During the height of the Cuban missile crisis, with the United States and Soviet nuclear arsenals out of their holsters, loaded and cocked, the last thing mankind needed was a mistake. And it got one. An innocent one. A U.S. U-2 pilot on a routine mission accidentally breached Soviet airspace. Frightened and nervous White House aides brought the mistake to the president, expecting him to explode in anger at the stupidity. Instead, President Kennedy responded with: “There’s always some S.O.B. who doesn’t get the word,” before making certain Kruschev knew the flight was unintentional.
It is unfair, I know, to compare the leaders of today with the myth of President Kennedy, but I can’t help it. Compare the detachment and irony of John Kennedy’s grace with the occasional pettiness of Mitt Romney. The latest example: Today, Mitt Romney is complaining about Barack Obama’s nasty ads. Apparently, they make him angry. He finds them unfair and below the belt. My advice: He’s watching too much TV before his fundraisers. (My guess is that he, like many Americans, is hooked on the Olympics — his staff should TiVo them.) Romney is whining about negative ads on the same day his campaign announced it will release a new ad accusing Obama of launching a war on religion. Okay, then.
Kennedy's style was in the service of something big: It helped him stay focused on the things that mattered. In the Cuban missile crisis, for example, saving the world. The big thing in Mitt Romney’s world right now is giving the American people more than his nothingness so far on why he should be president. Irony and detachment can help him; sentiment and outburst cannot.