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They don't know Jack

Recently, Hillary Clinton caught a bit of flak after comparing herself to President Kennedy. Other candidates have also made comparisons, and it occurred to me that it might be entertaining to take a look at some aspects of our 35th president -- and which current candidates might best embody them.

Of course, I'm no Kennedy scholar (after all, I was born almost four years after he died), but I've read a bit about the man, so I figure why not?

Religion: Kennedy was the first Catholic to be elected president. At that time, there was a great deal of anti-Catholic bigotry. Kennedy not only overcame that, but managed to turn it to his advantage, making a vote for him a vote against prejudice.

This time around, one candidate stands out as a member of a faith looked down upon by many. Mitt Romney looks to be the first Mormon to serve as president. If anyone can bring Mormonism more into the mainstream of American culture, it won't be Harry Reid.

It also occurs to me that Romney is probably a better Mormon than Kennedy was a Catholic, but I am getting a bit out of my element on that one.

Appearance: Kennedy was a remarkably handsome man. (This is even more out of my fields of expertise than comparative theology, so if any distaff or "don't ask/don't tell" readers would like to disagree, I'll cheerfully defer to them.) There are no shortages of good-looking candidates, but John Edwards is too "pretty." Again, I have to give the nod to Romney.

Charisma: There was something magnetic about Kennedy. People liked him, wanted to follow him, wanted to be around him. The only candidate with anywhere near that level of appeal would have to be Barack Obama.

Military background: John Kennedy was a decorated war hero who bore the scars of battle to his dying day. Only one candidate even comes close to that standard -- and, it can be argued, surpasses it: John McCain.

Senatorial experience: JFK was a senator for eight years before being elected president. But Kennedy had previously spent six years in the House of Representatives, as well as a military background and the advantage of being the son of an ambassador. While John Edwards (one full term, didn't run for re-election when polls showed he'd lose) and Barack Obama (first six-year term will end in 2010) might cite their own experience with Kennedy's, the one who can claim that with the greatest accuracy is Hillary Clinton -- who served eight years as First Lady and would have eight years of Senate service under her belt if she were to be elected.

Spouse: Jacqueline Kennedy was much beloved by the nation -- indeed, the world -- and one of JFK's greatest assets. Bill Clinton is far more polarizing, but there's no denying his popularity -- and his role as one of Hillary's greatest assets (and liabilities -- see below).

Overbearing male relative seen by some as the "power behind the throne:" Jack Kennedy's father, Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, was one of the most admired, feared, and reviled figures in American politics for decades. Many worried that he would use his son as a proxy to further his own ambitions. This is the flip side of Bill Clinton's value to his wife's campaign. He's pretty much as loathed as he is loved.

Intellect: John Kennedy was seen as a scholar of history, a "deep thinker" as well as his other attributes. Among the current flock of candidates and would-be candidates, only one stands out as a scholar: Newt Gingrich.

Sexual peccadilloes: John Kennedy was, to be blunt, a hound. His frequent, habitual infidelities were cheerfully covered by his sycophants in the Press Corps. While other candidates have their own indiscretions, one of them stands (so to speak) head (again, so to speak) and shoulders above the rest, with three marriages, numerous affairs, and even serving one wife with divorce papers while she was hospitalized with cancer: Newt Gingrich again.

Military policy: Kennedy won election based, partly, on his hawkish views. For heaven's sake, he managed to be more anti-Communist than that old Red-baiter, Tricky Dick Nixon. While no candidate comes across as anywhere near as strong on that front, only one can claim to have actual experience with fighting terrorism -- and seeing up close and personal just what is at stake: Rudy Guiliani.

Economic policy: I'm even further out of my field on this one than when I was discussing relative attactiveness of men and comparative theology, so I'll just give this one a pass and let others tackle it -- if they wish.

Political machine: The Kennedy machine was one of the greatest political forces this nation has ever seen, but it saw its peak in 1960. It is still a very, very potent force in Massachusetts and other parts of New England, but it hasn't really been a national force in about 27 years.

During the 1990's, Bill Clinton did everything he could to become a "foster Kennedy." In that process, he managed to assimilate a great deal of the Kennedy machine's national power into his own -- and he's kept a pretty good grip on that. He's currently putting that fully behind his wife's campaign.

