One of the most crushing blows struck in American politics came during the 1988 vice presidential debate, when Democrat Lloyd Bentsen told the GOP's Dan Quayle, "I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
Okay. So is Barack Obama the next JFK? Admirers marvel at the same casual grace, the same command of high flown rhetoric, even the same stammer when he's not on teleprompter. Obama himself seems to be playing up the parallels with his recent "citizen of the world" speech in Berlin and the one upcoming to accept the Democratic nomination that will be delivered, as Jack Kennedy's was, in a huge outdoor arena.
Yet there are differences. Dan Quayle never claimed Kennedy's record of accomplishment, which included heroic war service and winning a Pulitzer Prize. Quayle simply noted that Kennedy spent 13 years on Capitol Hill before running for president and Quayle, before seeking the second spot, spent 11. Barack Obama joined the U.S. Senate in January 2005 and began running for president in February 2007. Prior to that he was an Illinois state senator and a community organizer in Chicago.
Kennedy, a gutsy member of the "greatest generation," was a national security hawk. His Harvard senior thesis, later published as the best selling Why England Slept, examined Britain's policy of appeasement leading up to World War Two -- a touchy subject since his dad, Joe Kennedy, as ambassador to Britain personally appeased Hitler. Note that John F. Kennedy's two books - the other, of course, Profiles in Courage -- are about history; Barack Obama's two books are about himself.
We need not run through JFK's record of confronting communism (sometimes wisely, sometimes not) from the Bay of Pigs to the Cuban missile crisis to Vietnam - not to mention a speech at the Berlin Wall that was anything but a campaign event. Let's just say that Kennedy did more than talk vaguely of "big sticks and big carrots."
And BHO is no JFK when it comes to domestic policies. For instance, Jack Kennedy was a massive across-the-board tax cutter. Like Ronald Reagan he believed letting people, including high income earners, keep more of their own money stimulates the economy, which then requires less redistribution of income. By contrast Senator Obama would let the Bush tax cuts expire and offer income tax relief only to the "middle class" and "working people." When ABC's Charlie Gibson suggested during a primary debate that Obama's further proposal to raise capital gains tax rates would hurt middle class investors and deprive the government of revenue (due to decreased economic activity), Obama insisted he would raise those rates anyway "for purposes of fairness". This sounds more like Ted Kennedy than Jack.
There is a candidate who more closely resembles JFK in terms of experience and asking not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. Trouble is he's a Republican. He gives terrible speeches. He's older than Jack Kennedy was allowed to grow. And as we may find, appearance is everything.