Election 2008 Obama Politics

The Next JFK?

Barack ObamaI’m not sure why Britain’s Telegraph or Matt Drudge consider this news, but Ted Sorenson, President John F. Kennedy’s speech writer and one of his closest aides, has declared Obama is the true heir to JFK’s legacy and a better candidate or president than Hillary or Bill Clinton, including this Obama campaign talking point:

“Judgment is the single most important criterion for selecting a president. At the time of the [1962] Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy’s powers of judgment were tested as no president has ever been tested. Fortunately for all of us, he really came up with the right answers. He was 45. Obama’s 46 so he’s an old geezer.”

The main reason I find the newsworthiness of this surprising is that Ted Sorenson made this explicit in an editorial for The New Republic [subscription required, as the article is in archives] in July, concluding:

[digg-reddit-me]Perhaps most tellingly, both [JFK and Obama] preached (and personified) the politics of hope in contrast to the politics of fear, which characterized Republican speeches during their respective eras. In 1960 and earlier, cynics and pessimists accepted the ultimate inevitability of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, much as today they assume a fruitless and unending war against terrorism. Hope trumped fear in 1960, and I have no doubt that it will again in 2008.

Although President Kennedy became the breakthrough president on civil rights, health care, and other liberal issues, he was not the most liberal candidate for the nomination in 1960. His emphasis on the importance of ethics, moral courage, and a multilateral foreign policy made him–like Obama–hard to pigeonhole with a single ideological label. His insistence that the United States “must do better” in every sphere of activity, including its cold war competition with the Soviet Union, caused some historians to mistakenly recall that he “ran to the right” of Richard Nixon on national security issues, forgetting his emphasis on negotiations and peaceful solutions.

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.” Ultimately, Kennedy was both nominated and elected, not by secretly outspending or out-gimmicking his opponents but by outworking and out-thinking them, especially by attracting young volunteers and first-time voters. Most of Kennedy’s opponents, like Obama’s, were fellow senators–Johnson, Humphrey, and Symington–who initially dismissed him as neither a powerhouse on the Senate floor nor a member of their inner circle. That mattered not to the voters; nor does it today.

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.

What seemed to me more newsworthy about the Telegraph article than the headline, and the bulk of the article which made this point:

The Kennedy legacy and the aura of Camelot have been powerful but largely unspoken themes underpinning the campaign of Mr Obama, another charismatic Harvard alumnus heralding a new era in politics.

Rather, Sorenson had some harsh words for each of the Clintons–however, nowhere near as harsh as the Republican candidate or Mike Gravel are and will be. He made all the main liberal criticisms of Hillary and Bill, saying that they had and will:

  • squandered talent and opportunity;
  • continued of politics as usual – “a continuation of the Clinton-Bush 20 years”;
  • triangulated positions and compromised on core liberal values;
  • compromised the honor of the presidency – “I don’t think that it was the noblest time for the White House when the Lincoln bedroom was rented out to donors and pardons were being issued to some truly dreadful people”;
  • and of course, that Hillary will lose to the Republican candidate because too many people don’t like her and she only appeals to people’s intellects.

That’s new and news to me. And it follows a trend of many of those in the Establishment who do not believe another term of the Clintons is the answer. Certainly an improvement, but far from the answer.

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