Tuesday, November 01, 2011

JFK and Obama

Chris Matthews has been aggressively shilling for his new book, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.  And shamelessly, using major amounts of time on his own show to do so.  That's an observation, I don't actually know how I feel about it.

But to pump up interest in the book, Matthews has been making a lot of comparisons between JFK and President Obama.  Some of his points are interesting and worth checking out (when quantitative), others are interpretations that seem at least partly colored by his admiration for JFK.  Not surprisingly, he thinks Obama is no JFK, particularly in his personal relationships with other politicians and media figures.  At times he seems to be saying that President Obama is too aloof.

Well, the two American Presidents of my lifetime that I admire the most are JFK and Barack Obama.  As Matthews must surely know, JFK was criticized in his time for being aloof, distant, too cool for school.  (And people were forever saying that what he needed to do was communicate better with the American public, and/or resurrect FDR's New Deal programs.)  Whereas President Obama gets tagged as "professsorial,"  JFK was supposedly too "reserved" and intellectual--not the gladhander his brother Joe had been, for example.  Teddy was the one who was said to have the people skills.

On the other hand, I marvel at President Obama's enthusiasm and warmth in dealing with people.  It's evident to me that he's a tactile person--he always has his hands on someone's arm or shoulder.  Compare him with eight out of ten American men, and he scores high on people skills.  President Obama is especially good with ordinary people in a way that the "reserved" JFK could not match.

Caroline Kennedy with Michelle Obama
in the White House this week.
 As for all the other ways Obama doesn't measure up to JFK (as it was said that JFK didn't measure up to FDR), I offer one compelling piece of evidence: the Kennedys.  Caroline Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy, Bobby's wife, the wife of the sitting Republican governor of California-- almost the entire surviving Kennedy clan were way out in front in embracing Barack Obama, and making the analogy of Obama to JFK (Caroline Kennedy did so explicitly in a New York Times oped.)  It was the Kennedy imprimatur that propelled Obama through some tough primaries.

These are different times--even more different than JFK's 60s were from FDR's 30s and 40s, in political terms.  I don't see that much increased chance that President Obama would be getting his jobs program through the GOPer House if he just played cards every night with Eric Cant.  So while Matthews makes some good points about Democrats who should be publicly supporting the President better, I just don't buy the idea that if Obama were more like JFK he would be so much more effective. Nor would he be cruising to reelection.  (By Matthews own admission, JFK didn't believe he was cruising to reelection in 1964 either.)  Matthews' book sounds very interesting, but I favor the Kennedy family's judgments about JFK and President Obama.

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