Okay, let's be honest: A large part of Barack Obama's appeal has been that subtle, Kennedyesque persona. He's hip, young, good-looking, and, earnest, expressing the same hope and optimism that America fell in love with in the 1960s. Combine that with Obama's phenomenal traction among younger voters, the Harvard pedigree, a picture-perfect family and an aggressive, albeit revisionist, "anti"-war stance -- plus his new retro monochromatic wardrobe makeover, heavy on the grays and blacks, just like the good ole days of black and white television! -- it's obvious Barry has captured that Kennedy magic in a bottle.
Robert Kennedy, one could say.
The inevitable comparisons to that other Kennedy -- John F. Kennedy -- especially those made by yet another Kennedy -- Ted Kennedy -- have been, well, a quantum leap. First, you have to swallow the irony of the Obama fighting against the "past" -- the 1990s -- and political "dynasties" -- the Clintons -- by reaching further in the past to the 1960s and luxuriating in the aura of Camelot with an even longer and older dynasty. Then, there is the obvious problem: John F. Kennedy was a cold warrior, a hawk and an interventionist who escalated Dwight Eisenhower's Vietnam mini-series. Sure he inspired the youth and optimism, but if he ran today, as a Democrat, JFK would be hanging out with Sam Nunn or (shudder) Joe Lieberman.
The biggest quantum leap is the new report by WaPo's Mary Ann Akers, which broke overnight on the Huffington Post, that suggests Teddy endorsed Barry because, well, he didn't like Hillary Clinton's "praise of President Lyndon Baines Johnson for getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act accomplished. Jealously guarding the legacy of the Kennedy family dynasty, Senator Kennedy felt Clinton's LBJ comments were an implicit slight of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, who first proposed the landmark civil rights initiative in a famous televised civil rights address in June 1963."
Ah yes, the "progressive" wing of the Democratic Party, still stuck in the 1960s. It's almost as bad as last night's 1980s Reagan love fest by the frat boys on the other side.
There is always going to be some revisionism with historical figures -- Earl Ofari Hutchinson did a killer deconstruction on the recent rewriting of Martin Luther King Jr's legacy -- especially those who have died, so, let's dispense with the niceties: John F. Kennedy did propose the landmark civil rights bill and that is most of his "legacy." Actually, the record was mediocre. Just some of the highlights: Opposed the 1957 Civil Rights Acts. Used this as a wedge issue against Nixon! to help capture the "solid South" in the 1960 election. Did absolutely nothing for civil rights in his first year of office. Encouraged, told or instructed Robert Kennedy to sic Adam Clayton Powell on Martin Luther King, threatening to expose an imaginary sexual scandal with Bayard Rustin, MLK's black gay top lieutenant, to prevent a march in Los Angeles. Opposed the 1963 March on Washington. Refused to deploy troops to protect the Freedom Riders. Ignored the Albany, Georgia bus station riot. So many more lost opportunities to choose from....
In the early 1960s, obviously, JFK's attention was diverted to Cuba, Berlin, Vietnam, and, increasingly, Marilyn Monroe and other actresses. If Kennedy capitulated to the blacks, the Southern white Democrats would revolt. If he did nothing--which he mostly did--the violence would continue and world attention would focus on the inept White House. The Kennedys had a horrible relationship with Congress, so, there wasn't much the president could on his. On the other hand, by sitting on his hands, the violence quotient increased, which is why he was forced to "propose" the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. Oh yeah, this probably helped endear his family to black voters in Chicago and New York City. There was an election in 1964 ...
There were some accomplishments, usually, via his brother Bobby, who was the attorney general, and, if anything, a stronger template for an Obama comparison. Slowly began to enforce voting rights. The intervention with James Meredith at Ole Miss. And, finally, JFK and RFK were horrified by the violence in Birmingham and sent troops to force the desegregation of public facilities, including the University of Alabama. Ironically, just yesterday Obama campaigned at UA-Birmingham to a crowd of 11,000. Talk about coming full circle.
Obama is the game-changer of 2008 election the fresh new face that may make history as the first black presidential nominee of one of the major parties. The comparisons to JFK are obvious, but, if you wanted to compare him to a popular, anti-war Kennedy who captured the country's youthful spirit of the 1960s, you probably want to look to a different Kennedy. Not that any comparison is necessary.