge investment bank, Dillon, Read and Company from 1938 to 1953, when he joined the Eisenhower Administration and stayed in office until 1965 when he “became president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art…[and] also returned to the private sector as chairman of Dillon, Read and as president of the United States and Foreign Securities Corporation and of the United States and International Securities Corporation.” In 2003, the New York Times called him “a versatile Wall Street financier… born to wealth and influence as the son of the founder of Dillon, Read & Company, an international banking house,” which also identified himself as a moderate Republican. Dillon, who was also a member of the elite Brookings Institution, part of the economic elite, and a former member of the New York Stock Exchange, proposed something that would later be expanded by Kennedy: the “fifth round of multilateral trade negotiations,” named after him, the Dillon Round, which was “concerned with tariff renegotiations resulting from the establishment of the European Economic Community and its common external tariff.” Most importantly, as noted by the JFK Presidential Library, is that “Dillon was also involved in the creation of the Alliance for Progress and helped promote the anti-tariff Trade Expansion Act of 1962.” The specifics of these policies will be discussed later in this article but this connection of wealth to them is definitely vital to understand the full picture. Additionally, Dillon also “helped draft the Revenue Act of 1962, which mandated a seven percent investment credit meant to increase investments in industrial plants and equipment.” This law, as noted by The CPA Journal, “curtailed the use of tax havens by U.S. companies [but not those of]…foreign international corporations.” On top of this he helped change depreciation rules in a manner, in the words of Wikipedia, that would “benefit corporate investment.”

Then, there were the two Supreme Court justices JFK appointed to the bench. One of these was law and order Byron White, who had not only been a Marine, but also he had rendered legal service to the business community of Detroit when he practiced law for fifteen years as part of a huge law firm now known as Davis Graham & Stubbs.  A 2002 USA Today article noted that while he supported federal affirmative action, voting rights and having the authority of the national government extend over states including supporting ‘equal protection under the law’ and end to racial segregation, he opposed any sort of constitutional constraints on police power and dissented in Roe v. Wade.  In a sense, he was a mixed bag, even helping to “desegregate schools and integrate public accommodations” when he was JFK’s deputy attorney general and protecting the Freedom Riders in 1961 by negotiating with segregationist Alabama Governor John Patterson. There was one more justice that JFK appointed to the high court: Arthur Goldberg, who had also been his first Labor Secretary as noted earlier.  He was an unabashed liberal on the court who opposed the death penalty, and supported the existence of a right to privacy as noted by the New York Times and the Jewish Virtual Library. Still, Goldberg was seemingly Zionist, with liberal Zionist and Israeli apologist Alan Dershowitz as one of his four law clerks, and he served as the UN ambassador from 1965 to 1968. I don’t wish to go through all of the judges he appointed and analyze them.  Someone else can do that if they wish to do so.

Still, there was one more: Bobby Kennedy, who served as the Attorney General. Joe Allen tells a bit of the truth about him, noting that when he died, many liberals thought “the hopes for progressive political change died with him.” Allen writes that Bobby was an “arrogant and intolerant political operative obsessed with his older brother John F. Kennedy’s political career,” whose father supported Franco’s fascist forces in the 1930s, and engaged in a “vicious persecution” of the leader of the teamsters, Jimmy Hoffa; discouraged people from protesting and engaging in Freedom Rides; “authorized FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover to begin wiretapping Martin Luther King’s telephone conversations;” didn’t want (along with JFK) for the March on Washington to happen; led a White House committee that oversaw the terrorist operation against Cuba called “Operation Mongoose” which will be described later in this article; never voting against war appropriations and “never advocated unilateral withdrawal of U.S. forces from Southeast Asia”; opposed sanctions of South Africa for its racial apartheid; opposed forced busing to assist with integrating schools, and more. At one point, Ronald Reagan, then the Governor of California, said that “Kennedy is talking more and more like me.” Allen concludes that Bobby wanted to “capture the support of the antiwar movement and to deliver it into the safe confines of the Democratic Party…[and was] an opportunist who was part of a political establishment responsible for the things the movements of 1960s struggled against.” After all, let us not forget that Bobby Kennedy was an aide to Joseph McCarthy while spearheading “the plan to murder Fidel Castro…bullied Lyndon Johnson into continuing the Vietnam war…[but when] seeking the 1968 presidential nomination, reversed his position and declared himself America’s “peace candidate,” harshly criticizing Johnson for his hawkishness.” Even more striking is the friendship between corporatist and would-be war criminal Ronald Reagan and Bobby Kennedy as forgotten on the liberal/progressive sites but is pointed out on those that are “conservative” like the National Review and Front Page Magazine.

Adam Grossman of the University of Birmingham adds to this, writing that Bobby served in a sense as the head of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExCOMM), had a yearning to invade Cuba, just like the unofficial anti-communist advisor and geopolitical strategist Dean Acheson who had helped craft the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, NATO and pushed Truman to intervene in Korea in June 1950, and that Operation Mongoose was basically “under the effective command of Robert Kennedy…[as] Bobby remained his brother’s chief watchdog over US intelligence…Operation Mongoose was to be the policy that showed the Kennedys were still as determined as ever to oust Fidel Castro from power…Clearly Kennedy saw no need to sideline Operation Mongoose even with the outbreak of such a serious crisis…Indeed, Operation Mongoose in its original format did not progress beyond the end of 1962. Without doubt, it was a failure as an operation…[Still] Robert Kennedy believed it could work and that he fully desired such an outcome.”

Before one continues on, it must be noted that all of the cabinet members except LBJ (the next President), served through part, or all, of the Johnson Administration, further dispelling the myth that Kennedy was somehow ‘extraordinary.’ 3 There is a great webpage up right now about this very subject by Professor Eric Patton of Wheaton College dispelling these myths, noting that “JFK respected Nixon, and preferred him to liberal members of his own party…Both Bobby and John were friends with, and politically supported, McCarthy…Kennedy was stand-offish toward the Civil Rights movement and cut the capital gains tax…Kennedy was a Cold Warrior and anti-communist…in domestic policy [he] kept himself posit[i]oned to the right of the Democratic party’s liberal wing.” Finally, something must be horribly wrong when corporate raider Mitt Romney cites JFK and FDR as examples of why rich people can get into power.

  1. Zinn, Howard. Chapter 16: A People’s War? A people’s history of the United States: 1492-present.  (New ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Print). []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Bobby Kennedy only served as Attorney General until 1964; Postmaster General Gronouski, Treasury Secretary Dillon, Commerce Secretary Hodges and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Celebrezze only served until 1965; Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara served until 1968; Secretary of State Rusk and Kennedy’s second Labor Secretary W. Willard Wirtz served until 1969. Additionally, there is also some doubt over the accuracy of the highly cited assassination probe in 1979 as noted by the Buenos Aires Herald. []

Burkely Hermann is an activist who wants to change the world for the better by imagining alternatives to the status quo of neoliberal global capitalism. In order to illuminate these alternatives and outline the status quo, he runs numerous online blogs, writes numerous articles, and uses his tech savvy skills to fight for social justice. Read other articles by Burkely.