IIt was a popular sport in Washington: finding the former president who best explained Donald Trump. There was a hint of Andrew Jackson’s populism, a hint of Richard Nixon’s ruse, a hint of Ronald Reagan’s myth-making. But now that all of that is over, who are the closest to Joe Biden?
A huge portrait of Franklin Roosevelt hanging the oval office makes the obvious connection between two men who inherited period crises and prescribed period remedies. But the rest of the content of the room suggests an affinity between the oldest man elected president and the youngest: John F. Kennedy.
Biden keeps a photo of himself meeting Pope Francis behind his desk, leaving no doubt that he is the second Catholic president. Kennedy was the first. Biden displays a bust of Robert F Kennedy, the brother and attorney general of the 35th president, by the fireplace. The Oval Office also contains a 332g moon rock brought back by the Apollo missions, the posthumous realization of Kennedy’s dream.
So it was that in his first primetime television address last week, Biden went from the coronavirus pandemic to rejoice that the United States landed a rover on Mars. He did not add that China, which last month put a spacecraft into orbit around the red planet, also intends to put a rover on the surface. A space race is underway between two world superpowers. Sounds familiar?
“It is very difficult to overstate the extent to which all of JFK’s beliefs and policies were shaped by the cold war,” says Lawrence Haas, author of a new book, The Kennedys in the world: How Jack, Bobby and Ted remade the Empire of the United States. “In the case of space, he was much less interested in the magic of space than in losing the space race to the Soviets.
“He greatly feared the impact of Soviet advances on America’s competition with the Soviets for influence throughout the developing world. This was a time when countries and peoples on various continents were choosing sides: whether to be loyal to freedom and democracy and, through that, to the United States or to communism and through that to the Soviet Union.
“JFK is obsessed with the image of the United States in the world. He took office when America was behind the Soviets in space and he was dying for it, certainly during 1961 and he didn’t start to relax at least until 1962 and then 1963 when we were really making headway after his announcing the goal of bringing a man to the moon and bring him safely to earth by the end of the decade. “
In a memorandum from 1962 His vice president, Lyndon Johnson, who chaired the National Space Council, was asked by Kennedy if the United States had a chance of beating the Soviets. Haas adds: “Whether it’s about space or civil rights or a wide variety of other domestic issues, JFK designed them through the prism of foreign policy in general and the cold war in particular.”
‘An alternative governance model’
Kennedy, a former senator, became president at age 43 in an inauguration with Robert Frost. Sixty years later, Biden, a former senator, became president at age 78 in an inauguration with Amanda Gorman. Both poets sought to project optimism about the future, but inherited a sense of American hegemony under existential threat.
Haas, A former communications director for Vice President Al Gore says: “There are parallels with the times. When Jack was elected, the world forked and two superpowers vied for influence with two different visions of the philosophy of government: America-led freedom and democracy, Soviet-led communism. Today America faces a similar kind of challenge that I think Biden understands.
“Just like the Soviets challenged us, we are being challenged right now by the chinese in the wake of the great recession of 2008 and a variety of other problems the West has faced in recent years. The Chinese are promoting an alternative model of governance that they say will create more prosperity and is more efficient and robust for the future.
“It is no coincidence that since the Chinese have aggressively promoted this style of government far beyond their borders, we have not promoted freedom and democracy around the world in recent years as aggressively as in previous periods. And while our reluctance to do so was particularly acute under President Trump, President Obama also did not promote freedom and democracy very consistently, and George W Bush’s freedom agenda lost steam around 2006, 2007. “
Haas notes that the nonprofit Freedom House I just reported that freedom around the world has declined for 15 years in a row. Biden has stated that “America is back” at the head of the table, though skeptics of America’s checkered history of adventurism question whether that’s necessarily cause for celebration.
