Obama May be the ‘Black’ John F. Kennedy

jfkobama-photo1

I was speaking with a colleague recently and asked him about the parallels between Obama and Kennedy.

The similarities are startling.

In 1960 Kennedy’s campaign staff knew that John F. Kennedy would defeat Richard Nixon, and it was confirmed just before their first televised debate – a debate where Nixon looked old and tired, offering the same tired solutions. Sound familiar?

The then Senator Kennedy, a Democrat, was a fresh face from Massachusetts, much like Obama from Illinois. Eventually, Kennedy’s solid performance in the debate boosted his standing in the polls. Moreover, the image of Kennedy we see is considered to be one of the most dynamic images in U.S. presidential history. Nixon, conversely, looked terrible during the debate. Nixon’s appearance cost him votes that night, despite a solid intellectual performance. Separate surveys later demonstrated this. Among those voters polled who watched the debate on television, a majority thought Kennedy won the debate. However, among those voters polled who listened to the debate on radio, a majority thought Nixon won the debate. The key here, as was the case with Obama and McCain, was that separation was achieved in the minds of the American people in favor of the younger, fresher, more appealing Democrat.

The question to ask now is whether or not President-elect Barack Obama is on the same political road as Kennedy. It may be too soon to tell, but the beginnings of a big change in American politics, and in public policy, seems afoot.

Obama attracted new voters in large numbers, primarily African-Americans and young voters ages 18-21. He also attracted young couples and young, urban professionals that became a twenty year base for the Democratic party.

Some elements of the answer are even more apparent: his high-toned oratory, his promises of reconciliation in a divisive time, a background in community organizing that suggests both idealism and a talent for problem-solving. When answering the charge that the Illinois senator lacks the record of achievement befitting a White House aspirant, Obama’s backers often stack him next to JFK. Obama is 44, they note, older than JFK was when he ran. Skeptics derided JFK, as they now do Obama, as callow and ill-versed in substantive issues. And yet Obama, similar to JFK, manages to inspire people with sex appeal, cerebral cool headedness, and a message of generational change. Maybe the most important aspect of Kennedy mirrored in Obama may be the way that JFK handled his Catholicism. In the 1960 campaign, Kennedy turned his religion from a liability into an asset. Obama did the same thing with his race.

We can only hope their presidencies don’t end the same way.

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2 Comments

Filed under Democratic Party, Election 2008, Politics

2 responses to “Obama May be the ‘Black’ John F. Kennedy

  1. Pingback: Obama: Times 2008 person of the year - JamiiForums.com

  2. Roberto

    I completely agree with this. You could also realize the fact that they both had mirrors of George Bush as opponents.

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