Obama is just like Jack Kennedy!

Summary:  There is no need to read the daily news when one can remain current by reading David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest.  It’s better written than any daily paper, and more informative about today’s events (by virtue of the perspective it provides on them).

Many of Obama’s supporters claim that he’s similar to Jack Kennedy.  They are so right.  Today’s example comes from Glen Greenwald, Salon, 12 October 2009:

As for the “you-have-to-wait” justification, here’s the time-line of the Democratic Party mentality on all such matters:

  • 2004-2006:  “You have to wait until we win a Congressional majority in the 2006 midterms.”
  • 2006-2008:  “You have to wait until we win the White House in 2008.”
  • January-May, 2009:  “You have to wait until we have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.”
  • Currently:  “You have to wait until after the 2010 midterms so we preserve our majority” or “you have to wait until Obama is safely re-elected in 2012.”

Once Obama is safely re-elected, it will be:  “you have to wait so you don’t jeopardize the 2014 midterms.” That’s the mentality that produces majority power which exists for no real purpose but to perpetuate itself.

A voice from the past shows the similarity:  Chapter 7 of The Best and the Brightest:

Yet if there was a problem with the pragmatism of the period, it was that there were simply too many foreign policy problems, too many crises, each crowding the others, demanding to be taken care of in that instant. There was too little time to plan, to think; one could only confront the most immediate problems and get rid of them piecemeal but as quickly as possible, or at least postpone any action. Long-range solutions, thoughtful changes, would have to wait, at least until the second term.

And thus it was the irony of the Kennedy Administration that John Kennedy, rationalist, pledged above all to rationality, should continue the most irrational of all major American foreign policies, that policy toward {Communist} China and the rest of Asia. He was aware of the change in the Communist world, he was aware of the split between the Chinese and the Russians; it was, he realized, something very important. But he would deal with it later. Early on, when Stevenson and Bowles repeatedly mentioned China to Kennedy, saying that the policy was absurd and that it was urgent to try to change it, Kennedy would smile and agree and say yes, it was a stupid policy, but it would all have to wait. Until the second term. It could not be changed now. There was a limit to the things he could do.

… it was one of the wonderous things which would take place in the second term. …


“Wait for a better time to do important things.”  The sad thing about this logic  is that it’s self-defeating on two levels.

(1)  By encouraging timidity, it prevents the risk-taking that creates major accomplishments and electoral victory — like a football team that’s afraid to pass.

(2)  For most people in the White House, this is their one chance to make a difference on a large scale.  There’s little to be gained by focusing on neatly spelled memos that produce no results, leading to a lifetime of “if only I had dared” regrets.  Both career logic and personal satisfaction suggest boldness. 

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the following:

Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.

Other notes from the past on the FM site:

  1. Our futures seen in snippets of the past, 16 June 2008
  2. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris, 7 July 2008
  3. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  4. Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
  5. Can Americans pull together? If not, why not?, 29 August 2008
  6. Napoleon’s advice to President Obama about the financial crisis, 29 April 2009
  7. A wonderful and important speech about liberty, 23 July 2009
  8. A warning from Alexis De Tocqueville about our military, 7 August 2009
  9. Another note from our past, helping us see our future, 16 September 2009
  10. A note from America’s diary: “My power proceeds from my reputation…”, 22 September 2009 
  11. Seeing today through the eyes of a future historian, 25 September 2009


Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

14 thoughts on “Obama is just like Jack Kennedy!”

  1. Might there not be something about our political process that cuts out risk takers, innovators? Perhaps it is the immense power of institutional elites in the parties, people who’s greatest interest is perpetuating their own power? Becoming President requires years and years of making friends, forming alliances and contacts and pleasing the right people. I suppose the nature of the US government, that it is so huge, so complicated a mechanism, that once it starts moving in a certain direction it can take immense effort to stop it and get it going in a new one, doesn’t help matters.

    In theory, at least, the only eheck on this kind of institutional conservativism is supposed to be rational discussion as to the best measures to be taken. But for such a discussion to be politically efficacious (to actually effect policy outcomes) there must to be a constituency that is interested in such a debate and in politically backing the results of that debate. In other words, there is no viable public sphere in which such a discussion could take place and where it could effect policy outcomes. Even if you were able to change a bad policy backed by institutional elites, the political benefits of accomplishing this may not materialize before the next election cycle and in the mean time, you’ve incurred a political cost.

