Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Barack Obama Like JFK?

Barack Obama is a very interesting candidate for president. He handily won Utah's primary, and with conservatives none too pleased with the remaining Republican candidates, many have expressed willingness to turn Utah blue.

He is a great speaker. His inspiring manner, his "Audacity of Hope", and his youth have all combined to make him a very strong challenger to Hillary Clinton's "inevitable" campaign.

Even Senator Ted Kennedy endorsed him. Not only endorsed him, but did so emphatically while comparing him to JFK. He is inspiring like Kennedy, appeals to young and old alike like Kennedy, and..... is a Democrat like Kennedy.

Except that he really isn't.

Democrats of Kennedy's day would have supported the war in Iraq.

JFK spoke out about the United State's new, changing role in world politics. He told us to face reality when dealing with foreign countries, and that it would require us to be involved with leaders we may not like, with governments we might not agree with, in conflicts that might seem never-ending.

Senator Joseph Lieberman continued this Democratic tradition, and was thrown out of the party for his efforts. Were Senator Obama to truly follow in JFK's footsteps, he'd get thrown out too.

So before we anoint him as the "Camelot Redux", let us, as President Kennedy said, face reality and realize that the Democratic Party ain't what it used to be.


Brett Garner said...

I take exception with your statement that Democrats in JFK's day would have supported the war in Iraq. Where is your evidence? We don't even know how far JFK would have gone in Vietnam, given its specious relation to the Cold War, let alone how he would feel about a war based solely on natural resources issues. It is true that a much tighter party discipline existed among the 1960s Democratic Congresses and the President, but I think it is stretching it to say how far they would go. I also believe you have wholly taken President Kennedy's Tabernacle remarks out of their context; he was expressing his hope that in the face of the intractability of the Cold War, there was room for optimism if we believe that "men and nations will pursue a variety of roads, that each nation will evolve according to its own traditions and its own aspirations, and that the world of the future will have room for a diversity of economic systems, political creeds, religious faiths, united by the respect for others, and loyalty to a world order."
I agree with you that people who want Obama to be JFK are drinking some Kool-aid. I hope that people instead look to him as his own man, and judge him in today's context and not force him into the shoes of legend our nation nearly deifies.

Anonymous said...

One interesting thing about this assertion is that, while Obama is staunchly opposed to the war in Iraq, most leading Republicans are staunchly opposed to being "involved with leaders we may not like, with governments we might not agree with . . ."

The fact is that the whole world is different, not just the Democratic Party. The real question is, would Obama be willing to part from the party if they would not face reality.

Right now I'm not sure either party is willing to face full reality. Mostly they just disagree on which parts of reality to ignore and which parts to embrace.

Tom Scharbach said...

President Kennedy did not live long enough to make a decision about whether or not the United States should commit an army to Vietnam, as Lyndon Johnson did. We do not know the decision he would have made, ultimately, although historians who have looked at the question believe that he was leaning toward limited American involvement.

Robert Kennedy, the President's brother and closest adviser, did live just long enough to lead the Democratic insurgency against the Vietnam War policies of President Lyndon Johnson, from the Senate and, toward the very end of his life, as a Presidential candidate. We know how he stood on the issue.

Whatever might have happened had President Kennedy lived, it is now clear that the Vietnam war, which we fought at such cost to my generation, was a war that should not have been fought. I do not regret my service in that war, but I do not think that it served the national purpose.

J. Doug said...

Cam, Thanks for making the delineation that Obama isn’t going to give us Camelot again. JFK was memorialized in a wonderful way and did in my belief pave the way for Pres. Johnson and Ladybird to more importantly work on human rights issues.

Obama has some really good points that make me question, but I have to admit that I worry about his experience, but don’t you on both candidates for president on the democratic side.

What interests you about him? How do you feel about McCain?


Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Cameron, I agree completely with what you write. Rewriting history to make JFK a "great President" misses the simple fact that, other than narrowly avoiding nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis (notice how it has achieved "cap status"), his record just wasn't that great. I'm no fan of the Kennedy clan, even though I am impressed with their desire for public service.

