Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, made a speech in Berlin today before a large crowd. The speech was part of Obama's world wind tour to burnish his international credentials before the November election, which included stops in the Middle East and Europe.
The speech in Berlin was permitted by the German Federation with a degree of unease, concerned about the use of their Country and Capital for a foreign country's election. However, to actually prohibit the rally would have been somewhat hypocritical as a recent column noted that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had used the Washington Post in a similar way.
The choice of Berlin is obvious. Its place as a great Presidential speech venue is established. Both Kennedy and Reagan gave powerful orations there. Although Obama's speech was meant to offer an idea what an Obama White House will do for the world, there were unavoidable parallels made to President Kennedy.
These parallels have existed almost since Obama began his run and possibly before. Many have seen his youthful family and inspiring oratory as evidence of the Kennedy-Obama connection. These connections are flawed and are not particularly illuminating.
The Presidency of John F. Kennedy is defined by the Confrontation with the Soviet Union over Cuba, the establishment of the Peace Corp and, of course his assassination. While it is wrong to say that his administration did nothing, JFK's greatest contribution may have been the inspiration it gave millions of college graduates in the early sixties to enter public service.
The darker side of the Kennedy-Obama parallel has been the silliness behind threats of assassination. It would not be embellishment to suggest that almost every president of the twentieth century faced possible assassination. An assassin that targeted FDR struck and ultimately killed Chicago mayor Anton Cermak. A Secret Service agent died fending off assassins targeting Harry Truman. Gerald Ford practically lived under a torrent of gunfire for a few weeks. What separates Oswald and Hinckley from the others, however obvious, is that they hit their targets, not that they opened fire.
Moreover, the Warren Commission heaped a great deal of blame on the Secret Service for what happened in Dallas. Since then Presidential Protection has undergone reforms and more since Reagan was shot, and remains particularly stringent since 9/11. Should we be cautious? Yes Should the President be reckless with his life? No. But it is ridiculous, especially when Kennedy analogies are made, to have a greater fear that Obama may fall to an assassin.
Of course anything is possible, but as long as there are people who have a beef with the US, the government, the president, or their psychosis, there will exist some level of threat: a threat that can be contained short of a collapse of Presidential protection.
These Kennedy analogies seem unavoidable for many people who have extra hope for Obama as the Second Coming of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. However, this not really helpful, and it is not unreasonable to think Obama would agree for this reason. What America needs at this moment is a politician prepared to confront and tackle the problems of the 21st century, not a mix of nostalgia and an endless series of what-ifs.
JFK was for his time and Obama is for his and were/will be better Presidents because of it. From there we move forward.
*Obama photo from barackobama.com and JFK photo from wikipedia.