Don’t blame Kennedy for today’s fiscal woes

After reading Robert Samuelson’s March 6 commentary, “It’s JFK’s fault,” on JFK’s role in our current government fiscal challenges, I did a quick search on the history of U.S. deficit spending. As I suspected, war efforts and defense spending have been deficit triggers beginning with the Revolution and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton creating bonds to offset the debt. Each war since has created significant strain on federal cash flow, hitting an annual peak deficit of 24 percent of GDP during World War II.

Since then, the big spenders have been the Reagan administration, in the effort to win the Cold War, funding the Bush wars on terror and the cost of buying our way out of the abuses in financial markets. Samuelson writes Kennedy’s proposal of a $320 billion (today’s dollars) tax cut in 1963 was in part, “the biggest mistake of domestic policy since World War II.” I think it is somewhat ironic that in the same edition, an Associated Press article discusses how poorly our investment of $767 billion in Iraq has paid off. An amount more than twice the Kennedy tax cut proposal. Does this disprove Samuelson’s position, or serve as supportive evidence for his hypothesis?

The theory makes interesting reading and I agree with the practice of balancing the books, but it seems somewhat sensational, with all the political and financial dynamics in play over the last 50 years, to lay the blame on a guy who wasn’t even alive when the legislation was passed. A guy whom I’ve always believed would have avoided the tragedy we call the Vietnam War and may have set a precedent for the wars that followed.

Dan Newberry