Kennedy Domestic Policy
JFK at press conference, 1 Feb 1961.
Kennedy's "New Frontier" is remembered today more for its foreign policy successes and blunders - the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam - than for domestic policy. JFK was president at the height of the Cold War, and foreign policy initiatives and crisis often dominated the agenda.
But President Kennedy was active on the home front as well. His brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, unleashed an unprecedented war on organized crime, one foreshadowed by the brothers' days together on the McClelland Committee. This aggressive federal effort against Carlos Marcello, Sam Giancana, Jimmy Hoffa and many others had its own political costs, and was particularly sensitive given the Democratic party's relationship with organized labor.
Another hot-button area was civil rights; here Kennedy was less than fully engaged for most of his presidency, enforcing civil rights laws while attempting without success to apply the brakes to the country's looming crisis. Kennedy needed Democratic southern Senators on his side, and saw too clearly the political costs of pushing too hard on civil rights. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, would succeed in doing the right thing, enacting the Civil Rights Act introduced by Kennedy in the summer of 1963, and simultaneously triggering the great realignment where the "solid South" thereafter moved as a bloc from the Democrats to the Republicans.
Beyond these two great issues of the day, JFK created the Peace Corps, initiated the "space race" which put a man on the moon in 1969, advocated on mental health issues, and worked with Congress on affordable housing, equal pay for women, and a host of other agendas.
In the economic arena, JFK is remembered for his tax cuts, particularly by Republicans eager to claim their share of his memory. Often forgotten is the uneasy relationship he had with big business. The most dramatic moment came in April 1962, when Kennedy took on Big Steel, forcing rollback of price increases which he declared were not "in the public interest."
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