, Salem, MA


January 26, 2013

Ambrose: Is Obama making JFK-style mistakes?


Kennedy’s own taped words show he himself knew perfectly well that missiles close to our shores posed no more danger than missiles that could be launched from afar. The problem was politics and how it would look if we didn’t make a fuss and get the Soviet Union to back down. Kennedy and gang therefore put on their tough-guy hats, initiated a Cuban blockade and made it known that they would settle for nothing less than the other side’s unconditional retreat. It seemed the Soviet Union wouldn’t budge. All hell could easily have broken loose, and that is hell as in the most devastating war humanity has ever known.

In the final analysis, the Kennedy who got us into the crisis got us out of it through a deal to remove our missiles from Turkey if the Soviets would remove theirs from Cuba. The best in him finally came out, although the deal was kept secret and cohorts happily bashed the reputations of those who publicly suggested the solution he adopted. Will Obama let the best in him come out in a second term?

Like Kennedy, he is a charmer. He has a keen intellect. He is a great speaker. And like Kennedy, he can be worse than amateurish, as in “Obamacare” (debt-expanding, job-inhibiting and full of “gotcha” mistakes), helping give us the worst economic recovery since World War II and enlarging the debt that could wreck us (refusing even the compromise suggested by leaders of his own debt commission and negotiating with Republicans as if nobility telling the peons to go hang).

Unlike Kennedy, he is acting like he may never get it right. As Obama has himself conceded, the heart of our debt problem is the unsustainable entitlement programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Without restructuring, they will collapse along with just about everything else in government. But in his inaugural, he made it sound as if he were more interested in political points than reform, and the threat of charisma is that too many idolaters overlook ruinous faults and there is too little pressure for change. Bad outcomes and wiser Republicans may induce that change, though, and let’s all keep hoping.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at

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