So, can any single candidate honestly claim to be the "heir" of John Fitzgerald Kennedy? I think not. Historical figures tend to be larger than life, and martyrs even more so. His legacy has grown to mythic proportions, and that's simply too big for any one person to shoulder.

Especially with the 24/7 news cycle and information explosion, which tends to dig until it finds -- or manufactures -- feet of clay to put on our public figures.

Hell, I don't think that even Jack Kennedy could be another Jack Kennedy today.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference They don't know Jack:

» Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Edwards Struggles to Keep 2004 South Carolina Supporters

» bRight & Early linked with First Cup 03.21.07

» The Thunder Run linked with Web Reconnaissance for 03/21/2007

Comments (38)

"There are no shortages of ... (Below threshold)

"There are no shortages of good-looking candidates, but John Edwards is too "pretty." Again, I have to give the nod to Romney."

I would really, really (really) like to see you expand on this one.

What about Edwards makes him "too pretty?" His eyes? Smile? What is it about Mitt that you find to be so attractive?

Please expand. If you could do a whole post, even better.

And on jp2's comments, cue ... (Below threshold)

And on jp2's comments, cue the video:


HAHAHA what a great video!<... (Below threshold)
Village Idiot:

HAHAHA what a great video!
Wait a minute, I'm going to have to keep quiet or I'll have to go to rehab.
HAHA! I get Coulter's joke finally!
Did everyone know about this video but me?

What about Edwards makes... (Below threshold)

What about Edwards makes him "too pretty?" His eyes? Smile?

It's more about general concensus or perception with the public than an actual quantifiable characteristic. The media and conservatives have acted (and presumably overreacted to some people's way of thinking) to the perception that he is too pretty or too feminine and that idea has stuck.

Much like the perception of Dan Quayles' intelligence, once the idea was set that he was a dolt, the image got a life of its own, whether right or wrong.

Nicely done Jay. The only p... (Below threshold)

Nicely done Jay. The only part I would take exception to is your assertion that Guiliani has experience "figiting" terrorism. I am in no way negating the marvelous way in which he handled the aftermath of 9/11 but as mayor of a city he certainly has no experience "fighting" terrorism. As far as I know none of the candidates do.

As Hugh says, nice job. I f... (Below threshold)

As Hugh says, nice job. I feel you were remiss in leaving out one Clinton comparison to Kennedy: If JFK gets 'credit' for being the son of an ambassador, HRC should also be credited for being the wife of a Governor.

It's a very minor point, I concede, but necessary, I feel, for the sake of fairness and accuracy.

I would really, really ... (Below threshold)

I would really, really (really) like to see you expand on this one.Posted by: jp2 at March 21

Considering the conclusion is purely a subjective matter who cares?

It would be more interesting to hear why you care, looking for another Coulter "faggot" moment to toss your usual trash around the place?

Very good job overall. Two... (Below threshold)

Very good job overall. Two minor quibbles, you mentioned Gingrich and intellect in the same sentence and you weren't impuning him for his lack of it. Idon't care how many books he's written, he's never impressed me with his cerebral prowess.

Secondly JFK was very young when he was elected President. The vigour of youth (along with his good looks and charisma that you mention) probably contributed significantly to the perosnality cult that surrounded him. As far as this goes, that another point for Obama. Of course youth also carries with it inexperience, which may well be seen to be a negative in a presidential candidate.

You sure it wasn't JFK, Joh... (Below threshold)

You sure it wasn't JFK, John F'n Kerry she was talking about? That's a match, without the Vietnam general imitation.

"Of course youth also carri... (Below threshold)

"Of course youth also carries with it inexperience, which may well be seen to be a negative in a presidential candidate."

Yuh think?

So I'll wade into the fray ... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

So I'll wade into the fray on the economic thing. JFK's position, as I understand it, combined some pro-growth policies (e.g., tax cuts) with liberal positions on social spending. Of the six best-known candidates, I'm not really coming up with one that fits that description. Here's what I've got:

Clinton: out-and-out socialist. Either she buye the Keynesian theory that the economy is driven by government spending, or she just doesn't care. It's hard to tell which.

Edwards: populist. Not really a coherent position, and quite hypocritical when it comes to his own well-being vs. that of other successful people.