Bur Haas, senior member of the American Council on Foreign Policy, he insists: “When the United States does not promote freedom and democracy, other things being equal, it leaves more room for autocrats to roam freely and assert their governance model without challenge. Joe Biden seems to understand this and, in fact, has been promoting freedom, democracy, human rights and other important values in his short time in office.
“He has criticized Beijing for its activities in Hong Kong and its treatment of Uighurs. He criticized Moscow for its Alexei Navalny treatment and protesters and is promoting human rights elsewhere. So I think he understands that we are in a period where freedom is being challenged in a way not unlike the way it was challenged at the height of the cold war when Jack Kennedy was president. “
‘Worry about the world’
Kennedy, who was of Irish descent, also faced domestic obstacles when he ran for president in 1960. Anti-Catholic prejudices were rife and had the potential to make him indelible, eventually forcing him to address the issue head-on. in a speech to newspaper editors. Decorating your Oval Office with a photo of the Pope would have been unthinkable, although it did. visit Ireland in June 1963.
Six decades later, when Biden sought the White House, he made a lot of his irish roots but his faith was hardly disputed. Stephen Colbert, a Catholic comedian, he told Biden: “I am surprised that no more has been said about the second Catholic president. It is certainly important to me. “The president-elect replied that the Pope had called him personally to congratulate him.
Haas reflects: “The problem of Catholicism is different day and night. In 1960, Jack Kennedy needed to confront it and assure a largely Protestant country with a sizable Catholic population that he would not take orders from the Pope, that Catholicism would not interfere with his public policy making, and he understood the role of the presidency. I don’t remember the issue coming up in any public forum in 2020 and I watch politics very closely, so that’s very different. “
Haas argues that the three Kennedy brothers (Jack, Bobby and Ted) played a huge role in the foreign policy of the United States. Surprisingly, at least one held an elected office from 1947, when Jack held a House seat, until 2009, when Ted, a senator, died of brain cancer.
“The untold story about them is that they were raised not only to achieve power, but that they were raised by Joe, their ruthless and demanding father, and Rose, their cold and distant mother, to look outside, to learn about the world. , to care about the world and, once they came to power, to reshape America’s place in the world, and each of them did. “
When the trio grew up, dinner at the wealthy Kennedy’s home was clearly an intellectual affair. Ted is quoted in the book as saying, “We learned early that the way to be an active part of dinner conversations was to have read a book, learned something new in school, or, as we grew up, traveled to new places. . “
Haas continues: “Everyone traveled a lot. Each of them served as foreign correspondents for the media and wrote dispatches at home and positioned themselves as global thinkers. Each of them wrote with enormous sophistication about history and people and culture and ideology, and when they came to power, each of them exerted enormous influence on the course of America’s role. “
Jack and Bobby were murdered in 1963 and 1968 respectively. Ted went to a long career in the Senate and was best known for his domestic achievements in civil rights, labor rights, education, and health care. But Haas believes his influence on international relations has been underestimated.
“Ted, after Bobby’s death, was enormously influential in just about every major foreign challenge America faced,” he says. “As a member of the Senate, your accomplishments are truly impressive. From his writings and speeches, he set the stage for a new approach by the United States to Communist China, which Nixon and [Jimmy] Carter chased after him later.
“He built opposition to Reagan’s proxy wars with the Soviets and Latin America. He headed Congressional override of Reagan’s veto of sanctions against South Africa for apartheid, which was the first congressional overturning of a foreign policy president in 11 years. He played an important role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland and led the opposition to the American invasions of Iraq and, while he did not seem like a visionary after the 1991 war, he seemed like a visionary after the 1991 war. 2003 “.
Ted was elected at age 30 to a seat previously held by Jack and spent the next 47 years in the Senate. Biden was elected at age 29 and spent 36 years on camera, viewing Ted as a mentor. When news of Ted’s death broke, Biden, then vice president said: “He restored my sense of idealism and my faith in the possibilities of what this country could do … To paraphrase Shakespeare: I don’t think we’ll ever see Shakespeare again.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism