Revisiting John Fitzgerald Kennedy
By Jerome Grossman
President John F. Kennedy has a special place in the hearts of Americans for many positive reasons but especially because he was assassinated in the middle of his term of office on November 22, 1963. A handsome and charismatic leader, he was a gifted orator whose speeches regularly focused on inspirational themes. He arrived at the White House with no executive experience, a factor that led him into serious difficulties early in his term.
In his campaign for election in 1960, Kennedy attacked the Eisenhower - Nixon administration from the right, accusing it of weakening American security by building too few planes, missiles and other military supplies. After taking power, Kennedy significantly increased U.S. military strength and began using it in Vietnam, increasing the number of US soldiers there from 665 to 16, 000, and sending them into combat in Vietnam for the first time.
Early in his term, Kennedy suffered a serious defeat when he allowed the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba that failed. Then he met in Vienna with Soviet Premier Khrushchev to negotiate rights to Berlin. That also failed, brought the two countries to the brink of war, and inaugurated a period of great tension and confrontation marked by the Soviet erection of the Berlin Wall.
Kennedy did have some minor successes in foreign-policy: establishing the Peace Corps, the Alliance for Progress in Latin America, and the Treaty Banning Nuclear Testing in the Atmosphere. His handling of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 received mixed reviews: some praised the result that avoided nuclear war, others criticized Kennedy for "brinkmanship."
On domestic matters, Kennedy offered programs for significant reform in many areas, but he was unable to negotiate them through the Democratic Congress. They were either killed or not acted upon. On the civil rights crisis, Kennedy initially asked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to cancel the 1963 March on Washington but acquiesced when it became inevitable. The Kennedy agenda was adopted by Congress under the leadership of his successor, Lyndon Johnson, who was an experienced manager and negotiator, who knew how to promote, threaten, swap and deal.
Now the powerful Kennedy family has endorsed Barack Obama for president because of his similarity in person, style, and the level of experience to the martyred president. Caroline Kennedy has written that "Obama would be a president like my father." Edward M. Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, and Ted Sorensen agree with her.
If Obama wins the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, we would hope for his success in managing this complicated country of 300 million people with so many competing interests and negotiating with other nations to protect U.S. interests. In so many ways, Obama does remind of Kennedy; appearance, charisma, eloquence, poise and the emphasis on inspiration, but especially in his lack of executive experience. There is no guarantee that any of the presidential candidates of either party will be able to inspire, lead and manage. Of these abilities the most important is to manage and the career of charismatic John F. Kennedy proves the point.