Obama: hasn't really committed himself, but from what he has said, it's safe to assume that his economic views are mainstream liberal. He probably believes in an essentially regulated economy, but not the government takeovers that Clinton favors.

Guiliani: He makes statements in favor of pro-growth policies. He is somewhat handicapped by the fact that he presided over one of the most highly taxed and highly regulated cities in America. However he can claim, with some justification, that NYC tax and regulatory policy was beyond his control. He can point to New York's record of economic growth during his tenure. The field is still open for him. He may be the one candidate that eventually comes closest to the JFK position.

Romney: He is in a similar position to Guiliani, having presided over a high-tax, highly regulated state, but being able to plausibly claim that he had no control over those policies. In fact, he might be able to claim that he succeeded in checking state government growth during his tenure. However, unlike Guiliani, he doesn't have much of a record of economic growth to point to.

Gingrich: By far the most laissez-faire candidate of the ones named here. Gingrich is the only candidate that will outright favor cuts in social spending. In this regard he is very unlike JFK.

Gosh ou think that she woul... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

Gosh ou think that she would have learned from bill about sticking ones foot in ones mouth after all bill did it quite a bit

A thousand years from now, ... (Below threshold)

A thousand years from now, nobody will think much about anything that happened around this time in history, except for one thing Jack Kennedy did: he decided that America would go to the moon.

People won't think much more about Republicans or Democrats than we think about Whigs or Mugwumps.

Long after they've forgotten Clinton, the Bushes and pretty much everything else about Jack Kennedy, they'll remember Kennedy's decision to go to the moon. Because the long run future is all about space. If we have a future...

If you want to go with the ... (Below threshold)

If you want to go with the odds, P, our best chance is probably to just make sure we broadcast DNA in all directions. Let 'er rip. It much increases the chance to sow the wind rather than to expect a hothouse creature to transplant.

Kim --Gregg Easter... (Below threshold)

Kim --

Gregg Easterbrook----who I believe falls on your side of the political spectrum----said something I agree with. The human race is like a poppy seed; we'll blossom into a beautiful flower...unless we end up backed into a bagel!

I share his qualified optimism...

I meant "baked" into a bage... (Below threshold)

I meant "baked" into a bagel.

From here, that bloom looks... (Below threshold)

From here, that bloom looks more like a red tide than a red blossom.

LOL!... (Below threshold)


Good post Jay, but :"The Ke... (Below threshold)

Good post Jay, but :"The Kennedy machine was one of the greatest political forces this nation has ever seen, but it saw its peak in 1960"...is ALL WET! Having to send Ol' Joe hat in hand to a crooked judge's office in Chicago, IN PERSON to bribe Sam Giancana in cash, and with silent partnership to his beloved liquor importing concerns, and the Merchandise Mart, AND carte blanche federal police protection, and then to send Teddy county to county in West Virginia with $2,000,000 cash, to buy-off county sheriffs who controlled the polling places? That ain't a machine. Maybe they were building one, but it was ad hoc in 1960. Remember, LBJ blackmailed himself onto the ticket the night before the JFK Dem. acceptance speech. Smathers was JFK's acknowledge choice as veep. And , of course, when Kennedy let it slip he replacing LBJ in '64, Lyndon called the double-crossed Giancana who called Trafficante who called Sicily which called the Corsicans, whose best mechanics were flown to Miami and then driven to New Orleans to Marcello's supply house and then to Dallas. What resulted there, plus Jackie's inane Life magazine interview, and a re-writing of history has created an AURA, that some call a MACHINE, but it's just sentimental claptrap. ("I LIKE!,I LOVE") Effective in New England, granted!

I'm of the mind that "there... (Below threshold)

I'm of the mind that "there were giants in those days". Even flawed giants.

Kennedy became enlarged in death, but he was still president during an interesting time----with events like the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Still, as personalities, Johnson and Nixon were (in my opinion) more complex and intersting...in part because they were in power longer and we got to know them better.

I mean, Johnson----the Texa... (Below threshold)

I mean, Johnson----the Texan who pushed for and signed the Civil Rights bill of 1965? And Nixon, the red-baiter who visited China and had detente with the Soviets? THAT's interesting!

publicus, Check out "Did We... (Below threshold)

publicus, Check out "Did We Go To the Moon?" on Google video. Good stuff!

