What would JFK have thought of the Tea Party and Obamacare?

by Heather Robinson

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With the anniversary of JFK’s death approaching next month, it is intriguing to speculate as to what the 35th president would have made of recent domestic political developments including the election of President Obama, and the Tea Party movement.

With regard to the election of Obama, surely JFK, who urged and celebrated civic participation as fundamental to the functioning of democracy, would have been heartened to see increased civic participation (including voting) on the part of minorities.

As far as the President’s agenda, it could be argued that one element of Obamacare – the requirement that all pay in – is a reflection of Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” ethos. But if my understanding is correct, Obamacare would compel everyone – including the healthy and young – to buy health insurance. It seems the imperative word is “required;” there is a “government knows best” quality to the plan that does not seem to me in keeping with the ethos of Kennedy’s vision of Americans’ embracing service, including military service, charitable work and engagement in politics out of love of country and desire to participate rather than conscription.

The Tea Party is an interesting case, because its grassroots nature reflects the spirit of civic participation that I believe Kennedy called for. Interestingly, its critics disparage the movement’s rank and file with divisive rhetoric, referring to Tea Party members as a whole as “racist,” by and large without any evidence that racism fuels a movement that at essence seems to be about fiscal responsibility.

In a certain sense, the Tea Partiers’ ethos – that of volunteers assembling without pay to make their voices heard and influence the political process – could be seen as very similar to those of President Obama’s supporters. Both groups are political, passionate, peaceful groups trying to participate in the political process. Both, in that sense, reflect Kennedy’s vision. I would argue though, that the Tea Party reflects it most purely in that its members are calling for smaller government. They may or may not be interested in contributing more, but one thing is certain: theirs is not a vision of government in which government is responsible for giving more.

The exhortation to “Ask not” of government seems expressed more precisely by the Tea Party than by any other bloc of voters in the U.S. today.

This entry was written by and posted on October 28, 2013 at 2:10 pm and filed under Commentary.