COMMENTARY | With the conclusion of “The Kennedys” miniseries, which ran on the hitherto obscure Reelz Channel, the time to nitpick has arrived. Specifically, it is time to wonder about the stuff that was left out of the eight-hour show.
This is not a complaint about Kennedy scandals; some of those were left out or glossed over as well. But two significant accomplishments never made it to the final cut.
The first obvious omission was the race to the Moon. If human civilization still exists a thousand years from now, President Kennedy will be remembered for this: “We choose to go to the Moon.”
The decision to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth “by the end of this decade” was taken in the wake of Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight, the 50th anniversary of which is being celebrated this year. The intention was to prove the inherent technological superiority of the United States over Soviet Russia. It succeeded brilliantly. Ever after, the Soviets, when touting the superiority of communism over capitalism, could not explain the fact that America had beat them to the Moon. When President Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative in the early 1980s, the Soviets had no doubt that it could be done. The Americans had landed men on the Moon. They could do anything.
The Moon landing program did not proceed without political hitches. Kennedy himself became wobbly and pondered the idea of a joint mission to the Moon with the Soviets. Sen. William Proxmire, a tireless foe of the space program, actually managed to get the Apollo program’s budget cut in late 1963. The funding was quickly restored after the Kennedy assassination and there was never any serious political opposition until the Moon landing took place.
The second omission was a tax cut initiative Kennedy proposed, which was passed after his death, that looked surprisingly like Reagan-style supply-side economics. In a speech before the Economic Club in New York, Kennedy laid out the rationale of across the board cuts in tax rates on personal and corporate incomes as a way to stimulate economic growth. For ever after, as liberals attacked similar Republican proposals, conservatives delight in pointing out Kennedy’s views on tax cuts.
Kennedy remains a liberal icon who, inconveniently, was a supporter of low taxes, even for the rich. Including a segment on this aspect of his presidency would have made great and controversial television.
Sources: The Kennedys, Reelz Channel
The Decision to Go to the Moon, President John Kennedy, NASA, May 25, 1961
Address to the Economic Club of New York, President John F. Kennedy, American Rhetoric, December 14, 1962