JFK and Barack Obama’s Centrist Transition to Liberalism

Like I said.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog.

Leave it to a better commentator and a smarter Schlesinger to team up to more eloquently make a point I hazarded last week about the perception that Barack Obama's cabinet choices are centrist rather than liberal. Liberalism is an ideology, I suggested, while pragmatism is not an ideology but rather how you apply it.

E.J. Dionne has a great column in today's Washington Post examining the supposed liberal disillusionment with Obama. He cites similar rumblings that emanated from the left in the lead-up to the Kennedy administration, quoting from the Journals of JFK aide Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (or as I was wont to call him, Dad).

In a Dec. 1 journal entry, Schlesinger described a meeting in which he told Kennedy "that the liberals were concerned about having a spokesman in the Cabinet." Kennedy replied: "Yes, I know, the liberals want visual reassurance just like everybody else. But they shouldn't worry. What matters is the program. We are going down the line on the program."

Schlesinger concluded that Kennedy was seeking "an administration of conservative men and liberal measures," an intriguing notion to apply to Obama. 

Dionne goes on to note that even some of the so-called conservatives in the gathering Obama administration have moved to the left as circumstances have dictated. 

This means that parts of the political left will have some differences with Obama over the next four years, but it doesn't mean that most on the left are already disillusioned with him.

Take it from Arthur Schlesinger. In his 1960 diary entry, he ascribed to Kennedy the view that "especially with a liberal Congress, conservative-appearing men can win more support for liberal measures than all-outers." Schlesinger added: "Of course there is something to this argument." 

There is indeed something to that—watch and see.