Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Kennedying of Obama: Cautionary Note

In the desperation to be rid of Bush, this has become a year of imagery shorthand. While any Republican with a pulse claims to be another Reagan, Barack Obama is seen as a new JFK.

There are parallels. As Nixon did in 1960, Hillary Clinton is invoking her experience during the eight-year tenure of a popular president. But in both cases, the actual occupant of the Oval Office undermined the chances of his would-be successor.

Eisenhower did nothing as blatant as Bill Clinton's campaign antics but, in trying to help his Vice-President in 1960, he asserted that Nixon played a major role during his terms in office. Asked at a press conference about any piece of advice he had heeded, Eisenhower answered, "If you give me a week, I might think of one."

In that campaign, as Frank Rich reminds us today, neither could Kennedy point to any significant achievement in his brief Senate career, but what he offered was change in a time when Americans were ready but not as desperate as they are now for new, younger leadership.

If anything, in his style and emphasis on rational exploration of every issue, Obama is less like Kennedy than Adlai Stevenson, another figure from Illinois, who lost twice to Eisenhower.

Stevenson, who once defined a politician as "someone who approaches every question with an open mouth," was reluctant, as Obama is now, to offer bumper-sticker solutions on every issue. But Stevenson was up against an American legend, and Obama is offering a poetic vision much like Kennedy's as an alternative to the Clintons' mixed legacy.

As he prepares to collide with them on Super Tuesday, Obama might want to recall something else Stevenson said: “The hardest thing about any campaign is how to win without proving you’re unworthy of winning.”


Anonymous said...

We may see Mike Huckabee fade into the distance but on Super Wednesday we could still have four candidates to hear from until the conventions.

That is unless Bloomberg and Algore don't jump in the pool, too.

Charles Amico said...

Regarding your comment on Clibnton's mixed record, lest we forget, it was the Republicans that brought Bill Clinton around on fiscal policies that were more main stream. I'm not a Republican either, but I am not sure what the Clinton record would have been without some attempt at Centrist politics. That is our hope with Barack Obama. He truly will reach across the aisle as he already has. John McCain use to also reach across the aisle but has lost his way when he embraced the Bush policy. People that vote for him today still remember the earlier version of McCain and he was then someone we all respected.