From this week's The Week magazine
Obama: Is he the second coming of JFK?
“The arc of Barack Obama’s rise has passed through three distinct phases,” said Shailagh Murray in The Washington Post. First he was the intriguing newcomer. Then he was a serious challenger. As he continues to battle
Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, inspiring crowds and preaching the politics of hope, Obama has entered phase three, with some Democrats proclaiming him as the spiritual successor to one of the Democratic Party’s greatest heroes—John F. Kennedy. Like JFK, said Eileen McNamara in The Boston Globe, Obama “was a relative unknown only four years before he boldly sought the presidency.” Like JFK, he’s got youth, vigor, and eloquence. His endorsement by two of the country’s most famous
Kennedys last week cemented the comparison. “There was a time when another young candidate was running for president and challenged America to cross a new frontier,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy. JFK’s daughter, Caroline, declared, “We need a change in the leadership of this country—just as we did in 1960.”
Oh, please, said Sean Wilentz in the Los Angeles Times. Sure, Obama has JFK’s optimism and charisma. But in terms of credentials, there’s no comparison. “By the time JFK ran for president, he had served three terms in the House and twice won election to the Senate.” A decorated World War II veteran, he closely studied foreign affairs, and served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Obama’s eight years in the Illinois legislature and uncompleted single Senate term can’t hold a candle to that record. His lack of experience calls to mind what another great Democrat, Harry Truman, advised JFK when he ran in 1960: “May I urge you to be patient?”
Kennedy didn’t heed that advice, said David Brooks in The New York Times, and neither should Obama. Another Clinton presidency would only plunge us back into the political bitterness that began with the culture wars of the late 1960s. Obama, on the other hand, promises a return to the nonpartisan idealism of Kennedy’s New Frontier. He’s calling America to take “the high road,” to transcend differences, to embrace service instead of selfishness. At times, said Evan Thomas in Newsweek, Obama does have an almost
eerie ability to channel JFK with speeches that “make audiences weep with longing and nostalgia” for a less cynical age.
As an Obama volunteer myself, said Robert Baird in the Chicago Tribune, I find this generational nostalgia more creepy than moving. Kennedy was elected nearly a half-century ago, and the youngest people to have voted for him are now 68. Marketing Obama as the candidate of the future by linking him to the past is more than a little ironic. Besides, being likened to JFK isn’t necessarily flattering, said Froma Harrop in The Providence Journal. Kennedy was, at best, a very flawed president, given to reckless behavior and mistakes borne of inexperience and youthful arrogance. “The more we learn about his Camelot, the less perfect it sounds.”
Still, the media really loves the idea of Obama as the second coming of JFK, said Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post. Chalk that up to a serious case of “Kennedy envy.” Today’s young journalists know that the country was in thrall to JFK’s charisma and his wit, and they’re thrilled at the idea of covering an Obama presidency. Those same reporters and pundits, on the other hand, are thoroughly sick of the Clintons. Let’s all please remember that this election, like all elections, is about the future, not the past, said Ellen Goodman in The Boston Globe. “It’s not about who will be the next Kennedy, but rather the next president.”