October 15, 2008

This post is only tangentially political. It’s mostly about history and perspective.

I’ve had the fun of stumping for Obama in a couple of personal conversations lately. In both cases, my conversation was with someone of the Baby Boomer generation. In both cases, I heard something like this: “I don’t like either candidate. I want to vote for someone I’m excited about. I want to vote for someone like Kennedy.”

But in 1960, John F. Kennedy was not Kennedy. He was a young upstart senator with the audacity to run for president against an established, experienced politician. And to, astonishingly, win. Since then, he’s become mythologized to such an extent I’m not sure the people who invoke his name are really talking about the man himself, or the 1960 presidential candidate, or even President Kennedy. They’re talking about a mythologized idea of the perfect president. By that criterion, no candidate will ever be good enough.

For my part, Kennedy died ten years before I was born. For me, I might as well be talking about Lincoln: they were great men, and great presidents, and so wrapped up in legend that it’s impossible to compare them to anything that’s happening now. All I know is we’ve got this young upstart senator with the audacity to run for president against an established, experienced politician.


13 Responses to “JFK”

  1. jackie Says:

    I am glad you made that comparison, Carrie. Yes, the two men are very similar in background(my Irish american ancestors are spinning in their graves). They were both young and charismatic. They were both outsiders and minorities.

    What, you say, JFK? Yes, he was roman catholic. You know, a papist. Some questioned if he was even white. It was a bigger deal than Romney’s Mormon background. And he was Irish, a mick. We might elect him in some small local election, but the white house? no way. His election wasn’t a sure thing – even with a beautiful graceful classy wife, a distingushed military record, the right education, money, and a strong committed family behind him. He was intelligent and good looking and idealistic, but at the time no one believed he could win.

    He won because enough people cared enough to vote. They made sure they spoke up, and we got a good president who did the best he could. Let’s try it again.

  2. jackie Says:

    btw – I was 2 when JFK was assisinated. I grew up with the legend.

  3. direnine Says:

    My last history teacher in high school (this was like only a year ago) said that Kennedy was actually a useless president. What made him special were the things he ‘represented’ and how he seemed to inspire the nation. The Bay of Pigs was one of the things my teacher kept bringing up. I admit (shamefully) that my knowledge of history in general isn’t as good as it should be (but then again, it’s better than many my age.)

    I’d like to think that Obama would be more effective than JFK, though. But the only real way to tell that would be to see the man in office, right?

  4. Griggk the goblin Says:

    Hmm…may as well vote for the candidate who looks the most like Kennedy.

    My wife will most likely be voting for Obama. Myself, I’m still undecided. I have issues with both candidates, issues that get sidestepped whenever the questions arise.

    Griggk the goblin

  5. Da Wolfie Says:

    That age mention is one of my major sticking points. It seems that politics is the only career where you are not expected to retire by 65 or even 70 years old. Sure, these people have lots of experience to guide them, but they are also (in many cases) hopelessly blinded by that same experience and less able to see the changes around them.

    Why did 9/11 happen? Because old men couldn’t grasp the true possibility of the event. It had never happened before, and it was inconceivable in their hearts that someone could do such a thing.

    Why has nothing the government has done to protect us really done anything more than inconvenience and upset the people they are trying to protect? Because those years of experience have made them forget what it is like to believe in something so completely that nothing else matters. When you were a teenager, or even a 20-something, when you fell in love you fell all the way. No holding back, no brakes, the pedal went to the floor and stayed there until you crashed.

    The people we are currently fighting are in love with their beliefs, and they are deep in the throes of a teenager’s love. They will not listen to reason, they will not compromise, and they will not give up til their dying breath. And the current establishment has no idea how to deal with that. They have forgotten what it is like.

    We need a younger generation in power so they have a better chance of dealing with change and understanding the world around them. This is the way monarchies have been operating for centuries – the old King dies or retires, and the young King steps forward. Yes, he is guided by the experience of his older advisors – but it’s still the King’s decision.

    This evolution in government has powered some of the greatest nations the world has known, and it is time we remembered this.

  6. carriev Says:

    I just think that Obama will be much better at the job than McCain at this point. And I actually agree with him on lots of things.

  7. jackie Says:

    Actually, I like Obama’s team better. As I watched Bush’s presidency I hated the people he hired to work with him. They didn’t tell him what he needed to hear, only what he wanted to hear. I am not much impressed with McCain’s team either.

  8. Nonny Says:

    I joined the local Obama campaign last fall, have been talking about him in my neighborhood, where I shop, at my VA hospital. I signed up with Veterans for Obama early, sport my Veterans Support Obama button along with my http://www.idwpublishing.com/ IDW Publishing Obama button with purchase of Obama graphic novel biography.

    I remember JFK. I remember his campaign, his victory, his presidency, wearing a mantilla to mass because Jackie did, and where I was on the sad day he died. I was in sophomore algebra class. I remember walking the grey, empty streets with my steady boyfriend as everybody else watched the funeral on tv. I still cry when I think about this. I’m crying now. I want Obama for my president and Commander-in-Chief, and I want him and his family to be so well protected that he serves out two distinguished terms,

  9. carriev Says:

    Nonny, thanks for sharing your memories. I know how powerful JFK’s presence was because I can still feel it.

    And…Yes we can!

  10. smsand Says:

    While I’ve come to see the two-party system as being nothing more than two sides of the same coin, I certainly won’t fault anyone for choosing Obama over McCain, especially knowing what I know of how McCain got “nominated” (looong story).

  11. Jenn Says:

    I’ve been thinking Obama was like Kennedy since the beginning. They’re both inexperienced idealists with a vision, and as mentioned previously, they both faced great prejudice. There were people who thought electing Kennedy would mean that the Pope ruled the US.

    Kennedy has such a great legacy because he managed to inspire a nation and picked a great VP. Johnson carried through with a number of Kennedy’s programs in the Peace Corps and Space Program, plus much of the good he did with things like the Great Society (which lifted 13% of the US population out of poverty and kept them at their improved standard of living) makes people think of Kennedy rather than him. Oh, and being an experienced and powerful senator, he was able to get a good portion of Congress to support Kennedy’s plans and later his own.

    I’m a bit of a LBJ fan because I know someone who worked as a congressional intern during the JFK and LBJ years. She never met Kennedy, but apparently LBJ would sit down and have a glass of alcohol with whatever interns and staff were around the office at the end of the day and talk with them about what they thought of the current political issues. I think that’s some of what the nation needs right now: someone who will listen. Last I checked, the ideal was that everyone should have a voice in a democracy, so by not acknowledging the opposition the current administration did much to make half the country feel disenfranchised.

    I think Obama not only has the vision, but he has a lovely, classy, smart wife who will act as a sounding board for his ideas and a VP who is experienced and passionate, if not quite a powerful as LBJ.

  12. carriev Says:

    Cool story about LBJ — he doesn’t get a whole lot of credit sometimes, because of his association with the war.

  13. Jenn Says:

    Yeah, LBJ had a bad rep because of the war. Makes you wonder what JFK’s rep would have been if he had lived. Much of Kennedy’s legacy exists because he was a martyr of an idealized America.

    Makes me worry about the aftermath of the current elections some.

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