Obama, Kennedy, Eisenhower

Spencer Warren writes:

Neocon extraordinaire Robert Kagan writes in his Washington Post blog:

This was a Kennedy-esque speech. It spoke of the “Arab Spring” [like the short-lived Czech “Spring” of 1968, or maybe the aborted European revolutions of 1848?], America’s “universal values” and the “revolutionary moment. [So much for the vast complexity of Arab politics, which can be understood only by an expert who has devoted long years of study to the subject. So much also for the results of free elections in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq.]

To a conservative, President Kennedy’s inaugural address (“We shall bear any burden, pay any price …”) is nothing to brag about. Viewing it again recently on its 50th anniversary on C-Span, I saw it as merely hollow, if not reckless, self-promoting boasting. It was the recipe for the worst foreign policy disaster in our history in Vietnam, where Kennedy vastly inflated U.S. involvement.

Recently, Larry, you and I had an exchange comparing this speech with President Eisenhower’s farewell address, given from the Oval Office three days earlier. This too was shown recently on C-Span.

Famous for its warning against the “military-industrial complex,” the speech, more importantly, gives at length wise counsel about the need for “balance” in managing the nation’s affairs. The elderly, 70-year-old President, with whom many excitedly contrasted the handsome, “glamorous,” (apparently) vigorous, youngest elected President, spoke to the nation about:

… the need to maintain balance in and among national programs-balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage-balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between action of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.

Further, in words especially apposite today, he warned:

Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we—you and I, and our government—must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

While Eisenhower was not known for his skills on television, his address, seen today, is highly noteworthy for his crisp, rapid, very confident, unflinching delivery. No artifice like a prompter. It obviously found its conviction and strength in his personal moral character. And he speaks from the Oval Office directly into the camera, not in a contrived setting which only reflects the speaker’s lack of confidence in addressing the nation from his desk in the Oval Office—a lack of confidence we saw in the previous two Presidents as well.

It is one of the great conservative addresses, and the contrast with Kennedy’s boastful blather, so beloved of neocons, could not be more marked.

LA replies:

Thirty or more years ago I visited Kennedy’s grave at Arlington and read the long excerpts of his inaugural address that are memorialized at the gravesite. I was struck by the tinniness and emptiness of the rhetoric. It seemed a lot of grandiose posing without substance.

Also, I have often thought of the 1950s as representing the height of America’s intellectual culture, and the word “balance” has always been foremost in my thoughts about that subject. So I am also struck by Eisenhower’s emphasis on the need for balance.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 29, 2011 01:22 PM | Send

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