It takes a long time to thoughtfully reply to every Presidential link to the transition period between Trump and Obama. Maybe I should try Twitter more exclusively, but being thoughtful is a characteristic I dare relinquish.
The title of Monday’s headlines caught my eye: “Bill Gates says Donald Trump has the opportunity to be like JFK.”
I may have rolled my eyes. Knowing Bill Gates is still relatively young, (Yep- 61 years old) I know he is young enough not have been intellectually involved in the Kennedy Administration. But he has also been retired for quite some time, and recent retirees usually become nostalgic for the period of their birth. Gates was lucky to be born in the Eisenhower Administration (and was six when Kennedy became President- about nine when he died.)
I was born, by the way, about forty days into the administration of Jimmy Carter. Yay, me.
A few thoughts flashed through my mind when I read the headline. First, when I think of Donald Trump’s comparable presidential predecessors, none spring to mind. Kennedy, my unapologetic favorite, is perhaps the last I would compare the incoming President Elect.
There can be a great deal of thought inside one’s head between reading a headline and reading the article. I suffer from the same attention span deficit as a dog outside on the first nice summer day. Trump has been in the news constantly for his tweets, this I knew Gates would not compare him with Kennedy. He has made news for ‘saving’ some companies from moving out of the country and claimed victory (perhaps rightly) for some of them expanding. This cannot be compared to Kennedy.
Cabinet Picks? Kennedy is well known for making brilliant cabinet picks, a theme perpetuated by the first level of his biography, written by shell-shocked admirers just months following his tragic and sudden death. Do not read sarcasm into that sentence. Apologies abound -that- in this one instance, sentimental biographies meant to portray the subject in sympathetic and glowing tribute are actually right on the mark.
The thought it might be the cabinet picks intrigued me. Trump has been picking fellow billionaires and generals. Kennedy had two ‘out of the box’ picks. Robert McNamara for Secretary of Defense came from his position as President of the Ford Motor Company, perhaps comparable to one of Trump’s successful businessmen. And he chose Republican (gasp!) Douglas Dillon for Treasury (gasp again!) Secretary. (Dillon was also a successful businessman, but also an official in the Eisenhower Administration. The courage and decency of President-Elect Kennedy to nominate such a person is a shock not just because of his Republican Party loyalty, but the fact he was involved strategically and financially in Republican Presidential Campaigns.)
But the rest of Kennedy’s Cabinet Picks, noted historically as the Best and the Brightest, are career diplomats and politicians. The lone exception might have been his best and brightest pick, his brother Robert for Attorney General.
So what else did Kennedy do in his transition period to warrant Trump’s comparison? He didn’t make waves, (President’s Elect usually don’t- especially when the incumbent retiring is a beloved figure as was Eisenhower and as is Obama. Yes, Republicans, Obama is beloved.)
So what could elicit the brilliant Gates to line up Donald Trump next to John F. Kennedy?
According to the article, Gates said, ““But in the same way that President Kennedy talked about the space mission and got the country behind that, I think whether it’s education or stopping epidemics … [or] in this energy space, there can be a very upbeat message that [Mr Trump’s] administration [is] going to organize things, get rid of regulatory barriers, and have American leadership through innovation be one of the things that he gets behind.”
Original story from CNBC: here
Ahhh…. Innovation. I’ll give Gates even more help: Kennedy’s slogan was to ‘get America moving again.’ Not a far stretch from Trump’s Make America Great Again. Kennedy had a line oft-quoted, “I think we can do better.” And in his singular Kennedy drawl, the word ‘better’ was pronounced, ‘bettah.’
Bill Gates has a point. Kennedy’s youth and vigor (vigah), backed up by intelligence and focus, was indeed inspiring- and did much more for this country than land a man on the moon. Donald has an energy, perhaps if you have the determination to sift through the tweets you can find a distinct focus, and perhaps, as we have seen in the first few weeks, he will harness an ideological nation to be great again. As long as along the way, he harnesses the mantra of Thomas Jefferson that ‘We are all Republicans, We are all Democrats.’
The comparison to Kennedy is allowed. Now it’s time to back it up.
