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March 6, 2011, 7:02 p.m.

An SIU-Car­bondale Paul Si­mon Pub­lic Policy In­sti­tute poll; con­duc­ted 9/30-10/10; sur­veyed 758 LVs; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 3.6% (re­lease, 10/12).

Obama As POTUS

- Now 10/09(RVs) Ap­prove 50% 63% Dis­ap­prove 48 35

Dir­ec­tion Of U.S.

- Now 10/09(RVs) Right dir. 29% 44% Wrong dir. 62 53

Dir­ec­tion Of IL

- Now 10/09(RVs) Right dir. 11% 23% Wrong dir. 81 72

House Gen­er­al Elec­tion Match­up

Gen­er­ic GOP­er 41% Gen­er­ic Dem 40 Oth­er/un­dec 19

(For more from this poll, please see today’s IL SEN and IL GOV stor­ies.)

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of this column mis­stated the first name of GOP pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Her­man Cain.

It struck me as more than a little odd, and crush­ingly sad, that we had to wait 47 years to find out what John F. Kennedy really thought of Lyn­don John­son. Oh, there had been stor­ies of JFK’s dis­like for his vice pres­id­ent, even about his tent­at­ive plans to dump him from the tick­et in 1964. But if Jac­queline Kennedy is to be be­lieved, her hus­band truly feared for the coun­try’s fate — and not just be­cause John­son might be tain­ted by the Bobby Baker scan­dal, as JFK’s former sec­ret­ary, Evelyn Lin­coln, wrote in her mem­oir.

In newly re­leased ex­cerpts from a series of in­ter­views she did in 1964, Jack­ie, her grief and an­ger still raw, told his­tor­i­an Ar­thur Schle­sing­er that JFK had fret­ted about LBJ’s suit­ab­il­ity to suc­ceed him. “He said, “˜Oh, God, can you ever ima­gine what would hap­pen to the coun­try if Lyn­don was pres­id­ent?’ “ This was well be­fore John­son turned Vi­et­nam in­to a bloody fiasco.

Doubts about JFK’s own suit­ab­il­ity were raised, just as stealth­ily, by his pre­de­cessor, Dwight Eis­en­hower, ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­an James Led­bet­ter. Al­though it took years to gain wide­spread sup­port, one per­suas­ive in­ter­pret­a­tion of Ike’s fam­ous Janu­ary 1961 warn­ing against a “mil­it­ary-in­dus­tri­al com­plex”: The out­go­ing pres­id­ent feared that JFK was too na­ive to stand up to it, Led­bet­ter writes in his 2011 book, Un­war­ran­ted In­flu­ence: Dwight D. Eis­en­hower and the Mil­it­ary-In­dus­tri­al Com­plex. At the time, Kennedy was trump­ing up a fake “mis­sile gap” with the So­vi­ets as a cam­paign is­sue, and the Bay of Pigs was just around the corner.

Wouldn’t it be bet­ter if we all heard about these con­cerns in real time?

Today we face an­oth­er pres­id­en­tial-suc­ces­sion pro­cess at a cru­cial mo­ment in his­tory. And I get the sense that we in the me­dia are still just dan­cing around the real is­sues of char­ac­ter, read­i­ness, and sub­stance. Can’t we pre­tend, for a mo­ment, that we’re Jack­ie and Ar­thur, pars­ing the here and now for real — not for the cam­er­as — and talk­ing the way real people talk? No speeches, no pos­tur­ing for pos­ter­ity, and no wor­ry­ing about of­fend­ing con­ven­tion­al wis­dom.

Here’s what that might sound like.

First, we all know that one of three people will be the next pres­id­ent: Barack Obama, Mitt Rom­ney, or Rick Perry. The oth­ers are en­ter­tain­ing — and they’ve all had their mo­ments in the de­bates — but Newt Gin­grich, Rick San­tor­um, and Michele Bach­mann have about as much chance of be­com­ing pres­id­ent as you or I. (It’s a shame, be­cause Bach­mann’s vow to bring only the Con­sti­tu­tion, the De­clar­a­tion of In­de­pend­ence, and the Bill of Rights with her in­to the White House sug­ges­ted that we might see some very cre­at­ive at­tire.)

