For the longest time, I always thought he was overrated...
He did cut taxes dramatically; His tax cut was the biggest in history until Ronald Reagan, cutting the top marginal rate from 92% (which it had been since the 1930s) to 70% in 1963. LBJ continued this tax cut into his own administration; Both of them saw that tax cuts were a good idea. LBJ's only problem was, like Bush Jr, he didn't see any problem with spending and cutting taxes at the same time.
He planned to get the US out of Vietnam by the end of 1965. Though he had increased the number of military advisors dramatically, he had no active ground fighting troops in Vientam. He saw Vietnam as a losing prospect as early as 1963, and drafted an executive order in October 1963 which ordered that 1,000 military advisors be withdrawn from Vietnam by Christmas 1963, and for the US to begin grooming the Vietnamese to handle the war themselves, with an eventual full withdrawl of US personnel except for training personnel by the end of 1965. Two days after JFK's murder, LBJ made his own executive order which invalidated JFK's plans. LBJ believed that Vietnam was a good cause, a right cause, one worth pursuing.
After some foibles with the Bay of Pigs and the Vienna Summit, JFK did, with Bobby's help, pretty much spare the world from nuclear destruction in the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962 and handled that deftly; He didn't "blink" when the USSR stared him down in that conflict.
Kennedy called his domestic program the "New Frontier". It ambitiously promised federal funding for education, medical care for the elderly, economic aid to rural regions, and government intervention to halt the recession. Kennedy also promised an end to racial discrimination. In his 1963 State of the Union, he proposed substantial tax reform and reduction, in income tax rates, from the current range of 20-90% to a range of 14-65%; he proposed a reduction in the corporate tax rates from 52 to 47%. Congress did not act until 1964, after his death. To the Economics Club of N.Y., he spoke in 1963 of "...the paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and revenues too low; and the soundest way to raise revenue in the long term is to lower rates now." Few of Kennedy's major programs passed Congress during his lifetime, although, under his successor Johnson, Congress did vote them through in 1964–65.
Kennedy ended a period of tight fiscal policies, loosening monetary policy to keep interest rates down and encourage growth of the economy. Kennedy presided over the first government budget to top the $100 billion mark, in 1962, and his first budget in 1961 led to the country's first non-war, non-recession deficit. The economy, which had been through two recessions in three years and was in one when Kennedy took office, accelerated notably during his brief presidency. Despite low inflation and interest rates, GDP had grown by an average of only 2.2% during the Eisenhower presidency (scarcely more than population growth at the time), and had declined by 1% during Eisenhower's last twelve months in office. Stagnation had taken a toll on the nation's labor market, as well: unemployment had risen steadily from under 3% in 1953 to 7%, by early 1961.
The economy turned around and prospered during the Kennedy administration. GDP expanded by an average of 5.5% from early 1961 to late 1963, while inflation remained steady at around 1% and unemployment eased; industrial production rose by 15% and motor vehicle sales leapt by 40%. This rate of growth in GDP and industry continued until around 1966, and has yet to be repeated for such a sustained period of time. There were nevertheless some painful moments, as in the stock market, which had steadily declined since Kennedy's election, and which dropped a full 10% shortly after the administration's action on the steel industry in 1962.
The major steel companies announced in April 1962 a 3.5% price increase (the first in 3 years) within a day of each other. This came just days after the companies had reached a settlement with the steelworkers' union, providing in chief a wage increase of 2.5%.
The administration was furious, with Kennedy saying, "Why did they do this? Do they think they can get away with this? God, I hate the bastards." The president took personal charge of a campaign against the industry, assigning to each cabinet member a statement regarding the effects of the price increase on their area. Robert Kennedy, echoing his brother's own sentiments, "We're going for broke...their expense accounts, where they've been and what they've been doing...the FBI is to interview them all...we can't lose this." Robert took the position that the steel executives had illegally colluded in doing this. There was genuine concern about the inflationary effects of the price increase.
The administration's actions influenced US Steel not to institute the price increase. The Wall Street Journal wrote that the administration had acted "by naked power, by threats, by agents of the state security police."[page needed] Yale law professor Charles Reich wrote in The New Republic his opinion that the administration had violated civil liberties by calling a grand jury to indict US Steel for collusion so quickly.[page needed] A New York Times editorial praised Kennedy's actions and said that the steel industry's price increase "imperils the economic welfare of the country by inviting a tidal wave of inflation." Nevertheless, the administration's Bureau of Budget reported the price increase would have resulted in a net gain for GDP as well as a net budget surplus.
As a senator, Kennedy had been opposed to the manned space program. The Apollo program was conceived early in 1960, during the Eisenhower administration, as a follow-up to America's Mercury program.
While NASA went ahead with planning for Apollo, funding for the program was far from certain given Eisenhower's ambivalent attitude to manned spaceflight. Early in his presidency, Kennedy was considering plans to dismantle the Apollo program due to its cost, but postponed any decision out of deference to his vice president whom he had appointed chairman of the U.S. Space Council and who strongly supported NASA due to its Texas location. In his January 1961 State of the Union address, Kennedy had suggested international cooperation in space. Sergei Khrushchev said Kennedy approached his father, Nikita, twice about a "joint venture" in space exploration—in June 1961 and autumn 1963. On the first occasion, the Soviet Union was ahead of America in many aspects of space technology.
On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to fly in space, reinforcing American fears about being left behind in a technological competition with the Soviet Union. Kennedy was eager for the U.S. to take the lead in the Space Race for strategic reasons. Kennedy first announced the goal for landing a man on the Moon in the speech to a Joint Session of Congress on May 25, 1961, stating:
"First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."
Kennedy later made a speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962, in which he said:
"No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space."
"We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
On November 21, 1962, in a Cabinet Room meeting with NASA Administrator James E. Webb and other officials, Kennedy said:
"This is important for political reasons, international political reasons... Because otherwise we shouldn't be spending this kind of money, because I'm not that interested in space. I think it's good, I think we ought to know about it, we're ready to spend reasonable amounts of money. But...we’ve spent fantastic expenditures, we’ve wrecked our budget on all these other domestic programs, and the only justification for it, in my opinion, to do it in the pell-mell fashion is because we hope to beat them [the Soviets] and demonstrate that starting behind, as we did by a couple of years, by God, we passed them. I think it would be a helluva thing for us."
On the second approach to Khrushchev, the Ukrainian was persuaded that cost-sharing was beneficial and that American space technology was forging ahead. The U.S. had launched a geosynchronous satellite in July 1962 and Kennedy had asked Congress to approve more than $25 billion for the Apollo program.
In September 1963, during a speech before the United Nations, Kennedy again proposed a joint lunar program to the Soviet Union. The proposal was not enthusiastically received by Khrushchev. Kennedy's death only a little more than a month later essentially made the proposal irrelevant. On July 20, 1969, almost six years after his death, Apollo's goal was realized when Americans landed on the Moon.