Nothing but Net — JFK and Obama

By Bob Gaydos

 When I started thinking about what to write for this week’s blog, I decided, what with it being Thanksgiving week, to try to avoid one of those smart ass columns that make me feel so clever and instead go for something a bit more personal. What was I thankful for? That always starts with my two sons, Max, 17, and Zack, 15. So far, so good.
 As I thought about them, I thought about myself as a teenager and eventually wound up back in another Thanksgiving, a sad, heart-wrenching one, 46 years ago. Thanksgiving, 1963, was a day of tears for many Americans. Six days earlier, President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. I was actually out of my teens and out of college by then and waiting to go to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training. Kennedy’s death delayed that departure but the Army got its man.
 Like many young Americans at the time, Kennedy was an iconic figure to me. He was the first president to whom I paid any attention. More to the point, he was the first one who made me think consciously about what a president represents, or should represent. Forty-six years later I know a lot more about Kennedy than I did then and recognize the fact that he was, like all of us, a flawed human being. But in 1963 he was JFK, the young, cool, smart, funny, charming, tough guy with a beautiful wife and a gift for words. He made me feel proud to be an American. It wasn’t complicated. When Kennedy spoke, I was glad he was my president. My leader.

 I haven’t had anything approaching those feelings about an American president since then, until the election of Barack Obama, which, I realize now, is where the train of thought from my sons to JFK had led me. I am eternally thankful that my teenaged sons were fortunate to experience the campaign that led to the election of this country’s first black president and that, like JFK, Obama is a young, cool, smart, funny, charming guy with a beautiful wife and a gift for words.

 What we don’t know yet is how tough Obama can be and whether he can be a leader, but he has thus far stuck to his guns on saving our battered economy and on reforming the health care system. These are enormously important if complicated and mind-boggling challenges that, unfortunately, do not lend themselves to immediate success, much less feelings of pride. Way to go, Barack! A more dramatic reading of Obama will come next week when he reveals his plans for resolving the war in Afghanistan. But he will have critics on both sides, whatever he decides. That is the reality of governing. Plus, Obama has had to deal from Day One with a small, loud segment of our society that doesn’t like him simply because of who he is and what he represents. A lot of Americans also had trouble accepting JFK, the first Catholic president, in addition to being a young man with an Ivy League pedigree.

 One would think — well, I think — that competence, intelligence, a willingness to hear all sides of an issue, a belief that diplomacy is a necessary adjunct to military might in foreign policy — are necessary attributes in a president. Where Obama — who was two years old when JFK was shot — has succeeded beyond question is in elevating the level of respect for the United States around the world. When I see him in Japan or China or Germany or wherever he meets with world leaders, I confess I feel proud. I think that is a good thing. I really don’t get the argument that it’s not good to talk to other nations and to have people of other nations respect our leader. You go around with a chip on your shoulder, someone is bound to try to knock it off.

 Look, the guy can walk and talk and make sense on any subject at any time and look good doing it — and he can sink a three-point shot. So he might get something wrong along the way; name a president who didn’t. This is someone my kids can understand and relate to. Someone who, I know, has their best interests at heart. Someone who is a walking endorsement of acceptance of all the different kinds of people who call themselves Americans. Find fault with him, sure, but how can you hate this?

 So, as a father in 2009, I am grateful that my sons have the opportunity to witness and, if they choose, to follow the lead of Barack Obama. To feel pride in their country. To sense, maybe, that they, too, can make a difference. To know that it is not corny to think such things.

 Barack Obama, also like John Kennedy, is the father of two young children. Forty-six years ago, Caroline and John-John had a Thanksgiving without their father. An entire nation mourned with them. This year, I pray, for my sons’ sake, that the promise of this charismatic, young president will be realized.
 Bob can reached at


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