January 20, 2009

Mis–marketing Obama

I’m intrigued by the way that Barack Obama is being heralded as the new John F Kennedy and I wonder if the JFK star is not the one that anyone really would want to be hitched to.

Kennedy won the 1960 election by being better looking and a better orator than his opponent, Richard Nixon. But once in office, it seems that he achieved… well, not a huge amount really. True, he gave some great speeches: the inaugural “ask not what your country…”, “ich bin ein Berliner” and “we go to the moon” but perhaps we should be slapping his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, on the back instead.

Kennedy wasn’t a great one for domestic legislation. Look at what his successor, Lyndon B Johnson achieved in his term in building his Great Society.

Nor was he a great one for foreign policy achievements. The Bay of Pigs was quietly swept under the carpet and the Cuban crisis could be said to have been resolved by his going public with the information. Kruschev’s fait accompli wasn’t and a quick bit of horse trading over some obsolete missiles in Turkey and the crisis was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Both superpowers could claim victory and get on with life as before: it wasn’t about nuclear brinkmanship, but managing expectations. And Nixon possibly achieved more in his time as President in terms of foreign policy than Kennedy did.

Maybe JFK’s greatest achievement was in getting America to the moon. Whatever the merits of the manned space program it was a very tangible achievement.

So Kennedy was a great orator and so is Obama. But I, for one, have higher hopes of him achieving more in his time than Kennedy did! Of course, Obama’s party controls both houses of Congress so I imagine it will be easy for him to get busy in the first couple of years, at least!

So, why pick out the name of Ted Sorensen? Well, there is a story that six months after JFK’s inauguration following the incredibly close 1960 election, Richard Nixon ran into Sorensen and the two men got talking. Nixon said, ‘There were things in that speech I wish I’d said.’ Sorensen said, ‘You mean, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country?” ’ And Nixon said, ‘No, I was thinking more of, “I hereby solemnly swear. . . ’ ”


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