It is increasingly clear to me that the Obama presidency offers (and threatens) something very much like the Kennedy presidency. This clarity is coming mainly from rereading Norman Mailer's The Presidential Papers in the light (or afterglow) of Obama's victory. Consider the following snippets:
It has long been the thesis of this self-appointed Presidential advisor that the FBI has done more damage to America than the American Communist Party.
J. Edgar Hoover has done more to harm the freedoms of America than Joseph Stalin.
Mailer did not imagine that Kennedy would agree with these statements, not even in private. His hope for the Kennedy presidency was simply that these statements would not be meaningless in Camelot. It is not difficult to construct contemporary corollaries:
It has long been the thesis of this self-appointed Presidential advisor that the Department of Homeland Security has done more damage to America than Al Qaeda.
Dick Cheney has done more to harm the freedoms of America than Osama bin Laden.
(The parallels aren't perfect: Michael Chertoff is not as much of a character as J. Edgar Hoover.) Thinking about the Obama/Kennedy parallels is helpful to members of my generation because we don't understand how abhorent the notion of "communism" was in the early sixties. (Witness how flat the "socialism" and "Marxism" charges fell.) But to suggest that Cheney is worse than Osama bin Laden!
Mailer's point was that if such sentences could be uttered in the polity ... that a literary rogue could write them did not mean anything ... if they could enter political discourse then it would "create a new psychological reality" that would be "closer to history and so closer to sanity". "It was Kennedy's potentiality to excite such activity that interested [Mailer] most."
Well, I feel that way about Obama. He will never say such things, or even think them ... he knows not to go there. But under his administration we will be able to think them. And this, as Kierkegaard would point out, is more important than whether or not we can say them with impunity.