Thursday, February 7, 2008
My dad made a few points about the Democratic race this afternoon that I thought bore repeating. For better or worse, Obama has now effectively appropriated the legacy of John F. Kennedy. Now to my dad, who is relatively immune to glitter and the whole blang blang thang, JFK does not represent a stellar example of presidential accomplishment. And on the merits it's not a tough case to make that his myth has far exceeded his record.
But on the symbolic level, and especially abroad, the JFK aura can't be underestimated. By way of illustrating, when I still lived down in Provence, I once went to pick up my son at a friend's house. The mother of the parents was visiting, a woman in her sixties who had emigrated to France as a young woman from her native Italy. When she heard I was American, she immediately grimaced and made a remark in a heavily accented French to the effect that it was a shame we had such a moron for president. Then her gaze wondered off to some interior horizon, and she added, "Not like Kennedy. Or Clinton. Now they were good."
My dad, too, had mentioned the irony that the last politician to consistently be invoked in the same breath as JFK was, of course, Bill Clinton. In other words, in a very real way, Obama's political persona threatens Clinton's historic legacy. (It's unrelated but worth noting here that however he was regarded in the States, Bill Clinton was pretty universally adored around the world.)
The other thing I found thought provoking were the presidents my dad invoked to measure Obama. In the untested category, he offered up Truman. And in the character category, he mentioned Eisenhower. I don't often talk politics with my dad, which is a shame, because he's a real mensch and the blog would probably benefit from his insight.