Dismal ratings in opinion polls notwithstanding, President Obama is the only Kennedy-esque figure in politics today, says Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's political talk show Hardball and author of a new biography of the 35th president called Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero. And that's because the president has the ability to inspire, says the television host. "I think that Obama, when he does sit down and write, whether it's the Philadelphia speech on race or when he talks about our country and its exceptionalism, it's what thrills most of us," Matthews tells Whispers. But a host of problems including high unemployment and a bad economy have sent Obama's approval ratings tanking. And, Matthews notes, the president has lost some of his inspirational ability since taking office.
So why isn't Obama conjuring images of Kennedy lately? "He doesn't have allies," says Matthews. "I turn on the television and read the paper, I don't see people fighting for him or taking down his enemies. Why isn't his cabinet doing that? Why aren't members of the Congress out there on his side fighting for him on the air? ... He should have struck those alliances a long time ago. Still has to do it if he wants to get re-elected."
Despite Obama's political problems, he's still more appealing than any of the GOP candidates, none of whom has the charisma that Matthews attributes to Kennedy. "Certainly Mitt Romney has stature. And I guess traditionally you can say he looks like a president, although that definition is changing. Charisma, no." [See a slide show of the 10 youngest presidents.]
But the other GOP front-runner, Herman Cain, may be topping opinion polls exactly because he's likable, says Matthews. "Do you have any idea what's going on with Cain? I don't. I can't get it. I'm trying to figure it out," Matthews says about the former pizza chain CEO's unexpected success. "Some of it's Tea Party, some of it is they can't stand Romney, some of it is he's the only likable person [out of the GOP candidates] you might actually like to sit next to." Matthews says he can see Cain being cast as president on a television show, if not the Republican Party nominee. [Vote: Can Herman Cain Put the Sexual Harassment Story Behind Him?]
Americans like their presidents with a touch of charisma. Still, Obama's appeal may not be enough to keep him in the White House, Matthews concedes. Kennedy-esque or not.
Illustration by Ed Wexler