Robert Samuelson's Washington Post column blaming the Kennedy tax cuts for America's current fiscal problems is right up there. There are at least two mostly accurate sentences in the column. They are these: "The promise of Kennedy's tax cuts was that, by promoting faster and more stable economic growth, government could afford more because the economy would perform better. When Republicans proposed 'supply side' tax cuts in the 1980s, they made similar arguments and referred admiringly to Kennedy."
Mr. Samuelson's criticism of the Kennedy tax cut for opening the door to fiscal irresponsibility, however, is in error. For one thing, in a way he's publicly attacking his own employer; the Kennedy tax cut was cheered on by the Washington Post both in editorials and in an important and clear-eyed memo by the paper's then-owner, Phil Graham. Second, he conflates Kennedy and his advisers, naming a relatively liberal adviser, Walter Heller, but not the more important conservative adviser, Douglas Dillon, a common error by those writing about the tax cuts. He also ignores Kennedy's taped meeting with Wilbur Mills in which Kennedy disparages the claims of his advisers that they could fine-tune the economy with tax cuts ("I don't have any confidence in these fellows"). Third, he confuses Kennedy's support for a tax cut with support for a deficit or reckless spending, which is just not supported by the evidence. Fourth, would he prefer that the rates had stayed at the pre-Kennedy top marginal levels of 91%? I could go into more detail, but it's all covered in my forthcoming book JFK, Conservative, which I warmly encourage you all to pre-order in large quantities. Maybe Mr. Samuelson will devote a corrective column to it when it comes out.