Political History Is Repeating Itself

Article excerpt

THE history of American politics is filled with intriguing twists and turns:

Early in 1960 I interviewed presidential candidate John F. Kennedy on a flight from Nebraska to Washington. He spent much of several hours defending himself against the accusation then engulfing him: That his Roman Catholicism involved a conflict of interest that should disbar him from the presidency.

Again and again he asserted that his only loyalty was to the United States and that, if elected, he would uphold the Constitution. But he was understandably angry and frustrated to be facing such questions. He complained, "It isn't fair; it just isn't fair."

Now it's ironical that Mitt Romney's Mormonism has been used against him by Ted Kennedy, who is making a frantic effort to save his Senate seat in Massachusetts. Senator Kennedy implied that the Mormons' history of denying leadership positions to blacks and women meant that Mr. Romney would likely follow such a path. He abandoned this tactic against George Romney's son when he found it wasn't going over with voters. But some who would otherwise have voted for Kennedy will probably vote for Romney because of the unfairness of the charge.

JFK was able to survive that criticism and become the first Catholic to reach the White House. En route, many Protestants voted for Kennedy simply because they thought it was unfair for him to be under attack because of his religion. That was true in the very important West Virginia primary where Kennedy beat a popular Hubert Humphrey in a heavily Protestant state. There's another glaring example of history's repetition in the forefront today: the resemblance of President Clinton's administration to that of Jimmy Carter. While Mr. Clinton is known to relish articles that compare him with JFK, Franklin Roosevelt, and even Lyndon Johnson, he doesn't enjoy being compared to Carter. That's what is so ironic about Mr. Carter's largely volunteer foreign-affairs activity in behalf of Clinton. This "helping out" is basically uninvited and unappreciated. …