Responding to Sean Wilentz’s attempt to analogize Obama and Clinton to Stevenson and JFK, respectively, in 1960 I think Matt has the correct response:
Meanwhile, the reality of the Kennedy Administration — as opposed to the Myth of Camelot — is precisely what makes people leery of Clinton. A 50%+1 win followed by a domestic agenda that goes nowhere in congress and a drift toward foreign policy disaster driven in part by a unshakeable fear of looking soft on defense.
Having said that, I don’t really think the analogy holds water either way. I suspect Clinton in office would be better on domestic policy than JFK (although on foreign policy, the JFK analogy is all too accurate.) Of course, JFK would be infinitely preferable to any GOP nominee of 2008, so if the ther end of the analogy held up this would still favor Clinton, but I also don’t think that Obama is really comparable to Stevenson in terms of political skills, and Matt is right that Stevenson could certainly have won in conditions as structurally favorable to the Democrats as 2008 is likely to be anyway.
This also reminds me that with all due respect to Wilentz, who has done a lot of terrific work, he has a very strange JFK fetish — see here. There are any number of (to put it charitably) tendentious claims to be found — such as his implication that JFK could have overcome the many obvious problems facing the Democrats in 1968, such as civil rights legislation (which Wilentz problematically assumes that JFK could have gotten passed quickly) destroying much of the traditional Democratic coalition, rising crime rates and urban violence etc. — with his boyish charm, but I think this is the best example:
There’s no question that Johnson was able to carry forward Kennedy’s domestic agenda because of the 37 House seats gained by the Democrats in the 1964 elections, a landslide that produced a working majority for progressive legislation for the first time in a quarter century. But Kennedy was a more popular figure than Johnson. Had Kennedy lived to run against Barry Goldwater, the Democrats probably would have picked up 50 more liberal legislators.
What Wilentz leaves out here is that one reason the Dems were able to pick up so many Congressional seats in 1964 is the halo effect created by JFK’s assisination, something that seems rather unlikely to have accrued to a non-assassinated JFK. Nor can a presidential candidate get much more popular than 61% of the popular vote; can Wilentz seriously believe that JFK would have had longer coattails? None of this makes me much more comfortable about JFK analogies made by Clinton’s supporters….