Matthews: Obama must learn from his mistakes


In the wake of the Bay of Pigs disaster, Kennedy took total personal accountability. “I’m the responsible officer of the government,” he said. He got his highest approval ratings – 83% in a Gallup poll.

What’s wrong with Obama’s admitting that the stimulus bill he won from Congress in 2009 didn’t do what he said it would? Give the reasons, but include the nature of the miscalculation. Otherwise, the prediction by his chief economic adviser of an -8% jobless rate is going to trail him right through next fall’s debates. It’s easy to spot the leader. He’s the one who deserves to take the lead, because he’s the one who takes the heat. Anyone disagree with that?

I once heard Arthur Schlesinger say, “Politics is essentially a learning profession.”

A young leader like Obama would do well to show he’s learning. The only way I know to do that is to show you’ve made adjustments in your thinking and learned from what’s not worked. How else do you build confidence that your leadership is going to be better in the future than it was in the past?

Kennedy made a lot of mistakes in his handling of the Bay of Pigs in 1961, most particularly in his overreliance on his military advisers. A year later, he was older and wiser.

Shown aerial photographs of Soviet nuclear-missile sites in Cuba, Kennedy asked for options. When the Joint Chiefs called for either an air strike on the missile sites or a full-scale invasion, he resisted. He relied instead on a naval quarantine of any new nuclear equipment tied to a secret negotiation with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Here was an American President standing up to the top men in uniform, who wanted to not just hit the missile sites in Cuba but invade the island. He, unlike them, kept his eye on the ball. If we hit Cuba, Khrushchev could still fire any surviving missiles.

The Soviet Chairman would say in his memoirs that this was precisely his intention: “Even if only one or two big ones were left-we could still hit New York, and there wouldn’t be much of New York left.

If Kennedy hadn’t learned as he did from the Cuban mistake of 1961, he would not have had the force of will that delivered us from nuclear catastrophe. No one’s going to believe President Obama is learning unless he seems to be. Nobody is going to believe the second Obama term is going to be better than the first unless Obama lets it be known that he’s learned from his mistakes.

John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama

Matthews: Obama must learn from his mistakes