Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

February 20, 2008

Open Thread: Is Obama Really JFK v2.0?

by Brad Warbiany

There have been more than a few comparisons between Barack Obama and JFK, many of them originating in the Kennedy family. JFK, of course, is one of the most-loved American presidents, but when you look at the record, you find yourself wondering exactly what he accomplished. JFK was known for many things, and for diffusing the Cuban Missile Crisis, he deserves some credit, but his presidency was largely ineffective. Whether that was due to it being cut short when he was assassinated is debatable, but you can’t really debate the fact that he didn’t accomplish much until then.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the parallels between JFK and Barack Obama, and this comment really gave me impetus to post:

What needs to happen is educated and experienced people, people with expertise in all the relevant areas need to get on board so we get some solid brainpower behind this bus of excitement. Someone who was president of Harvard Law review is exactly the sort of person we want driving a brain train towards a smarter government.

From what I’ve seen of Obama, he’s a very smart individual. And when you listen to his rhetoric, he does remind one of JFK*. Obama’s full of high-minded speeches and high-minded ideals, and is the sort that can inspire people regardless of his ability to back it up. JFK was the same, and he really inspired the generation of the time. He was clearly seen as the fresh face who had the new “big ideas” and the wonderful charisma. When you look at JFK’s cabinet, he was nowhere short of brain power in his government. And yet we still had the Bay of Pigs and the big run-up towards Vietnam. At the same time, we had a basically ineffectual Presidency that didn’t really get anything done. All the charisma and the smarts in the world didn’t actually lead to positive results.

Obama could quite easily scour the university ranks and get an average IQ in his cabinet well above MENSA qualification. But will something like that actually work? While I have no desire to see Obama get anything done, will his administration largely bumble through the process of leadership simple due to the fact that he’s a thinker, not a doer?

In general, though, this is a question for you history buffs. Where do you see similarities between Obama and JFK, both for good or for ill?

* Full Disclosure — I’m 29, so I have no actual memory of JFK. I’m going off of the speeches I’ve heard from JFK and the reading I’ve done of the history of the time.

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  • Adam Selene

    Brad, there’s some fairly decent evidence that Kruschev was trying for Gorbachev style reforms and that putting missiles in Cuba and the Berlin Wall was the price he had to pay to get the support of the military and some of the hardline Communist Party apparatchiks. The Kennedy administration had some intelligence to support this, but chose to ignore it. The Cuban Missile Crisis actually caused the downfall of Kruschev and any opportunity at Perestroika 20 years earlier than it actually happened.

    It’s not certain, of course, it’s all about reading tea leaves. But, it is possible based on some of the evidence. It may be that even that accomplishment was a serious setback.

  • Adam Selene

    The point being that Kennedy was pretty much an unmitigated foreign policy disaster and that Obama’s similarities are likely to lead to many of the same problems.

  • http://hathor-sekhmet.blogspot.com VRB

    I only see the comparison, in that his speeches are inspiring and he has a positive vision of America’s future. Other than that, he doesn’t conjure any images of JFK. Personally I see more of M.L. King Jr.

    I also say, don’t underestimate Barack Obama’s ability.

    In my life time (when I became aware of the world) I have not seen any sparkling foreign policy performance from any president. Russia’s collapse was inevitable and if you give Reagan credit for that; think of the rest of the world, southeast Asia, Central America, Africa and the Middle East during his administration.

  • http://freedomdemocrats.org/ FreedomDemocrats

    Is it fair to draw similarities between JFK and Obama on the issue of charisma and rhetoric, and then conclude that they will be the same on foreign policy?

    JFK was a complete and total foreign policy disaster, both with the Bay of Pigs and the build up in Vietnam. But he campaigned in 1960 as a Cold War Hawk, he was to the right of Nixon on that issue, and continually threw out the “Missile Gap” as a talking point.

    Obama seems the exact opposite, someone who’s been opposed to the Washington consensus in pushing for War with Iraq. I think the interesting contrast is how JFK used his rhetoric and charisma to cover up what was essentially a platform that was, except for civil rights, a surprisingly conservative platform, while Obama is using his rhetoric and charisma to cover up what is essentially a more liberal platform. He’s running as Howard Dean and winning.

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