I am quite tired of the whole "Obama Camelot" garbage. Let him provide his own myth-making, his own narrative.

I'm curious, by the way. I believe you are a pretty conservative guy, although I could be wrong (our first contretemps surrounded the Gathering of Eagles, but I think we've done better since). You say nice things about Obama, but that doesn't mean you would vote for him. I think Utah going for Obama is a bit far-fetched, but I could be wrong about that, too. Anyway, this all leads up to this question: Since Obama and Clinton are virtually indistinguishable from a policy standpoint, their Presidencies would be distinguishable only through a consideration of tone and style rather than the practical differences between them; having said that, in full knowledge that a vote for one is, in practical terms, a vote for the other, would you consider voting for Obama anyway?

I honestly cannot see myself voting for McCain, for a variety of reasons. I am not hyper-partisan, but I am farther to the left than most Americans, and there are few Republicans today whose policy positions, and public personas, I find worthy of serious consideration. This doesn't mean in the future such might not be possible. If events over the past few years have moved you, however, to such a consideration - at least as a consideration if not a possibility - I guess I would like to know why.

Cameron said...

On July 26 of last year I did a TDIH post which highlighted the National Securities Act, signed by Democratic President Harry Truman. The act created the CIA, Department of Defense, National Security Council, and the Joint Chiefs.

I recieved this comment from Democracy Lover:

"Truly a day that lives in infamy. A Department of Defense that has never defended; a Central Intelligence Agency that is neither central nor, it appears, is it very intelligent; a National Security Council that has managed to make our nation less secure; and the Joint Chiefs - hardly of benefit to either the military or the civilian government.

Next time you claim support for any of these organizations, remember that they were created by liberal Democrats."

The Democratic Party of that era was full on into the "meddling" and "US imperialism" that current Republicans are criticised for.

Truman was in Korea, JFK and Johnson had Vietnam. All of them supported the military bases we have around the world, not to mention the various clandestine operations by the CIA in Europe and Latin America. Ironically, it was Republican president Eisenhower that warned against the "military industrial complex".

This is not a criticism of the Democratic Party. I am merely pointing out the huge shift that has occured within the party since JFK's era.

I'll get to my thoughts on Obama and McCain in a bit, when I have more time than I do this morning.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I would hardly defend previous Democratic Presidents and their imperialistic policies. The National Security Act, effect, overturned the several Constitutional provisions, placing far too much discretion in the hands of the Executive at the expense of the Legislative Branch.

Was Korea a mistake? In his history of the war, In Mortal Combat, historian John Toland shows that neither Mao Tse-tung nor Josef Stalin were aware of Kim Il-sung's intention to invade South Korea; after the initial invasion, both insisted that moving the DMZ south of the 38th parallel would only create greater problems. When it became clear that the North had not planned for a long campaign (the North Korean forces were running out of ammunition, fuel, and food even as they seemed on the verge of over-running the Pusan beachhead), the Chinese reluctantly sent "volunteers", but only on the condition that Kim change his war plans to maintaining his own sovereignty in the face of a possible UN overrun of his country. It was MacArthur's decision to threaten Chinese integrity at the Yalu River Bridges that brought the Chinese in in force.

That history lesson aside, I would say that, while one could hardly celebrate various American imperial adventures in the first two decades after the Second World War, I would also caution that there was a country, run by a single, far-from-stable individual, who was quite willing to fill in the gaps should America relinquish its imperial role. The Communist Party nearly took over Italy and France; Soviet forces didn't retreat from Prague, Vienna, or the Elbe as was required under the cease-fire agreements. German POWs in Soviet hands simply disappeared, as suddenly cholera, typhus, and other diseases seemed to break out in Soviet camps (all those bullet holes? don't bother worrying about them). We shouldn't even mention what happened to Soviet POWs held in German camps, except to say that those not shot outright spent years if not decades in gulags as traitors.

All this is to say that imperial powers tend to act imperially, and while the actions of the United States are hardly defensible, considered within the context of the time, especially Stalin's brutality and ruthless approach to protecting his country - I'm not sure any other actions would have been seriously considered, or were viable.