Saturday, March 08, 2008

Is Barack Obama the next JFK?

There seems to be a movement afoot to associate Barack Obama, a young and charismatic Democratic candidate, to another young and charismatic Democratic candidate, the late John F. Kennedy. Obama's campaign is making the most of it, naturally, even posting an article on by Ted Sorensen who worked in the White House with Kennedy as special counsel and advisor, which states:

Above all, after eight years out of power and two bitter defeats, Democrats in 1960, like today, wanted a winner--and Kennedy, despite his supposed handicaps, was a winner. On civil rights, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the race to the moon, and other issues, President Kennedy succeeded by demonstrating the same courage, imagination, compassion, judgment, and ability to lead and unite a troubled country that he had shown during his presidential campaign. I believe Obama will do the same.

In that article, he makes reference to many supposed similarities between Obama and Kennedy, including the fact that they were both first-term senators while seeking the Democratic Presidential nomination, both lacked experience and both come from a heritage that the country was simply not ready to embrace.

Interesting parallels, sure, but are they meaningful? I don't think so.

Now let's be clear, here. Sorensen knew Kennedy well. He was not some tangential player hanging around the White House. According to Pierre Salinger in his book With Kennedy:

Sorensen wore more than one hat at the White House. He was the coordinator of planning for domestic policy and had a key role in formulating JFK's recommendations to Congress. But he also continued to serve as the principal speech writer. Actually, speeches were not written for the President but with him. He knew what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. The role of the speech writer was to organize JFK's thoughts into a rough draft, on which he himself would put the final touches. His revisions would often change it dramatically.

So, far be it from me to dismiss outright what Sorensen has to say on the matter. But keep in mind what Sorensen really seems to be saying. He never makes the statement that Obama is the next Kennedy. Near the top of his article, he properly qualifies all comparisons, writing:

Different times, issues, and electors make any meaningful comparison unlikely. But the parallels in their candidacies are striking.

He goes on to say:

JFK's establishment opponents-- probably not unlike Obama's--did not understand Kennedy's appeal. "Find out his secret," LBJ instructed one of his aides sent to spy on the Kennedy camp, "his strategy, his weaknesses, his comings and goings."

This is precisely what the Obama camp seems to be doing today. They are attempting to capitalize on each and every point of similarity between Obama and Kennedy in the hope that enough of the voting public will be hypnotized by the repetition of the association to actually believe it. The strategy could well be effective, because most of the voters Obama is courting either have never experienced a President like Kennedy or don't really remember what Kennedy was like.

Sadly, today's voters have become so accustomed to politics that ranges from mediocrity to outright pathocracy, they have no idea what a truly great, or even potentially great man sounds likes. To quote Kennedy on the matter,

A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to insist upon or regard that quality in its chosen leaders today - and in fact we have forgotten.

So, in an effort to clarify the issue and compare these two men in a meaningful way, here are a few quotes from speeches by Kennedy and Obama. Have we, in fact, forgotten the quality of courage which in the past has been brought to public life? You be the judge.

Barack Obama said:

In an interconnected world, the defeat of international terrorism – and most importantly, the prevention of these terrorist organizations from obtaining weapons of mass destruction -- will require the cooperation of many nations. We must always reserve the right to strike unilaterally at terrorists wherever they may exist. But we should know that our success in doing so is enhanced by engaging our allies so that we receive the crucial diplomatic, military, intelligence, and financial support that can lighten our load and add legitimacy to our actions. This means talking to our friends and, at times, even our enemies.

John Kennedy said:

We can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture and acts of courage. Among the many traits that the peoples of our two countries have in common, none is stronger than our mutual abhorrence of war. Almost unique among the major world powers, we have never been at war with each other.

And no nation in the history of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union. In the Second World War, at least 20,000,000 lost their lives. Countless millions of homes and families were burned or sacked. A third of the nations territory, including two thirds of its industrial base, was turned into a waste land. A loss equivalent to the destruction of this country, east of Chicago.

