Profiles in political expediency

Braxton Boren


Many American progressives, stumped by the similarity between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have suggested a tiebreaker: Hero-worship of dead presidents. Just as Republican candidates deify Ronald Reagan, Ted Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, and other auspiciously-surnamed individuals have endorsed Obama because he reminds them of that zenith of Democratic presidents. (I’ll give you a hint: It’s not Jimmy Carter.)

The assertion that the best candidate will remind us of Reagan or John F. Kennedy is seriously flawed. Kennedy’s legacy was cemented when he was shot. But if we believe that what happened during a presidency is more important than the manner of its end, we can more effectively evaluate Kennedy’s term in office. While his minor failings (like installing a Baathist regime in a little country called Iraq) are well-known, Kennedy-ites shrug these off, saying that Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis easily excuses his blunders. But was the Crisis really Kennedy’s finest hour, or did he take the world to the brink of nuclear war?

Kennedy, a brilliant Harvard grad, author and senator (remind you of anyone?), was the ultimate Cold Warrior, continually criticizing President Eisenhower for the “missile gap” caused by supposed legions of Soviet missiles hidden throughout Siberia. While campaigning in July 1960, Kennedy was briefed by CIA director Allen Dulles on the realities of the situation. By 1961, satellite imagery fully disproved the “missile gap.”

But rather than make a profile in courage, Kennedy still stuck to his Cold Warrior rhetoric once he had won the White House. He stayed true to his virulently anti-Soviet image by installing ballistic Jupiter missiles in Turkey within range of Moscow. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev responded reasonably by installing similar missiles in Cuba. Kennedy was only able to avoid armed conflict by removing the Jupiter missiles that had catalyzed the situation. But the escalation leading to the Crisis should be blamed on Kennedy’s hubris, not Soviet aggression.

The comparison to Kennedy only rang true once Obama’s campaign reached Ohio, where he stepped away from his usual vague policy assertions to attack the North American Free Trade Agreement. Despite Obama’s obvious intellect, he decided to defy centuries of economic thought going back to David Ricardo, who showed that free trade brings long-term benefits to all participants. If American manufacturing jobs leave, it is only because we ought to be producing something better. Repealing NAFTA would hurt everyone – most notably by drastically increasing gas prices as tariffs increase on oil imports from Canada.

Obama has shown that, like Kennedy, he can inspire with lofty words and ideals. Also like Kennedy, he can steadfastly stick to popular platforms even when they are wrong. He has not, however, proved why on earth these are good reasons to vote for him. Kennedy inspired his way into an ideologically flawed presidency, and Obama is following in his footsteps yet again.

Music senior Braxton Boren can be reached at [email protected]