Robert F. Kennedy vs. Barak Obama
Different politicians but similar lessons
Alfredo Ascanio (askain)
Published 2009-07-04 16:03 (KST)
In his first book in November 1967, "To Seek A Newer World", Robert F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States.
He announced, “I do not run for the Presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done that I am obliged to do all I can.”
This young politician wanted to be president to close the gaps between black and white, rich and poor, young and old and to stand for hope instead of despair, for the reconciliation of men instead of the growing risk of world war.
Today Obama said the same thing. Intentions are the same. But what are the differences? This is the subject of this article.
First, 1968 is not equal to the context of 2009. Today there is a deep depression like the 1930's. Nevertheless, these are big problems that have claimed Obama's attention.
The two politicians worked in the Senate and the Senate is a place where problems are dealt with as they arise, and attention and effort are devoted to the crisis of the moment. But problems of public finance are different. In the US economy of 40 years ago, over 20 percent of total output was purchased by government budgets and one-third of total income was collected in taxes.
Beyond the budgetary function, public policy influences the course of economic activity through monetary, regulatory, and other devices. But with Obama public enterprise plays a big role, because the crisis demands it that way.
Obama knows that the modern capitalist economy is thus a thoroughly mixed system in which public and private sector interact in a comprehensive fashion. Nevertheless, these are the problems which have most insistently claimed the attention of this president: How to preserve capitalism, but also to control destructive capacity of the unemployment and the crisis of consumption.
And certainly today's president would be asking the following questions:
1) What criteria should be applied when one is judging the economic efficiency of various budgets polices?
2) What are the responses of the private sector to various fiscal measures, such as tax and expenditure changes?
3) What are the social, political, and historical forces that have formed the shape of present fiscal institutions and which determine the formulation of contemporary fiscal policy?
Question one requires setting standards of “good” performance. Corresponding to the analysis of efficient behavior of households and firms in the private sector, this calls for a type of economics, which, in professional jargon, is referred to as “welfare economics” or “normative economics”.
Question two must be asked if the outcome of alternative policies is to be traced. Analyzing the effects of fiscal measures thus involves what has been referred to as “positive” economics (i.e, how firms and consumers will respond to economic changes and testing such predictions empirically).
Question three likewise involves a “positive” approach, asking why the fiscal behavior of governments is what it is. This not only is a matter of economics but also includes a wide range of historical, political, and social factors. How do interest groups try to affect the fiscal policies, and how do legislators respond to pressure? How are the fiscal preferences of voters determined by their income and social and demographic characteristics, and how does the political process, in fact, serve to reflect their preferences?
The concerns of Robert F. Kennedy included racial injustice and improving the condition of workers. The slums or the inner city and the sub-employment rate (an average of 35 percent) and the possibilities of a self-government because democracy, in any active sense, begins and ends in communities small enough for their members to meet face to face.
The alliance for progress or vast cooperative effort, unparalleled in magnitude and nobility of purpose, to satisfy the basic needs of the American people for homes, work, health and schools; a plan to transform the 1960s into a historic decade of democratic progress.
At that time there were problem with China and nuclear weapons and today Iran and North Korea are the problems.
South Vietnam and another kind of war-new in its intensity, ancient in its origin-war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins, war by ambush instead of by combat; by infiltration instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. A lesson, which carries with it some basic truths, said Kennedy.
First, that a total military victory is not within sight or around the corner.
Second, that the pursuit of such a victory us not necessary to our national interest and is even damaging that interest.
Third, that the progress we have claimed toward increasing our control over the country and the security of the population is largely illusory.
Fourth, that the central battle in this war cannot be measured by body counts or bomb damage, but by the extent to which the people of South Vietnam act on a sense of common purpose and hope with those that govern them.
Fifth, that the current regime in Saigon is unwilling or incapable of being an effective ally in the war against the Communists.
Sixth, that a political compromise is not just the best path to peace, but the only path, and we must show as much willingness to risk some of our prestige for peace as to risk the lives of young men in war. And also that the best way to save our most precious stake in Vietnam -- the lives of our soldiers -- is to stop the enlargement of the war, and that the best way to end casualties is to end the war.
Although the war in Vietnam was different from today in Iraq and Afghanistan, lessons are the same and this similar problems has to be resolved by the two politicians: Kennedy and Obama.
Other articles by reporter Alfredo Ascanio