Monday, January 28, 2008

Obama the new JFK? Let's hope not

In the New York Times, Camelot spawn Caroline Kennedy tells us that she's supporting the senator from Illinois for the Democratic presidential nomination because he reminds her of her father, President John F. Kennedy.

OVER the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.

My reasons are patriotic, political and personal, and the three are intertwined. All my life, people have told me that my father changed their lives, that they got involved in public service or politics because he asked them to. And the generation he inspired has passed that spirit on to its children. I meet young people who were born long after John F. Kennedy was president, yet who ask me how to live out his ideals.

Far be it from be to question Caroline Kennedy's comparison of Barack Obama to her late father. If she says "for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be" the sort of inspirational president her father was, I believe her. So Senator Obama is JFK redux. Good for him.

But bad for us. The very argument that Ms. Kennedy uses to argue on behalf of Sen. Obama is a good reason to recoil from her endorsement in revulsion.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

"[T]ogether we can do great things"? "[P]ut aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible"? Gag.

Look, political office is a messy business. It's entire purpose is to manage the use of coercion to achieve goals favored by those in power and their supporters. To attempt to achieve something -- anything -- through political power is to endorse the idea that people should be threatened with fines, imprisonment and even death if they refuse to comply. Imagine going shopping with a gun instead of a debit card and you have the fundamental truth of any political agenda.

Now, there may be a limited place for the use of coercion. I don't have a real problem with coercing rapists, muggers and murderers into seeking new career paths. But pot smokers? People who renovate their homes without a permit? Gamblers? Folks who hire people who enter the country without government permission? Tell me how sticking guns in their faces and (sometimes) pulling the trigger is a morally upright thing to do. Take your time; I'm really interested in hearing your argument.

Maybe (unlikely) you'll convince me that the widespread use of coercion is a necessary thing, however unsavory. But that won't make coercive power and the people who seek it "inspirational"; it'll make coercion a necessary evil to be tentatively entrusted to the least enthusiastic seekers of power we can find.

Frankly, to admit to being "inspired" by politicians is a lot like confessing that your nipples get hard when you watch a mugger kick a victim bloody in the gutter. It may be the case, but it's not really something you should be sharing with anybody other than your shrink.



Blogger Venus Cassandra said...

My mom's boyfriend cited JFK and FDR as morally inspiring.

Oh yeah. I mean, the second guy only enslaved people via the military draft. Frankly, that tells me all I need to know about someone.

January 28, 2008 1:40 PM  
Blogger Venus Cassandra said...

Ok. It doesn't tell me everything, but it tells me a lot about their sense of morality ( :

January 28, 2008 1:40 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

Oh yeah. I've never understood the folks who can wax eloquent about fighting a "good" war with an army of slave troops.

January 28, 2008 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Nippits said...

I'm all for Obama, albeit I think JFK fought so well though his stay was short-lived.

January 23, 2009 5:17 AM  
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March 18, 2009 11:44 PM  

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