Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Senator Obama, you're no Jack Kennedy

“Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

Lloyd Bentsen hurled these words at Dan Quayle in 1988, en route to winning the vice presidential debate but losing the November election. Today, the very same words are entirely applicable to the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president, Sen. Barack Obama. From foreign policy to tax reform to experience, Obama cannot hold a candle to the president with whom his followers often compare him, John F. Kennedy.

Take Cuba, for example. While Kennedy took a hard line against the Castro regime, understanding that despotism must be opposed, particularly in our own hemisphere, Obama has famously promised to negotiate eye-to-eye with that very same dictatorship.

This dichotomy between the two men can be extrapolated right round the globe. In his inaugural address, JFK pledged to “pay any price, bear any burden” to advance the cause of liberty. Obama, meanwhile, plans to pull American troops out of foreign commitments, regardless of the consequences, and promises to meet with enemy regimes and terror sponsors from Venezuela to Syria.

In defense of this position, Obama cites Kennedy’s 1961 meeting with Soviet Premier Krushchev in Vienna. That Obama believes this example strengthens his case evinces a lack of judgment and misunderstanding of history. By JFK’s own admission, the Vienna meeting was a disaster, leading to the construction of the Berlin Wall in the months that followed and the Cuban Missile Crisis the next year.

On the domestic front, Obama and Kennedy are worlds apart. A firm believer in free markets and international trade, JFK’s tax cuts were larger than those of any of his successors— including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Obama, meanwhile, has pledged massive tax hikes, threatens to renegotiate or pull out of NAFTA and reflexively opposes even the most benign free trade pacts.

In fact, a voter favouring low taxes, minimal government intervention and robust, responsible foreign policy would have been quite comfortable voting for Kennedy in 1960, rather than his Republican opponent, Richard Nixon (recall that, as president, it was Nixon, not JFK, who instituted wage and price controls, and created the Environmental Protection Agency). A voter with the same values today would have little in common with Obama.

The most convenient comparison between Obama and Kennedy is their relative youth, but even this is misleading. At 43, JFK was the youngest man ever elected president, and Obama will be 47 on Election Day. But the accomplishments of each man in their first four decades are wildly divergent. Before seeking the White House, JFK was a war hero, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and had served fourteen years in the Congress, having been twice elected to the Senate after three terms in the House. Obama, meanwhile, can boast three undistinguished years in the Senate, preceded by eight years in the Illinois State Legislature.

John F. Kennedy was a president who understood his country’s economic needs, as well as America’s unique responsibility to defend freedom around the world. Indeed, nearly a quarter-century before Reagan came to the Brandenburg Gate and called for Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” JFK stood on the same ground and pronounced his solidarity with oppressed people in immortal words: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

Given his reluctance to employ America’s power in defense of liberty, or even to call tyranny by its name, could the world expect anything similar from a President Obama? And what of those who believe, in Lawrence Kudlow’s parlance, that a free market economy is the best path to prosperity? Does Obama’s high-tax, low-trade philosophy do any justice to Kennedy’s legacy?

Convenient as it may seem to equate Barack Obama with America’s 35th president, the fact remains that he is no Jack Kennedy.