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Opinion: The JFK comparsion

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Barack Obama today was officially annointed as the next John F. Kennedy by the most devout keeper of the assassinated president’s legacy, Theodore Sorensen.

In a New Republic article that just went online, the 79-year-old Sorensen walks through what he sees as the many parallels between the man he served as a loyal aide and the current Democratic presidential candidate. These range from issues (‘On foreign policy,’ Sorensen writes, ‘both emphasized the importance of multilateral democracy, national strength as a guardian of peace, and the need to restore America’s global standing, moral authority and leadership,’) to the biographical (both ‘gained national acclaim through their best-selling inspirational books’ -- Kennedy’s ‘Profiles in Courageand Obama’s The Audacity of Hope').

Sorensen also sees similarities in the contours of 1960’s political landscape and the one Obama is navigating. ‘Most of Kennedy’s opponents, like Obama’s, were fellow senators -- (Lyndon) Johnson, (Hubert) Humphrey and (Stuart) Symington -- who initially dismissed him as neither a powerhouse on the Senate floor nor a member of their inner circle. That mattered not to the voters; nor does it today.’

True enough, but we detect the dangers of overselling historical analogies in this latter point. On any number of fronts -- their institutional strength throughout the Democratic Party, their appeal to the rank-and-file, their organizational skills -- the trio of Johnson, Humphrey and Symington paled in comparison to the opponent Obama must overcome, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As Sorensen’s piece illustrates, the enduring Kennedy mystique for many Democrats remains noteworthy, even as those who actually remember the 1960 campaign and the roughly two years and 10 months of the Kennedy administration become a declining share of the electorate.

The last Democratic nominee, John F. Kerry, long has reveled in his shared initials with the politician who also was a senator from Massachusetts. And just Wednesday, Obama and John Edwards drew upon the inspiration of Bobby Kennedy in separately focusing on the poverty problem.

-- Don Frederick


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