It is a testament to how shallow our politics have become that an op-ed by Caroline Kennedy appears in the New York Times comparing Barack Obama to her father, John Kennedy. "A President Like My Father" cites Obama's ability to bring hope to the American people and inspire them to get involved in our collective future. Of Obama, she writes "I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans". It may be understandable that Caroline Kennedy sees her father as an inspiring, towering figure in American history -- a man of great ideals who could move the nation. She was a young girl not quite six years old when her father was struck down by an assassin's bullet -- and her understanding of her father's life and legacy is unavoidably tied to the memories of "Camelot" as told to her through the eyes of ordinary Americans who were forever changed by his death. John Kennedy is now inexorably intertwined with his image as a new generation of leader, young, articulate, fresh -- with a classy wife in Jackie and two young children in the White House. It was then, and remains now, a tremendously attractive image.
On this cursory level, perhaps, you can make a comparison of Kennedy and Obama as young, urbane, well-educated and handsome leaders. They both exude a sense of hope and promise for a new generation of leadership to take over the entrenched interests in Washington. And both use soaring rhetoric that can be truly inspiring. That was evident again last night in Obama's victory speech in South Carolina. Like Kennedy, he can certainly turn a phrase.
But that's as far as the comparison goes. On substance, Kennedy and Obama are worlds apart. Kennedy was a liberal of the old school -- a realist who understood that certain threats to America needed to be met with blunt force, and who believed that the use of American power for good in the world was at its core a noble, generous act. It was Kennedy who said this in his first inaugural address:
"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
Such a sweeping affirmation of the importance of America's role in securing liberty was at the core of Kennedy's foreign policy. This was borne out, overtly and covertly, in a series of military moves during his presidency: in the Bay of Pigs designed to secure Castro's overthrow, the Berlin Airlift that brought needed food and medicine after the Soviet blockade of the city, the blockade of Soviet ships in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the gradual but inexorable escalation of our military commitment to South Vietnam. In each of these cases, the goal was to maintain US security and to establish democracy in the place of a socialist brand of totalianarism, even at the cost of American lives. Kennedy was an interventionist; by today's liberal standards, he'd be a conservative hawk -- just to the left of Dick Cheney.
Obama, on the other hand, embodies none of Kennedy's commitment to liberty. He's hung much of his campaign on his opposition to the Iraq War -- a war that liberated 25 million Iraqis from tyranny and that is attempting to establish a democracy in the heart of the Middle East. While Obama is on the record as saying that he doesn't "oppose all wars" and has called for an increase of US troops in Afghanistan, he views the current struggle against terrorism as a series of skirmishes in the shadows, rather than a war against a world-wide movement of Islamic extremism. He seeks to withdraw troops from Iraq immediately, even though we now have a real chance at showing Al Qaeda that Iraq can be a success despite its best efforts at destroying it. He is on record as wanting to negotiate directly with Iran and Syria to help bring "stability to Iraq", though the evidence is clear that both Syria and Iran are responsible for the killing of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians with impunity. In sum, Obama is typical of the Left who see negotiation as a panacea, and who believe the fight against terrorism is really a law enforcement issue -- a sporadic crime wave rather than a strategic struggle for the future.
Caroline Kennedy is at least half right -- Obama is a liberal in the mold of a Kennedy -- except that it is Teddy, not Jack. He's missing JFK's conviction that our current fight against Islamic radicalism is akin to the struggle against communism that Kennedy waged during the Cold War -- and which would require a similar, methodical, steadfast commitment to "bear any burden" in ensuring the triumph of democracy and freedom.
At first glance he may look the part. But, if you dig beyond the shallow similarities, Barack Obama is no Jack Kennedy.