By Luke Brinker
In his latest Newsweek column, Niall Ferguson extols billionaire PayPal founder and prominent libertarian Peter Thiel as “one of the most interesting and original thinkers in America today.”
Like most libertarians, Thiel’s opposition to big government comes with a “but” appended to it. In Thiel’s case, he supports massive government investment in research and development, which has significantly benefited tech entrepreneurs like Thiel himself. This particular line — which calls Ferguson’s praise for Thiel’s great mind into question — is particularly noteworthy:
However, when it comes to questions about health care, nuclear power, and education, Thiel readily concedes that government has a role to play—just not the one it plays today. As he puts it: “If Einstein sent a letter to the White House today, it would get lost in the mailroom and be treated as a joke. In the late 1960s, Kennedy focused on the space program and didn’t dedicate money to health care. Can you imagine the government doing that today?”
Set aside the fact that JFK was dead in 1963, so he didn’t do anything related to space “in the late 1960s.” What’s most appalling about Thiel’s remark is his suggestion that the 35th president emphasized space at the expense of health care. In fact, JFK pushed for the Medicare program that his vice president and successor, Lyndon Johnson, signed into law in 1965. (Faced with a more conservative Congress than Johnson dealt with, JFK had had difficulty passing much of his domestic program.) As this clip from one a 1962 speech at Madison Square Garden demonstrates, JFK was an impassioned advocate for universal health care:
With all that praise for Europe’s advances in the field of health, the JFK of Madison Square Garden would surely be labelled a radical Marxist by the Tea Party. Perhaps that’s why the right loathed Kennedy when he was in the Oval Office.