Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Deja Vu: 1976, not 1960

There’s been a lot of talk of Barack Obama as the 21st century’s JFK. Considering what eventually happened to JFK, I certainly hope that’s not true. I would also remind folks that JFK did not win his presidential election overwhelmingly; in fact, he squeaked in with a margin of victory that makes Dubya’s campaigns look like landslides. He did gain popular support over time, but If you checked the mood of the country prior to the tragedy in Dallas, you would see that JFK had a lot more charisma than actual political capital. Yes, he got us through the Cuban Missile Crisis, but he was also on the hook for the Bay of Pigs. And while it took 25 years or so for the word to get out about his sexual peccadilloes, there were plenty of folks (especially wives) who thought that Marilyn Monroe’s breathy birthday song to him was way out of line.

So JFK in real time wasn’t the young god that time has painted him into being. And an Obama presidency wouldn’t be a Camelot for the new millennium. Nobody’s presidency will be, Democrat or Republican or Ron Paul. Picking a president should be a matter of nuts-and-bolts. Both Reagan and Clinton had incredible charisma, but the success of the terms and their legacy is largely based on one’s personal political leanings. The Democratic candidates talk about bipartisan efforts to bring about change; while I assume they’re sincere, don’t forget that Dubya advertised himself as “the uniter.” The best thing to do is look at not just what a candidate’s goals and visions are for the country, but how he or she intends to make it happen. I’ll admit it’s the dry side of campaigning, but if want to know if you can support a candidate once he/she gets into office, that’s the proof of the pudding.

Actually, my thought is that Obama reminds me not so much of JFK as he does Jimmy Carter. Carter was the white knight on the horse to take us away from the dark days of Nixon & dirty politics. (Yes, I realize he was gone & Ford was in place, but the stain was too deep & fresh to give him a fair shake.) He had charisma, he galvanized the electorate, and he dug the Allman Brothers. He called himself Born Again and was interviewed in Playboy. During the campaign, the man could do no wrong. Then he came into office and tried to make all the changes he promised. The problem was, he tried to force them through, viewing Congress and the ‘Washington establishment’ as hurdles to be cleared, rather than a machine to be used to his advantage. Congress may have a lot of deadweight, but it’s not going away; and if you treat it as your adversary, you’ve made an enemy you cannot afford. Today, Carter’s presidency is viewed as a great failure, which made Reagan’s election in 1980 that much easier. Today also, Carter himself is viewed as one of the great peacemakers and humanitarians, a bestselling author, election overseer in third world nations (too bad he couldn’t have done the same here at home), and volunteer with Habitat For Humanity (not just a spokesman).

Barack Obama certainly has charisma, definitely in the mold of JFK, Reagan, Bill Clinton, and yes, Jimmy Carter. He’s got drive and vision, and a lot of people are jumping on his bandwagon. Comparatively, Hillary Clinton seems too serious, too ‘old hat’. But for me, that’s exactly her appeal. Her policy visions are right in line with Obama’s, but I get a stronger impression she would know how to grease the wheels to get things accomplished. I like that in a president. Maybe she could do as well as vice-president, secretary of state, or chief of staff, but for now, I want to see her as president.

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