FDR, JFK and Obama: a few inauguration parallels

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Many observers have compared President-elect Barack Obama to FDR and John F. Kennedy: all three are ranked as articulate, trenchant speakers; all three took office with considerable — even nearly insurmountable, as in the case of the Great Depression — challenges. And the public spirit of FDR’s inauguration in March 1933 and JFK’s in January 1961 seems much similar to the public outpouring we see today.

FDR’s inauguration took place amid dire circumstance. 1933 is commonly acknowledged as the worst year of the Depression; days before Roosevelt’s inauguration, banks were shutting down. Here's the Times of London's coverage of his inauguration. Tickets to the inauguration were sold out, despite the nation’s widespread unemployment and financial fears, yet by today’s standards its crowds were paltry; to accommodate the largest crowd ever in the inaugural’s viewing, organizers erected stands to hold 59,000 people. Obama’s inauguration is attracting several million to Washington, D.C.; the events’ security detail alone involves more than 40,000 people.

The overwhelming sentiment in 1961 was that John Kennedy was leading us into a new era. Jack Rosenthal, a former New York Times editor who worked in the Kennedy administration, writes in the paper about the likeness:

And others, who like me streamed into Washington 48 years ago excited by John F. Kennedy’s exhortation to “get this country moving again,” see a new New Frontier.

Washingtonians say they haven’t experienced anything like the present surge of enthusiasm since 1961 when J.F.K. took his oath in the pale sun and icy wind. We came full of confidence that a generous America could rise to new heights, escaping what one orator called “the broad fairways of indifference” of the Eisenhower years.

A NYT story from the day before Kennedy’s inauguration described an “increasingly frenzied city” and noted that the inauguration would be “told in more tongues and seen in more lands than any previous American political event.”

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