Kennedy spoke of reviving “the idea of America as a young, questing, progressive nation, facing the future with confidence and hope.”
He was young, handsome and charismatic. His taste and grace made people believe in the possibilities of the presidency again. He was the embodiment of that clichéd but false expression: world changing.
Then, assassination in 1963 elevated JFK to the Pantheon. Polls ranked him among the great presidents. Indeed, one poll called him greater than Lincoln.
Friday, on the 50th anniversary of his death, historians have a far more sour view of JFK, some rightly calling him a failed president.
Kennedy was lukewarm about civil rights. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, pushed through Congress the towering Civil Rights Act —even more remarkable because it was against the grain of Johnson’s Texas mores.
JFK expanded the military. He goaded the Russians into an extremely wasteful arms race. He sponsored a wrong-headed invasion of Cuba because it was communist.
Finally, JFK revealed that he was just another shabby politician when he said he would withdraw from Vietnam — but not until after his potential re-election in 1964.
As for flaws in President Obama, let’s count the way:
•Author Robert Olmstead laments: “All my life we have been bombing someone, teaching them a lesson. Every day I understand more deeply how violent we are.”
•Nothing has changed under Obama. The U.S. military empire includes more than 800 bases. The U.S. African Command posts troops in 35 countries. About 13,000 soldiers are in Italy. A new military focus is on Asia. Why? The Chinese “military peril” does not exist but the Chinese economic challenge is real.
•Obama directs drone terror in Yemen and Pakistan, a flagrantly illegal policy that China calls a “blank space in international law.” U.S. troops are still fighting in Afghanistan, the nation’s longest war and one that could last “forever.”
•After backing off dire threats to attack Syria, Obama still insists the U.S. must maintain its all-pervasive presence in the Middle East because no other nation would fill the vacuum if it withdrew. He even drags out the chestnut of the U.S. “exceptional” role on the world stage.
•The president rides herd on whistleblowers, calling them “tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States.” It’s an all-out attack on truth-tellers orchestrated by constitutional lawyers, Obama and Veep Biden.
•Obama persists in the Cuba embargo despite the UN voting 188-2 against it. The two nays: the evil empire of the U.S. and its lackey Israel. Obama not only maintains harmful and unnecessary sanctions against Iran but speaks of stiffening them still further.
•Obama constantly promises to close Guantánamo but he never does. In press conference after press conference he declares the nation “should be wiser” than keeping 100 prisoners “in no-man’s land in perpetuity.” He never finds the wisdom to close that penal colony in Cuba.
An Emerson essay, “Circles,” sums up Obama: “Infinitely alluring and attractive was he yesterday, a great hope, a sea to swim in. Now you have reached its shores and found it a pond.”