11/25/2013 12:52:00 PM Publisher's Column
Kennedy and Obama
times and challenges
have many similarities
I was a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman stationed at the Minneapolis Naval Air Station when President Kennedy was assassinated. We were in the process of decorating the Minneapolis Armory for the annual Admiralty Ball when we were suddenly told to return immediately to our duty stations on base and await further orders. Shortly after that, we got word that the President had been killed and that we might be going to war with Cuba. Fortunately, that war never happened.
On this anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, I have been thinking about the similarities between the situations in our country then and now.
The early '60s were a period of changes that many people found alarming. There was tremendous hostility toward Kennedy because of changes that were taking place in the role of government, race relations, attitudes toward religious traditions, security, etc.
Just as President Obama is the first black, Kennedy was the first Catholic to become the U.S. President. There was a lot of hostility toward him among those who believed he would be a puppet of the Pope or at least subject to Papal persuasion. Ignorant people read a lot of their biases into everything Kennedy did, just as ignorant people today read a lot of their biases into everything President Obama does.
Just as Obama inherited the Middle East wars, Kennedy took office and inherited a Cuban invasion plan put together by the CIA under the Eisenhower administration, the Bay of Pigs. It turned out to be a fiasco for which Kennedy was blamed. He spent much of his short term as President trying to resolve military/security problems resulting from the Cuban policy of his predecessor. He successfully avoided an international crisis by adroitly handling the Cuban missile crisis without military action, which his critics who wanted war claimed was the only way to handle the situation.
Just as Obama addressed the need for a U.S. health care program, Kennedy recognized the need for a dramatic program to develop U.S. technology to support the space program, with a goal of sending astronauts to the moon and back. It was an expensive program many opponents claimed was impossible to either afford or accomplish. Nevertheless, his goal was accomplished (and proved profitable).
Just as Obama campaigned promising action on immigration, Kennedy promised action on civil rights and, despite aggressive opposition, Kennedy had a civil rights bill drafted which became the Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed several months after his assassination. It remains to be seen whether Obama will be as successful with immigration.
Kennedy, as has Obama, set out to make the world a better place to live and accomplished much toward that goal despite his short life. The technological boost his space program gave the U.S. economy was largely responsible for major U.S. advances in electronics, medicine and about every field of science.
One can only speculate about how the world would be different today if Kennedy had not been killed in office.
I don't believe Kennedy would have been suckered into a war in Viet Nam as President Johnson was in 1964. Kennedy was more cautious and more inclined to gather information from opposing viewpoints before taking action than was Johnson. He had less faith in the infallibility of government agencies than did Johnson. Had Kennedy been alive when reports of the Gulf of Tonkin incident came in, I believe he would have delayed action until he had definite proof of the incident and, upon learning it did not happen, would have avoided going to war.
Just as Obama stimulated an attitude of hope among people universally when elected, Kennedy created an atmosphere of belief in accomplishing big goals worthy of accomplishment because they would benefit everyone.
Kennedy persuaded people to tackle big problems together through government programs such as the Peace Corps, which encouraged people to apply their unique skills to help people in underdeveloped areas of the world. It was an excellent program until U.S. corporations saw it as an opportunity to get lucrative government contracts for massive projects rather than a program to help people learn to solve their own problems.
There is no question the world would be a lot different today if JFK had not been assassinated. I think it would be a much more peaceful, cooperative place. I wish we had been given the opportunity to know.