Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 07:28:13 PM EST
Every few elections it seems we have a "JFK" candidate. 16 years ago, it was a young Bill Clinton. Today, many say that Barack Obama, because of his youth and the optimism he exudes, strongly reminds them of JFK. But Barack Obama has a much more direct connection to John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Were it not for Kennedy's actions, Barack Obama would not exist.
From the UK's Guardian
In his command of the US political stage over the past year, Barack Obama has inspired many a comparison to John F Kennedy. Both young senators brought a lofty message, an appealing young family and a movie-star aura to the presidential race. But the two men forged a less known link - before Obama was even born.
The bond began with Kenyan labour leader Tom Mboya, an advocate for African nationalism who helped his country gain independence in 1963. In the late 1950s, Mboya was seeking support for a scholarship program that would send Kenyan students to US colleges - similar to other exchanges the US backed in developing nations during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Mboya appealed to the state department. When that trail went cold, he turned to then-senator Kennedy.
Kennedy, who chaired the senate subcommittee on Africa, arranged a $100,000 grant through his family's foundation to help Mboya keep the program running.
"It was not a matter in which we sought to be involved," Kennedy said in an August 1960 senate speech. "Nevertheless, Mr Mboya came to see us and asked for help, when none of the other foundations could give it, when the federal government had turned it down quite precisely. We felt something ought to be done."
One of the first students airlifted to America was Barack Obama Sr, who married a white Kansas native named Ann Dunham during his US studies. Their son, born in 1961 and named for his father, has only once mentioned his Kennedy connection on the campaign trail.
John F. Kennedy showed leadership and stuck his head out to share American resources with the Kenyan people. And the payoff was enormous:
"[...]Obama is hailed in Kenya as one of the great results of the airlift," said Cora Weiss, who led the US group that helped Mboya organise the airlift. At a recent reception for alumni of the program, she recalled, one Kenyan journalist made a rousing toast to the student exchange that produced "the next president of the United States"[...]
Weiss, the airlift organiser who now leads the Hague Appeal for Peace campaign, has begun researching how many members of the newly elected Kenyan parliament are alumni of the exchange program[...]
"Airlift students became the nation builders of the new Kenya and a handful of other countries in Africa," Weiss said, adding: "It was all because of Tom Mboya's vision. If it helped to produce the next president of the US, hooray."
Many politicians claim inspiration from President Kennedy, but were it not for Kennedy's actions, Barack Obama would not even exist today. This story also shows the mutual benefits of international engagement (of the non-military variety) and the enormous dividends it can yield. This is above all a story about the best part of America, which I am increasingly seeing is exemplified by Barack Obama.