Correct me if I'm wrong, bu... (Below threshold)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't JFK's being reelected far away from being a sure thing? And yet, everyone fondly remembers him as if he won two landslides (like Reagan).... I read somewhere that Kennedy's assasination is what salvaged his legacy for the history books. And yet everyone wants to be compared to him. Hmmmm...

publicus: scratch the moon ... (Below threshold)

publicus: scratch the moon video. I guess they yanked it in the recent copyright purge, It was a Fox production. It rocked, though!

BryanD - I've seen stuff on... (Below threshold)

BryanD - I've seen stuff on the "faked" moonlanding thing; not buying it...

Jo --

JFK wasn't that popular, but Americans overall were relatively good-natured and forgiving of whoever was in the White House. That ended with Nixon...and we've had (more or less) greater bitterness ever since, I think...

JFK barely won in 1960. (and there were questions about that election, particularly about irregularities in Chicago). JFK was in Dallas, in large part, to try to increase his chances of winning in that very important state.

That's not true about Ameri... (Below threshold)
Village Idiot:

That's not true about Americans being good natured and forgiving of presidents -- much of the public hated Truman while he was in office. It was only after he was gone that people appreciated how great and right he was.

Village Idiot--You... (Below threshold)

Village Idiot--

You are right; Truman was given a really rough time; I think FDR was a tough act to follow...

Truman: horrible president.... (Below threshold)

Truman: horrible president. Lackie to a lackie of the Chicago mob which controlled Kansas City. As president, "promoted" generals above the chain of command, so they could play day-and-night card games in the White House and get a government paycheck. These generals also pilfered for the Boys, and at least one was charged. And who can forget Alger Hiss, communist spy as the #2 man in the US delegation to UN founding on Frisco? He'd been warned, publically and privately. Other well-known spy rings from FDR's AAA were notorious and had been moved UP. Signed on to USSR'S 3:1 Security Council weighted voting scheme. Didn't object that all Korean War US intelligence and battle orders should ALL be relayed via UN HQ which Soviets supervised. In short, there were good reasons he could not have won the 52 election. Also, his A-bomb attacks did not achieve V-J, it was the Red Army landing on Japanese territory, destination:Tokyo. Chalk up the idiots falling for the Truman Myth to James Whitmore's "Give 'em Hell, Harry!". Entertaining, but 100% BS.

bryanDirtbag--it it just me... (Below threshold)

bryanDirtbag--it it just me,or have you gone off your rocker more then usual. Your posts makes abouts as much sense as Ramsey Clarks rants does.

jhow66: Well, I could dice ... (Below threshold)

jhow66: Well, I could dice my comments in to fortune cookie wrappers like Kim. But I don't like to skuew the comments count. This way, before you're eyeballs spin too wildly, your brain can be scrolled out of danger. I'm looking out for you!

"skew" that's the ticket! (... (Below threshold)

"skew" that's the ticket! (One of those words one says but seldom writes. OOPS! comments count!)

Liked Guiliani. Liked him a... (Below threshold)

Liked Guiliani. Liked him as mayor of my city. One problem - he has a head the size of a watermelon. You can't see that on tv, but "damn!", that boy got a large head.

hansel2, look how the FBI h... (Below threshold)

hansel2, look how the FBI has declined since the death of Hoover and his unwritten minimum hat size requirement (7 1/4)

Yeah..Robert Plant of Zeppe... (Below threshold)

Yeah..Robert Plant of Zeppelin fame has a huge coconut too...SCARY BIG!! How'd they get that one past us in the 70's? Too many spleef's?

bryanD:See that lo... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:


See that long button to the right of your right-hand? That's called an "ENTER" key. It's used to create a new line, whence comes a new paragraph. Paragraphs are real handy things to help make a incoherent posting at least a little more readable.

Learn to use it.

"GORE: The planet has a fev-ah, and the only prescription is more cowbell!"

Too many spleef's?<... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

Too many spleef's?

Spliffs, my man, spliffs.

James Cloninger, THA... (Below threshold)

James Cloninger,
======(C)KIM ============
C)KIM =============

At least Kim's multiple pos... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

At least Kim's multiple posts are readable.






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