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Not so Quick History Lesson:
Before Donald Trump uttered the words, “Because you’d be in jail,” in Hillary Clinton’s direction during the second debate this year, the biggest line in Presidential Debate history was uttered by the late Lloyd Bentsen. You may not have seen it live, as it came at the end of a very boring 90-minute debate between the unknown Bentsen and Dan Quayle, a curious choice for Vice President by then equally curious Vice President George Bush.
The backstory is legendary. On the stump, Quayle had begun making claims that he had as much experience as John Kennedy in 1960. Sure. Democrats across the nation winced every time the up and coming Quayle took the mantle of Camelot from (at that time) the last Democratic President they could rightfully quote in public. But they didn’t like it. One bit. Dan Quayle was making enemies, just trying to prove himself worthy of second in line.
As the debate neared, Lloyd Bentsen came up with a terrific one-liner to destroy Quayle and possibly derail the Bush Campaign, but only if he brought up John Kennedy. On October 5, 1988, the time was ripe for the harvest.
I watched the debate a few months ago. (I had some time to kill.) My purpose was initially to watch what happened before and after the ‘Kennedy comment.’ What, exactly, was the question, and what, exactly, was the aftermath? I remember Quayle’s shocked expression after the (brilliant and effective) comment from Bentsen, but what were the parentheses around this earth-shaking moment?
The debate in its entirety is not worth watching. But I was waiting for the Kennedy line. The first time Quayle was asked about whether he was qualified to be President came early. But oddly enough, no comparison to Kennedy by Quayle.
What? Did they edit this version of the debate?
About a half hour later, the question of experience rose again. Quayle was asked (again!) what made him qualified to be president. He seemed a bit exasperated he was being asked again the same question.
But again, the answer did not include a comparison to Kennedy.
The debate is coming to a close. The minutes tick down on YouTube. What exactly is going on? How in the world are they going to fit this in? I felt like I was watching a movie knowing the length and knowing they have a lot of loose ends to tie before the credits and are running out of time.
Then Tom Brokaw asked the question…. again. “Senator Quayle I want to go back to the question of experience.”
Now Quayle is mad. Angry. Exasperation is over. If he was not on television with millions of people watching, he might have asked Tom Brokaw just what the hell he was trying to prove.
You can tell in his answer- the choppy, determined, strict answer that James Danforth Quayle is trying not to blow up in front of the American People. And then, finally (mercifully if you are Lloyd Bentsen), he mentions John Kennedy.
And then Senator Bentsen, the twinkle in his eye, looks off in the distance as if he just thought of the one liner that did not end up killing the Bush-Quayle candidacy, “Senator, I knew Jack Kennedy. I served with Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
Quayle stared straight ahead. Then, glancing at Bentsen whispered, “That was really uncalled for, Senator.”
The now second greatest line in debate history, and only slightly ahead of Reagan’s third place “There you go again,” was delivered. And it started the worst four years of a Vice President’s life ever. Honestly, until Tim Tebow became the ultimate whipping boy of ESPN, there was Dan Quayle.
Second Quicker History Lesson:
The aforementioned line by Reagan was uttered near the end of the only presidential debate of 1980, held on October 28. (Wow that’s close to the election, isn’t it?) Reagan and President Carter were even in the polls, and some point to this line as the dam breaking in Reagan’s favor.
“There you go again,” came after Carter, like Hillary tried (also unsuccessfully), to paint Reagan into a corner by telling the audience just what he (Reagan) would do as President.
Cut to 2016 and the Vice Presidential Debate. Most of the cringe-worthy moments came from Senator Tim Kaine. But smack dab in the middle- the comment that made this presidential historian wince. Governor Mike Pence looked over at Kaine and smiled, like Reagan, and said, “There you go again.”
Fortunately for Pence, the headlines that night and next morning were all about Kaine constantly interrupting and badgering like a little child in a candy store. (Anyone care to guess why he disappeared from the campaign thereafter?) Hillary Clinton has repeatedly blamed the FBI for her loss, but it was not one big moment, but a thousand little ones. And overlooked in all of the post-election analysis is the inept, bumbling, strange behavior of her VP Candidate during his debate.