Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Disclaimer: I have never questioned the American citizenship of Barack Obama. If this admission makes you think that I’m a relatively sane person, good for you.
My latest nonfiction read was “Renegade” by Newsweek writer Richard Wolffe. Its subtitle, “The Making of a President,” recalls Theodore White’s ground-breaking volume authored after the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon campaign, which he covered as a reporter. I read Ted White’s book in the afterglow of Jack Kennedy’s great effort to win the Democratic nomination, going on to defeat President Eisenhower’s vice president, Dick Nixon.
That I’ve lived long enough to get involved in both elections gives me pause and, for better or worse, experience.
The parallels between the Kennedy and Obama campaigns are many. Both were sitting U. S. senators when they ran, both comparatively young, and both happy warriors whose stature increased in the cauldron of a presidential campaign. The essence of any campaign is the candidates themselves who must deliver boundless energy, commitment, and the ability to out think, outwork and outsmart their opponents.
That religion touched – and nearly torched – both men says as much about hard-to-kill prejudices than anything. Our promised freedom of religion doesn’t guarantee freedom from wrong or misguided thoughts about the other person’s faith. Kennedy addressed his Catholicism before Protestant ministers in Houston, Texas. Obama spoke to the nation’s race issue from the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. Both men chose the route of explanation even as they asked voters to judge them on their character and policies, not by a narrow religious test. America responded accordingly. That we’ve elected two such resilient presidents inside 50 years is a blessing and boon to our evolving democracy.
President Kennedy addressed hard issues like Communist expansionism abroad and civil rights for minorities and women at home. JFK also challenged us to reach for the moon, a technological leap that pushed the nation’s engineering envelope to create a near magical modern world that most of us carry in our pocket.
America was a different place in 1960. Brown vs. Board of Education won in the Supreme Court in 1954, but the principles its espoused lost in state after state as educational equality was ignored or bypassed by local officials. President Johnson’s prediction on signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964 was that “Democrats would lose the South for a generation,” which turned out to be optimistic.
In 1992, former Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton, with an “It’s the economy, stupid!” internal campaign slogan won the day, defeating George Herbert Walker Bush. At the end of Bill Clinton’s second term the nation’s budget was in balance with a surplus of $559 billion. Sadly, the last gasp of LBJ’s fear was one George W. Bush.
In the disputed 2000 election Vice President Al Gore got the most votes, but a conservative United States Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount, presenting “W” with leadership of the free world. As is the case with many sons, he tried to outdo his father by renewing the 1991 Iraq war, which in the view of neo-conservatives had ended badly. “W” then took the economy from surplus into a trillion-dollar deficit. Along the way people lost their jobs, homes and businesses. However, the rich among us got a lot richer thanks to Bush tax cuts tilted in their favor. His disastrous presidency ended Jan. 20. Coming to its senses at last, America voted in Barack Obama over John McCain. In his first six months Obama has tackled a myriad of festering national problems: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed to put the nation back on track toward recovery. Its initial effect is lower middle class taxes plus aid to help states, schools, and communities deal with the worst recession since the 1930s. This huge program is set to expend funds over three years. Crassly, its GOP doubters complain that it hasn’t worked yet. Obama’s critics are many, but as he notes “they have short memories.”
Bush’s laundry list of disasters is going to take some time to fix.
The crazies from the right are using tactics not seen since 2000 when hired goons flew from Washington, D.C., to Florida where they banged on windows demanding that the recount stop. National Health Care is the August 2009 hot topic and a lot of folks are acting stupidly. Take the woman who demanded of the president, “No government health care, and don’t mess with my Medicare.” Silliness abounds, and deserves a strong rebuttal.
Not to worry, here’s Richard Wolffe quoting Obama in the heat of the 2008 campaign: “You can walk into a room with a sunny disposition. You can smile and say yes sir, no sir, yes ma am, no ma am. And if they don’t agree with you, you’ve got the votes and you will beat them and you can do it with a smile on your face. That’s how we’re going to win an election. That’s how we’re going to bring change to this country and we are happy warriors for change.”
The Democrats won the White House and both houses of Congress. Obama has the votes. America will soon join the world’s industrialized nations by providing national health care insurance to make American workers and their employers more competitive.
Better late than never!