Our primary long range interest in Geneva however, is general and complete disarmament. Designed to take place by stages, permitting parallel political developments to build the new institutions of peace. Let both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity.

It is therefore our intention to challenge the Soviet Union, not to an arms race, but to a peace race.

Let us call a truce to terror.

Barack Obama said:

Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

John Kennedy said:

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish. Where no public official either requests,nor accepts instructions on public policies from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source. Where no religious body seeks to impose its will, directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials. Where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference.

Barack Obama said:

America is a land of big dreamers and big hopes. It is this hope that has sustained us through revolution and civil war, depression and world war, a struggle for civil and social rights and the brink of nuclear crisis. And it is because our dreamers dreamed that we have emerged from each challenge more united, more prosperous, and more admired than before.

John Kennedy said:

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. Here at home, the future is equally revolutionary. The New Deal and The Fair Deal were bold measures for their generations. But now, this is a new generation. This administration has failed to recognize, has failed to recognize, that in these changing times, with a revolution of rising expectations sweeping the globe, that the United States has lost its image as a new, strong, vital, revolutionary society. A long view shows us that a revolution of national independence is a fundamental fact of our era.

This revolution will not be stopped.

Barack Obama said:

We should be more modest in our belief that we can impose democracy on a country through military force. In the past, it has been movements for freedom from within tyrannical regimes that have led to flourishing democracies; movements that continue today. This doesn’t mean abandoning our values and ideals; wherever we can, it’s in our interest to help foster democracy through the diplomatic and economic resources at our disposal. But even as we provide such help, we should be clear that the institutions of democracy – free markets, a free press, a strong civil society – cannot be built overnight, and they cannot be built at the end of a barrel of a gun. And so we must realize that the freedoms FDR once spoke of – especially freedom from want and freedom from fear – do not just come from deposing a tyrant and handing out ballots; they are only realized once the personal and material security of a people is ensured as well.

John Kenney said:

What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children-not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.

Barack Obama said:

I always believe that ultimately, if people are paying attention, then we get good government and good leadership. And when we get lazy, as a democracy and civicly start taking shortcuts, then it results in bad government and politics.

John Kennedy said:

Harry Truman once said there are fourteen or fifteen million Americans who have the resources to have representatives in Washington to protect their interests and that the interests of the great mass of the other people--the hundred and fifty or sixty million--is the responsibility of the President of the United States. And I propose to fulfill it!

And I believe it is the business of the President of the United States to concern himself with the general welfare and the public interest. And if the people feel that it is not, then they should secure the services of a new President of the United States.

Barack Obama said:

You know, there's a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit - the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us - the child who's hungry, the steelworker who's been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this - when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers - it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.

John Kennedy said:

I realize that there are some business men, who feel only that they want to be left alone. That Government and Politics are none of their affairs. That the balance sheet and profit rate of their own corporation are of more importance than the World-wide balance of power or the nationwide rate of unemployment.

But I hope it's not rushing the season, to recall to you the passage from Dickens' Christmas Carol; in which Ebenezer Scrooge is terrified by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley. And scrooge, appalled by Marley's story of ceaseless wandering, cries out, "but you were always a good man of business, Jacob."

And the ghost of Marley, his legs bound by a chain of ledger books, and cash boxes replied, "Business? Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business."

Members and guests of the Florida State Chamber of Commerce, whether we work in the White House or the State House, or in a house of Industry or Commerce, mankind is our business. And if we work in harmony, if we understand the problems of each other and the responsibilities that each of us bears, then surely the business of mankind will prosper. And your children and mine will move ahead in a secure world, and one in which there is opportunity for them all.

Barack Obama said:

That is the true genius of America, a faith in the simple dreams of its people, the insistence on small miracles. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe or hiring somebody's son. That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will be counted -- or at least, most of the time.

John F. Kennedy said:

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.