Barack, JFK, Reagan, FDR...
Matthew Yglesias has this to say:
Bill Richardson mentioned in response to a question about whether or not "relative youth" is a detriment in Presidential politics that JFK was his idol. Among Democrats of a certain age, this seems to be an incredibly common sentiment. Barack Obama's campaign often likes to invoke JFK. And in The Washington Monthly, Ted Widmer complains that Obama is no JFK.
But from where I sit JFK, um, wasn't a very good president. His signature accomplishment was . . . the Peace Corps? Basically, boomers seem to have taken the Kennedy/Johnson years, attributed all of the Vietnam stuff to Johnson even though Kennedy initiated the policy, then attributed all of the popular domestic stuff to JFK even though almost none of it passed while he was president, and then you get a lot of hand-waving. At some point, can't we act like grownups and let this drop. The Republican hagiography of Ronald Reagan is embarrassing but the JFK business is even more detached from reality.
With respect, I'm not sure that's the point. More after the fold.
I do agree with Yglesias that the record of Kennedy's administration isn't particularly impressive from a historical perspective, for all the reasons stated above. But Kennedy inspired tens of thousands of voters to believe in him and to believe in the system. It's the fact that he has got people believing in him and that he might be someone to effect some actual change. How couldn't someone in his shoes represent change in the White House?
In the early 1960s, apparently being Catholic was pretty strange, too, for someone considering the job. Maybe that's another thing they share. Kennedy is held in a special place not because of what he did, but for what he symbolized.
Or so I'm told. I'm old, but not that old.
Since I've been conscious, the only guy who came close - and didn't get there -was Bill Clinton. Because as much as he was fun to vote for because I liked him and thought he'd do a good job, I didn't necessarily believe in HIM. Liked him? Sure. And his speeches were rewarding and impressive, and he stood for, generally speaking, what I stand for. The only other presidents I know who have inspired other voters in a remotely similar way are Franklin Roosevelt and, yes, Ronald Reagan.
Undoubtedly, there have been many others who ran and inspired huge audiences - and never took office. Surely that is one very possible outcome with Barack Obama.
But without putting the cart too far ahead of the horse, whether or not Obama wins anything else, there's a few things I can't help think about:
- For voters 42 and under, the winner of every election they've voted in has resulted in a Bush or a Clinton taking office. I've seen scores of comments about this particular thing on pro-Obama boards. If that age group shows up strong at the polls, Obama is going to be doing okay. By the way, this group includes me and while I'm obviously aware of this fact, it's really only attributable to the loathsome George W. Bush. But...if this is something people specifically don't like, Hillary truly does have problems.
- I watched Ken Burns documentary on WWII a few months ago, and was struck, as I have been many times before, with the comments by some people that they'd had photos of Franklin Delano Roosevelt hanging in their homes. And I know that some homes had Reagan's photo hanging, though I don't know any of those people personally. JFK's picture also hung in many homes across the country, and you can be sure that if Obama does win, he'll be the first President who is featured in any reasonable populace of homes in the country. Maybe I am wrong on this, but I doubt it.
- I'm genuinely suprised - and happy - that Bill Richardson doesn't seem to be on Hilary's side, and rumors persist that he'll throw his weight behind Obama if and when he drops out of the race. Richardson would be a great VP or Cabinet choice, and adds a ton of credibility, even if he's seemingly not voters choice for President.
- As much as I don't like Hilary, there's no doubt that she'd be a better president than any single person on the Republican side of the ticket. My least favorite Democrat is miles ahead of my most...acceptable Republican, who would have to be Ron Paul, despite some of his crazy ideas.
- Despite the fact that he's a batty old codger who just gleefully said he'd be happy with armed forces in Iraq for the next 100 years, the only candidate I'm hoping isn't the nominee is John McCain. The press worships him, and ignores some of his battiness, hypocrisy and the fact that often, he's just the person the press pretends he's not. But putting all that aside? He's probably smarter than any of the other candidates. However, if this truly is an election about change - and surely one exit poll isn't enough to make that a foregone conclusion - its' hard to see how even McCain is going to fare well here.
Updated: Harold Meyerson adds this:The gap between the candidates' ages (McCain is 71, Obama is 46; that's a 25-year difference) would probably be the greatest in American presidential election history. Something that would be pretty hard for voters to not notice.
- Rudy Giuliani is about gone. That's a stunningly bad campaign. Imagine - finally, a socially liberal Republican runs for President, and gets 4% in his first primary. Good times, Rudy.