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Column: Obama, Another Kennedy?

This story was written by Alec Slocum, Badger Herald


There was another defining moment in the history of America when a bright, young, inexperienced idealist was elected to the presidency. In 1960, John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency and in only 3 short years in office became, according to almost every modern poll, one of the five best presidents in American history.

Ever since, scholars have vigorously debated why history and public sentiment have been so kind to his presidency. Aside from his handling of the Cuban missile crisis and foresight regarding the space program, Kennedys presidency is remarkably lacking in great accomplishments. In fact, it wasnt until Lyndon Johnsons Great Society that many of Kennedys stalled New Frontier initiatives were passed into law.

So why is Kennedy considered such a successful president? Its not because he pushed through legislation or vetoed excessive government spending with discipline. Nor has he been regarded so highly because of the nature of his death William McKinley was assassinated in the same century but certainly does not share Kennedys popularity.

Kennedy holds a special place in the national psyche because while he held office a vast majority of Americans felt he was leading our country in the right direction. Kennedy governed as a true leader by envisioning the future and challenging every citizen to help create it. He empowered people to work for something bigger than themselves through his rhetoric and service programs like the Peace Corps; 48 years later, in another defining moment in United States history, we have elected who I believe to be another such leader who can motivate us to transform our country when we need it the most.

As of Election Day, only 9 percent of the United States population felt our country was headed in the right direction. When nine out of 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the general direction of the country, the problems are undoubtedly substantial and the solutions necessary are likely more than minor legislative fixes. This is a time that requires big ideas brought about in fundamentally different ways. As Kennedy suggested, Ask not what our country can do for you ask what you can do for your country, so too will Obama challenge our generation to double the size of the Peace Corps or to serve our communities in exchange for a tuition break.

In a greater way, he will challenge us to live up to the better angels of our nature, suppress some of the worst of our human instincts toward others both at home and abroad and believe in the power of hope for the future rather than fear.

In fact, he already has. He has asked those in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia to get past the fact that he is a biracial man with the middle name Hussein and look instead to the ideas he conveys.

He has instructed parents that more sacrifice and discipline is required of them to improve the education of their children, and he has asked young people to look past their cynicism of the political process to take back their rightful seat at the table in the interest of a better democracy.

A big reason Obama has been so successful is because his ideas and words have motivated and inspired us to meet these important challenges. I believe he will be a transformational president because he will be able to continue to empower and inspire hope in people to imagine and work for a better nation and world, just as Kennedy did. He will challenge us to live up to the best of our own and our nations ideals and, just as Kennedy did so successfully almost 50 years ago, will finally be leading our country in the right direction. But we, as citizens, cannot tune out now. We must accept and rise to the new opportunities we will be given and not be content to sit back and expect an Obama presidency to do everything for us. Perhps foreshadowing these days in our history, Obama said four years ago at the Democratic National Convention, out of this political darkness, a brighter day will come. A brighter day has come, but this should not be the end; it should be a great beginning.

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