Kennedy’s Oratory -- and Obama’s
The rediscovery of John F. Kennedy’s oratory on the fiftieth anniversary of his inauguration will only deepen the consensus that President Obama’s rhetorical skills, wildly exaggerated in 2008, are a trifle lackluster. The disillusioned liberal has little choice but to go back to his old romance with Camelot. True, there were some unfortunate lines in Kennedy’s inaugural address, viz. “If a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor.” But Kennedy and Reagan were certainly the best presidential speakers of the second half of the twentieth century; and in his sixty-plus press conferences Kennedy proved himself the unrivaled master of extemporaneous presidential speaking (as YouTube bears witness).
President Obama cannot at this point change his speaking style — when Kennedy sought to improve his own oratory by studying Churchill’s, he was a congressman in his early thirties. But the president could do more to emulate some of Kennedy’s economic policies. When “Wall Street tumbled in May 1962 after the Steel Crisis on the perception that the President was anti-business,” Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas wrote in The Wise Men, “Kennedy called [Robert] Lovett and asked him how to repair the damage. Lovett took the opportunity to advise Kennedy to lower taxes to encourage capital accumulation. Kennedy listened.” Against the “strong opposition of liberals such as Galbraith,” he pushed for lower tax rates and more liberal depreciation allowances. That’s a side of Camelot liberals prefer to forget.