Monday, November 5, 2012

Obama's Second Coming: Learn Humility and Leadership

Things fall apart; The center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

                                                  ----- "The Second Coming" by W.B.Yeats

Just a month back who would have thought that come election day Obama would be in a dead heat with Mitt Romney? The race is statistically tied. Opinion polls are all over the map. Barring an Obama win by a whisker any other outcome, including an Obama landslide, would grab the headlines and rewrite US political history. 

It is political campaign principle to try and define one's opponent before he/she has had a chance to define himself/herself to the public at large. Bill Clinton used it to great effect in 1996 to define Bob Dole before Dole could define himself for the electorate. Bush repeated it in 2004 defining Kerry as 'flip-flopper'. Romney had to take a very rough beating all through spring and summer when Obama pummeled him on airwaves as a corporate raider, a leech on the poor, called his economic philosophy 'Romneyhood: Reverse Robinhood" and more. All that worked as expected until the first debate.

I belong to a distinctive minority who do not think that Obama is a great orator and not an articulate person when it comes to explaining policy. On October 6th at the first presidential debate the world came crashing on Obama worshippers, especially those who think that words were invented to be spoken by Obama's tongue. Just 30 minutes into a 90 minute debate the twitter verse exploded with anger and disappointment at the pathetic listless performance of Obama. Overnight Romney became a viable President. Obama had spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to convince people that Romney was a rapacious get-rich-by-looting guy who was completely heartless. All that came undone. Obama never recovered his commanding lead after that.

70 million Americans tuned in to discover that Romney is not a fire breathing monster with two horns. Probably Obama's caricature of Romney went too far that seeing a semblance of normality in Romney an electorate hungry for change got converted by the thousands. Even if Romney loses this election the debate and how it changed a race will go down in history books along side the fabled Kennedy-Nixon debate. 

Romney will lose Ohio and thereby the presidency due to the notorious oped he wrote for New York Times titled, so ominously, 'Let Detroit go bankrupt'. Incidentally oped writers do not choose the title, the title was given by New York Times. If an oped sunk a Presidential candidacy it would be that. 

Economist magazine endorsed Obama outlining their deep misgiving about the protean shape shifting character of Romney. The editorial praised Romney's tenure as governor and wondered if he is capable of being that common sense pragmatic person or would he be controlled by the right wing in GOP. In what is the most counter argument for an endorsement Economist said they preferred Obama as he is a 'known devil'. Literally. In 2004 the same Economist overlooked Kerry's far left flip flops as part of campaign to gin up the base and endorsed him.

In its very back handed endorsement Economist voiced deep concerns about Obama. In the 104 rounds of golf that Obama played just one was with a Republican. Obama's aloofness is legendary and the fat that he does not foster any long lasting relationship with anyone beyond the close knit coterie from his Chicago days is the stuff of parlor gossip in DC. 

Obama is famously aloof even with congressional leaders from his own party. As senator he was highly impatient with the arcane procedures of the senate and did not form any real friendship.  He visited his alma mater Columbia University to deliver a commencement address and surprised many by not spending a minute more than necessary in a college that shaped him. He did not visit any old haunts, the dorm or the neighborhood as any college student would have done going back to deliver a commencement address. He had no lasting friendships from even his college days. Bill Clinton on the other hand formed last relationships at Yale and Oxford. Clinton fell in love at Yale, his classmate Robert Reich was later Secretary of labor, Strobe Talbot from Oxford was later Ambassador to Russia. In an interview Obama confessed that he would rather spend time with his children than hobnobbing with Congressmen. 

Even Obama's left wing fellow travelers have noted with frustration his aloofness. Gail Collins, columnist for New York Times and therefore an Obama supporter, noted that the "President goes to a country, gives a speech and gets out". Given the adulation he receives for his oratory Obama does hold his ability to sway audiences by speaking in very high esteem. Unfortunately for him speeches rarely sway anybody let alone a country or an opposition party. Clinton and Blair formed a great friendship. Obama has not developed any real relationship with any foreign leader. 

The famously non-partisan Bob Woodward chided the President for not showing 'leadership' during the debt deal negotiations. Woodward detailed how Obama could not even convince his own party leadership. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, both democrats, showed scant respect toward the President. 

According to current projections it appears that the lower house will remain in the hands of the GOP and the senate will have a threadbare democratic majority. That makes working 'with' congress an imperative. A second term Obama needs to address that. For that he needs to learn from Clinton, his new found best supporter and advocate.

Obama has a tendency to be arrogant and dismissive towards the GOP that he often tells them "elections have consequences and I won". Yes he won a massive landslide victory in 2008 but he won only 53% vote. 47% voters rejected him. Amidst the excitement over the historic election most lost sight of the fact that he won lesser states than Bill Clinton. Obama came to his inauguration like a Caesar riding a crest of euphoria. When Roman generals take a victory lap, according to legend, a slave would often ride along side whispering in their ears "remember you are a mortal". Unfortunately Obama's coterie keep whispering in his ears that he is 'messiah'. 

Obama's win tomorrow by all means will be a very narrow one and he needs to remember that nearly half the country rejected him. Injecting that humility into his perspective will restrain him from running amok with ideology. Else voters will deliver another rebuke like they did in 2010. In a deeply divided nation the winner would do well to remember that the victory was only eked out. 

Above all one expects the US President to be serious about his job. It is all very well to play partisan politics to win an election but to govern in a partisan way will be disaster. US has serious problems that need serious answers. Pandering to unions with rhetoric about taxing 'millionaires and billionaires' is childish. If puerile talk becomes policy it would not serve the country. Obama's tax fetish will yield revenue that can only fund 72 hours of US federal spending. Between reforming entitlement spending and killing Osama Bin Laden the latter needs lesser political courage and leadership. For the sake of the nation let us hope that he gets serious and honest.

If Obama's second term is to be unlike George W's second term then he needs to learn to be humble, learn to be more inclusive of ideas from opponents, learn to lead. I am, however pessimistic of Obama's ability to learn. I worry like Yeats and wonder what kind of candidate will 'slouch' towards DC.

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