Obama & Kennedy

President-elect Barack Obama's charisma, intelligence, and youth often caused commentators to compare him to John F. Kennedy. The endorsement of Obama by Caroline Kennedy and Sen. Edward Kennedy cemented the comparison, as did the obvious parallel between what Kennedy's election represented for American Catholics and what Obama's means to African Americans. I recently had occasion to look back at what Commonweal's editors had to say after certain crucial presidential elections, and I was once again struck by the strong similarities between the two men, and especially the treacherous political landscapes each had to navigate in being elected. Excerpted below are a few graphs from Commonweal's November 18, 1960, editorial:

We regard the decision which has been made by the American people not only as a critical comment on the past, not merely as a desire for a change, but as a sign of their trust in the future--and in this man whose full measure this country and the world have yet to take....Senator Kennedy first had to overcome strong and articulate opposition within his own party. Some of the sharpest thrusts at the Senator were delivered by other Democrats before his nomination. Yet after the nomination he enlisted those people in his vigorous campaign. Although he backed the most liberal Democratic platform yet produced, he gained support in the South. Although many were distressed at his choice for Vice President, he extended his strength in Northern liberal areas. And he convinced those committed people who initially felt they would rather lose with Stevenson than win with anyone else that his battle was worth fighting....We have no desire to turn a man into a legend before his time. Nevertheless, we think that Senator Kennedy promises to be the kind of leader who can accomplish many of these things. Not only has he the qualities enumerated by Mr. [Walter] Lippmann, but he has that intangible quality of charisma. Even while the political commentators were decrying his intellectual, unemotional approach people responded to him with a kind of excitement and enthusiasm that has not been visited upon this country since the days of Roosevelt. In directing his country through the times ahead, this quality can be a factor of incalculable importance.

Paul Baumann is Commonweal’s senior writer.

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