Saturday, November 22, 2008

For Many A BHO Presidency Stirs Echoes Of JFK...Both High Hopes & High Fears...

JFK's Famous Civil Rights Speech Part One

JFK's Famous Civil Rights Speech Part Two

by Virginie Montet

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Americans reflected Saturday on the presidency of John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated 45 years ago, as once again a young, inspiring president is headed to the White House.

President-elect Barack Obama has often been compared for his lofty ideals and charisma to the late JFK, who was shot dead in Dallas, Texas in 1963.

But Obama's appeal and his historic election as the first African-American US president have many people worried about potential threats to his life.

"He is inspirational, he is an historic figure, he is the first African-American president; but there is also -- because of that potential for stirring up social unrest -- that also makes him a target," said Scott Stuart, senior terror and security analyst for Statfor, a publisher of geopolitical intelligence.

The threats to Obama are nothing new in American politics. Four American presidents were assassinated: Abraham Lincoln in 1865, James Garfield in 1880, William McKinley in 1900, and JFK.

President Kennedy's brother Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King were both gunned down in 1968.

There have also been assassination attempts against Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

"It's not only JFK. It's Robert Kennedy, it's Martin Luther King. We have had a history of violence against inspirational leaders in the US," explained James Thurber, professor of government at American University.

Thurber said he recalls the era when the Kennedys and King were assassinated, and pointed out similarities between then and now.

"I do remember the time and it is very similar except that Obama is even more inspirational that Kennedy in terms of turning people on and bringing people in from the Republican Party to vote for a Democrat," he added.

"It's more historic in some way in the sense that Obama is African-American."

Obama received the earliest ever Secret Service protection for a presidential candidate in May 2007 -- 18 months before the election -- due to threats and to the large crowds he attracted at campaign stops.

His former rival Hillary Clinton had Secret Service protection due to her status as a former first lady.

Clinton sparked massive criticism in May of this year when invoking the June 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy to defend her decision to remain in the presidential race through June.

She promptly expressed regret for her comments, interpreted as a suggestion that she believed Obama's life was in danger.

Once Obama "began emerging as a major candidate, he was actually afforded the same level of protection as the president because of the threat and that was really unprecedented," added Stuart.

"They were so concerned about the threat that he had much higher security than the other candidates."

Two plots have already been thwarted: in Colorado during the Democratic convention and recently in Tennessee, where two white supremacists were arrested in what authorities said was a plot to conduct a string of armed robberies and murder 88 black people for a spree culminating in a suicide attack on Obama.

According to Stuart, the Secret Service worries most about discrete and not overt threats, those most difficult to identify.

Obama's high approval ratings, set around 70 percent before he takes up office at the White House, are also a source of concern for experts.

"He just captured the heart and minds of the American people," said Allan Lichtman, history professor at American University, commenting on the public's high expectations.

"But we are all aware of the danger that comes with that, particularly for the first time an African-American is president."

Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.


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