Those SOBs

"My father always told me that all businessmen were sons of bitches, but I never believed it until now," President Kennedy famously said when he felt steel executives had double-crossed him by raising prices.

Of all the Kennedy campaign promises, the one on which he has fallen down hardest is the pledge to do something about the sluggish economy and its exasperating low rate of growth …

To the liberals who supported him, the president turned out to be a prisoner of such conventional wisdoms as the balanced budget. In short, he talked like a liberal, but he acted like a conservative. He … made a fetish of his anti-inflation policy, so that the [steelmakers’] attempt to raise steel prices in April hit him with the force of a lightning bolt. His reaction was predictable.

But if the steel masters were blind in their anticipation of what the president might do in the wake of their move, so was the president blind as to the effect of what he did on the business community as a whole … Certainly the president’s “S.O.B.” crack, once it was immortalized in the pages of The New York Times, served as a catalyst to bring forth a wide reaction of business venom. The president’s cool attitude toward business audiences contrasted with his sense of warmth with labor audiences, too.

Kennedy is not, of course, an Andrew Jackson, a Woodrow Wilson, an FDR, trying to reshape in fundamental ways the nature of the American system. At most, he is trying to bring up to date reforms initiated by the New Deal, in order to meet changed conditions. But … to a vast number of businessmen he is simply antibusiness—period. Being a Democratic president, he is guilty until he proves himself innocent …

The president’s initial reaction, aside from anger, to the attacks from business was a sort of “What do they want? Why don’t they see what I’m trying to do for them?” At one press conference he listed the things he was trying to do for business, some of which, to his incredulity, business was resisting. Then, as the stock-market tremors alarmed Washington, Kennedy was, ironically, driven to take a liberal step.

The president announced that he will propose … an across-the-board tax cut for corporations and individuals, retroactive to January 1. In other words, Kennedy had finally come around to the thesis of the chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers, Walter Heller, that the tax structure is sucking too much money from the public, and thereby is putting a brake on the economy.

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