Jon Hunts­man fits the per­fect ca­ri­ca­ture of a can­did­acy: smart, ser­i­ous, good head of hair. But as Obama’s former ser­vant (his am­bas­sad­or to China), he has no busi­ness here, and every­one knows it. Her­man Cain is, well, a pizza ex­ec­ut­ive. The only reas­on Ron Paul is not simply scary is that we all know he has no chance of run­ning any­thing, so he is simply silly. I mean, a gal­lon of gas might cost only a “sil­ver dime” if he were pres­id­ent? Sure, and the Mod­el T could be Amer­ica’s next great ex­port. When an­oth­er ques­tion about the Fed came up at the de­bate the oth­er night, my At­lantic Me­dia col­league Jeff Gold­berg tweeted mer­rily that Paul’s forth­com­ing re­sponse would be like the drum solo at a 1970s rock con­cert: time to go get some beer.

How long does the pre­tense have to go on? Is it really ne­ces­sary that we all play along with Rick San­tor­um’s fantasy and Newt’s self-in­dul­gence?

Second, while the eco­nomy is the primary is­sue, no one in Wash­ing­ton really knows how the eco­nomy works any­more, no one agrees on it, and no one will talk about the prob­lem. “The really fun­da­ment­al ques­tion,” the head of the Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice, Douglas El­men­d­orf, told the su­per com­mit­tee this week, is “what role do you and your col­leagues want the gov­ern­ment to play in the eco­nomy and the so­ci­ety?” Most of what we’re hear­ing is bump­er-stick­er solu­tions with no rhyme or reas­on be­hind them. Three years in­to a ti­tan­ic crisis that has left us with ser­i­ous (and jus­ti­fi­able) skep­ti­cism about the abil­ity of either mar­kets or gov­ern­ment to man­age things, the con­ver­sa­tion in Wash­ing­ton about what really happened to the eco­nomy has not yet be­gun.

Rom­ney’s 59-point pro­gram is little more than a grab bag of tra­di­tion­al GOP nos­trums. Obama, still look­ing des­per­ately for cov­er from Re­pub­lic­an at­tacks, has put for­ward a pro­gram heav­ily re­li­ant on GOP-style tax cuts and tax in­cent­ives. Much of the $450 bil­lion pro­gram could work, but Re­pub­lic­ans will prob­ably quash the most ef­fect­ive spend­ing/stim­u­lus part and leave the least job-cre­at­ing parts: the tax cuts and cred­its. Here, we’re all pre­tend­ing as well: Busi­nesses hire be­cause they need em­ploy­ees, and they need em­ploy­ees be­cause de­mand for their products and ser­vices is up, not be­cause they get a break on their taxes. No one is talk­ing about the one big move that could make a dif­fer­ence: us­ing the cur­rent rock-bot­tom in­terest rates to help hun­dreds of thou­sands of un­der­wa­ter mort­gage hold­ers to re­fin­ance.

And then there’s Rick (I Can Do the Math on That One) Perry. He con­tin­ues as ap­par­ent front-run­ner by in­sist­ing that the 2009 stim­u­lus pack­age cre­ated “zero” jobs. That’s com­ic­ally wrong. Eco­nom­ists es­tim­ate that it cre­ated or saved at least a mil­lion and a half jobs — just not enough. Perry also said that we need to “free up Wall Street” — as if the glob­al eco­nomy had not been nearly hurled in­to a second Great De­pres­sion by Wall Street just two and a half years ago.

Knock, knock. Time for a real­ity check. Any­body home? Is that you, Lyn­don? We have a mes­sage for you “¦

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