Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kennedy Comparisons

I think we're too quick to make modern comparisons to historic dead people. On the other hand, it's sometimes insightful to do so.

President Kennedy responded not just with soaring rhetoric and new programs like the Peace Corps. He also transformed communication between the president and the people. At the White House, he projected an image of openness and transparency. He let photographers take pictures of the Kennedy children. He held televised news conferences for the first time.

Theodore Sorensen, the Kennedy speechwriter, said the youthfulness of Camelot brought a new casualness and intimacy to Washington. He recalled a softball game with reporters in the early ’60s, in which the younger staff members invited the Council of Economic Advisers to play. Three older economists showed up and tried to fit in.

“They took off their jackets and ties,” Mr. Sorensen said. “They didn’t go home to change into blue jeans, but they were swinging bats.”

Mr. Obama has created his own jacketless atmosphere, but on a grander scale, with a steady stream of e-mail messages and Facebook postings. Obama supporters know, of course, that the text messages from “Barack” are the work of a campaign aide, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not effective.

Ellen Steiner, 23, a graduate student at the University of Colorado, Denver, said the direct style “makes me feel like I really was part of something great.”

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