    Without a public sphere, the government might be thought of as being like a fish. It only has an attention span of 8 seconds.

  2. JFK’s experience with fiasco at the bay of pigs should serve as a warning to Obama.
    An inexperienced President trusted the experienced old hands and was lead over the cliff by them. Luckily by the time the Cuban missile crisis arrived he had done a huge amount of foreign policy homework and was able to see the institutional biases.

    Robert Kennedy: “Then what do we do?”
    Maxwell Taylor: “Go to general war, if it’s in the interest of ours.”
    President Kennedy: “You mean nuclear exchange? “
    Maxwell Taylor: “Guess you have to.”

    Obama has a government packed full of the same people.

    >Might there not be something about our political process that cuts out risk takers, innovators?

    Yes it’s a democracy and the politicians can’t stray too far away from what the American people are comfortable with. The decline of the empire is making Americans more conservative which is shutting down the willingness to tolerate innovation. Instead everything has to be couched in the veneer of the “good old days”.

    Take a look at most other countries political debates they don’t constantly refer back to their own past nearly as much as is the case in America where references to the founding fathers, constitution, WW2 leaders etc etc etc are a staple.

    In contrast the future is only vaguely alluded to and with some dread.

  3. Bold steps frequently go badly wrong . From the Hitlers to the little guys who set up a business and end up sleeping alone in a charity hostel .

  4. I have a brilliant comment to make in reply to this, but I have been making many comments lately and feel the need to preserve my “comment capital.” Accordingly, folks, you’ll have to wait ’til the time is ripe for me to post it.
    Fabius Maximus replies: As you will learn from a post later this week, leaving the National Security Agency hanging, waiting to hear your thoughts, can be hazardous. Only God knows the limits of their ability to hack files on your pc, or perhaps from your neurons.

  5. Re#5
    We are sovereign posters, able to print fiat comments at will. Our only capital constraint is therefore not preservation of comment capital, rather, it is sustaining the purchasing power of our comments in the world of ideas.

  6. We are sovereign posters, able to print fiat comments at will. Our only capital constraint is therefore not preservation of comment capital, rather, it is sustaining the purchasing power of our comments in the world of ideas.

    Are you suggesting that lack of comment appreciation might be tantamount to comment depreciation?

  7. Re#8
    Your comments in my experience are more like gold. I’d happily have some now, though later is fine too.

  8. What happened to the peculiar star voting system that appeared on this list ?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Turned off due to low usage.

  9. BL: Mark Twain, “History does not reap itself- at best it sometimes rhymes”.

    While comparison to the JFK crisis is valid, a comparison to the “trustbuster” Teddie Roosvelt and his “Square Deal” to regulate those “too big to fail” (i.e. vertical and horizonatal monopolies) is in order.

    At least JFK was not having to manage failures of wall street and main street. Lucky he inherited from the previous administration sound pay-as-u go economic policy (i.e. taxes), tremendous manufacturing base not outsourced by NAFTA, WTO, or contracts with america. Not to mention the biggest infrastructure project in history…our Federal [Aid] Highway Act.

    Bio of Teddy Roosevelt
    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree. We can gain inspiration and ideas from our past, but our solutions must match the unique circumstances of our time.

  10. I remember Jack Kennedy, (er, at least especially his assassination when we were sent home), and Obama is NO Jack Kennedy. To get a better economy, Kennedy favored … tax cuts. And the economy grew.

    Like under the media-hated Bush. Obama-Crats hate tax cuts, hate letting productive folk keep their production; they sincerely believe in the moral superiority of ‘the state’ — when it’s a Dem Party state.

    Their Bush-hate was exaggerated due to a desire for bigger Bush-like gov’t, but without Bush! So Obama is giving the US all the Bush gov’t gave, plus more.

    Tax cuts would have kept the US as the reserve currency, as well as leading us out of a recession faster. But slower to socialism.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for so nicely stating the insanity that has rotted away the solvency of America. No need to pay for anything! Tom advocates borrowing — now and forever. Until they ring the curtain down on America.

    Also nuts is the monomania that believes the same medicine works always and everywhere. Let’s hope that Tom’s doctor does not follow Tom’s methodology. It would be esp bad if the patient before Tom had his left nut removed, and Tom convinced the Doc that he should give the same treatment to every patient.

  11. Tax cuts for whom? The “little people” or the Fortune 500? I am still waiting for something to trickle down on me :)

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