Ted Kennedy’s endorsement has sent the political and pundit class swooning. In a typically over-the-top comment, the Washington Post anoints Barack Obama as “Camelot’s New Knight”. But will this knight do any better than the original standard bearer?
John F. Kennedy has been enveloped in a halo since his assassination, but it is important to recall how unimpressive his presidency looked before his tragic demise. Kennedy did not distinguish himself in dealing with foreign policy crises early in his term, notably the Bay of Pigs and the erection of the Berlin Wall. (Khrushchev got the idea that he could be rolled, and the result was the Cuban Missile Crisis.) Mercifully the world escaped
without a nuclear war, but it was a close-run thing. Kennedy also began to get America embroiled in the Vietnam War. In retrospect, many were left pining for the steady, sober leadership of the more proven Eisenhower, who had led vast armies before occupying the Oval Office.
The knock on JFK was that he was just a kid without high-level leadership experience. And that was true. He had not been vice president for eight years like his 1960 election opponent. But he was considerably more experienced than Obama. By the time he became President, Kennedy had fought in a world war and spent 15 years in Congress. Obama, by contrast, has spent seven years in the Illinois state Senate and just three years in the U.S. Senate. His military and foreign policy experience is essentially
Ted Kennedy tried to wave away objections about Obama’s inexperience:
There was another time, when another young candidate was running for President and challenging America to cross a New Frontier. He faced public criticism from the preceding Democratic President, who was widely respected in the party. Harry Truman said we needed “someone with greater experience” – and added: “May I urge you to be patient.” And John Kennedy replied: “The world is changing. The old ways will not do…It is time for a new generation of leadership.” So it is with Barack Obama. He has lit a spark of hope amid the fierce urgency of now.
Notwithstanding the “fierce urgency of now” (whatever that means), a new generation of leadership isn’t necessarily to be preferred if it doesn’t know what it’s doing. Obama could turn out to be an extraordinarily competent president—more competent even than JFK. But there is nothing in his record or background to suggest that he is, as Ted Kennedy says, “ready to be President on day one.” The Obama learning curve could be steep and the country could pay the price, just as it did when Ted’s older brother took office.