Questioning a President's Patriotism

When Rudy Giuliani attacks Obama's loyalty, he's using a tactic pioneered against Catholics like JFK.

John F. Kennedy, right, with father Joseph P. Kennedy and brother Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.  (AP)

Rudy Giuliani insists he’s not a racist. He’s just doesn’t believe “this President loves America.” Obama, he claims, “wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up.” The President spent his impressionable years around “communists,” “anti-colonialists” and other subversive influences. As a result, “he doesn’t talk about America the way John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan did, about America’s greatness and exceptionalism.”

Actually, it was Reagan, not Obama, who as a young man joined the United World Federalists, which wanted to replace the United States with a world government. Reagan was also a leader of the communist-influenced Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions (HICCASP), resigning only as communists took full control of the organization.

But the more revealing case is Kennedy. If you apply the standard Giuliani is applying to Obama to JFK, you can easily spin a narrative of subversive influences and questionable loyalty. But that standard is so absurd that only an anti-Catholic bigot would have found it convincing. Similarly, today, only someone bigoted against African Americans would suggest that Obama doesn’t love America. It’s a sad irony that the man fomenting that bigotry today is a Catholic himself.

Giuliani dates Obama’s present disloyalty to his formative influences, in particularly an African-American friend of Obama’s grandfather named Frank Marshall Davis, who in the 1940s worked with communists to fight racism. A Kennedy hater wouldn’t have to look as far: He could start with Kennedy’s own father. When it came to America’s wars, Joseph Kennedy Sr. wasn’t exactly a Giuliani-style patriot. As Edward Renehan notes in his book, The Kennedys at War, Joe Sr. dodged World War I, which he called a “sucker’s game.” And he did everything in his power to keep America from entering World War II. During his two-year stint at America’s ambassador to Great Britain in the late 1930s, Joe Sr. not only advocated appeasing Hitler, he all but sympathized with him. “As much as I dislike saying it,” he declared in 1937, “Germany is really entitled to what she is asking for.” The following year he met secretly with Germany’s ambassador to London, warning him that pro-war Jews were influencing Franklin Roosevelt.

JFK’s older brother, Joe Jr., was enamored of Hitler too. Hitler’s “dislike of the Jews,” he wrote in 1934, “was well-founded.” In 1939, Joe Jr. travelled through Civil War Spain, writing letters to his father that brimmed with admiration for the Fascist side. In 1940, with Nazi soldiers already in Paris, Joe Jr. cofounded Harvard’s Committee Against Military Intervention in Europe.

Such were the attitudes of the most influential men in John F. Kennedy’s young life. And for Kennedy-haters, the reason for their sympathy for America’s enemies was clear: Catholicism. After all, they noted, it was Joe Sr.’s Irish heritage that made him hostile to the English cause in both world wars. And it was Catholicism that made the Kennedys sympathetic to Franco’s Spain. “Do we want to get frightfully aroused by the treatment of the Jews,” wrote Joe Jr. to his father in 1941, “when Cat[holics] and others were murdered more cruelly in Russia and in Republican Spain and not a word of protest came.” If Giuliani thinks Obama’s upbringing was subversive, in other words, he’d have had a field day with Kennedy’s.

Then there’s Kennedy’s connection to “anti-colonialism,” which was arguably stronger than Obama’s. In 1951, a 34-year-old JFK travelled to India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, Singapore, Thailand, French Indochina, Korea and Japan. “If one thing was bored into me as a result of my experience in the Middle as well as the Far East,” Kennedy declared upon returning, “it is that communism cannot be met effectively by merely the force of arms.” Upon entering the Senate in 1953, Kennedy told his colleagues that, “The single most important test of American foreign policy today is how we meet the challenge of imperialism.” Not communism, but imperialism. This in the midst of the Red Scare.

Finally, although Giuliani claims Kennedy celebrated America in a way our current President does not, Kennedy actually cautioned Americans against self-righteousness in terms quite similar to those employed by Obama. Just as Obama warned Christians not to forget their own capacity for fanaticism and violence at this month’s National Prayer Breakfast, Kennedy warned his countrymen “not to fall into the same trap as the Soviets, not to see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side,” in his renowned 1963 speech at American University.

Did all this add up to a lack of love for the United States? Of course not. Kennedy professed his patriotism frequently, as does Obama. And whatever ideological heresies JFK encountered growing up, his policies, like Obama’s, fell squarely within the post-World War II foreign policy mainstream.

Only anti-Catholic bigots suggested that Kennedy was not a loyal, loving American. Rudy Giuliani is their ideological heir.