Tue, 13 Jan 2009 06:00:27 +0000 – By Jon KrausharCommunications Consultant
Once Barack Obama delivers his inaugural address, he will officially lay down the initial markers to measure his performance and to subsequently rank him as a leader. In declaring his leadership intentions to the world, he takes on a new role in the public imagination. In part 1 of this series, I described the leadership role of reformer. Here are the next two of a potential seven roles Obama can play as he strives to produce the results that will earn him a place in the rankings of other U.S. presidents.
A rescuer is a level above a reformer because it characterizes a leader in a major crisis, such as President Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War or President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Depression--coincidentally two of Obama's heroes (and two he may refer to in his inaugural address).
Rescuer is the role some people cast Obama in during his campaign and it has only magnified since his election. Expectations of Obama as a rescuer are so high (he has been called "The Messiah," and similar names, even by some news commentators) that Iadvised in a previous FOX Forum post that he should seek to lowerexpectations of his turnaround powers regarding the economic and national security. If not, he risks massive disappointment and "buyers' remorse" when Americans discover that he is only human, after all.
When George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, one of his favorite rallying lines regarding any issue (including "Clinton fatigue") portrayed him as a rescuer. Bush's catchphrase was "Help is on the way."
Bush has since said or implied the same message, with mixed results from the "help" provided, on a host of challenges during his presidency. These range from his high point after the 9/11 attacks to his low point after Hurricane Katrina.On December 19, Bush stretched for rescuer status in announcing the rescue loans of $9.4-billion for General Motors and $4-billion for Chrysler. Bush described the loans as,"a necessary step to help avoid a collapse in our auto industry that would have devastating consequences for our economy and our workers." Whether that is another of Bush's attempts to rescue his legacy or it will rescue the automakers remains to be seen.
Obama and his team have worked hard to differentiate him from Bush, yet Obama is challenged, as Bush has been, to transform himself from a reformer candidate into a rescuer president during a time of national (and world) crisis involving economic turmoil and the ongoing war against terrorists. Obama will either play the rescuer role well in the eyes of many or he will find it backfiring on him, as Bush has on a number of occasions, as Jimmy Carter did and as so many other leaders either have or will.
Realist is a role adopted by political leaders confronted by the stark facts once their campaign theatrics have ended or once circumstances change. The current press narrative about Obama is typified by this headline in a post-election analysis piece by Janet Hook and Peter Nicholas that appeared in The Los Angeles Times: "Barack Obama is looking more like a realist." The subheadline also is revealing: "The president-elect who promised to overthrow Washington's partisanship and cronyism is turning to seasoned veterans--even lobbyists--in an apparent effort to avoid rookie mistakes."
Realist can be a term of admiration for a leader who sees through exaggerated optimism, pessimism and confusion and tackles problems pragmatically and without illusions. It can also be a term implying what many are currently saying about Obama--that he is tempering his campaign promises and profile to fit current realities and the challenges they present to him once he's officially in office as president.
The examples abound. Obama, the realist, seems willing to enter into political alliances with experts regardless of their party or ideology as long as he feels they will move his agenda forward. The seasoned veterans Obama is turning to to fill out his administration include a few Republicans and many people (including Clinton loyalists) who either opposed him during his candicacy for the Democratic nomination or are considered far more "centrist" than Obama portrayed himself to be when he ran for president.
An additional characteristic of realists is that they quickly, sometimes ruthlessly, adapt to circumstances and cut their losses. For example, we saw Obama immediately accepting rather than defending New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson when he withdrew his nomination as commerce secretary. Richardson, one of the country's most prominent Hispanic politicians, faces a grand jury investigation of "pay to play" charges that a California-based financial company got New Mexico state contracts in exchange for contributions to three of Richardson's political committees.
Speaking of adaptation, Obama is giving himself wiggle room on withdrawing from Iraq now that he is getting candid briefings from top military sources about Iraq and also about Afghanistan and the wider War on Terror. The deadline he insisted on in his campaign for pulling U.S. combat brigades out of Iraq appears to be movable. Obama now says, "I believe 16 months is the right time frame, but, as I've said consistently, I will listen to the recommendations of my commanders."
On "FOX News Sunday" on November 23, David Axelrod, selected as Obama's senior White House adviser, left open the possibility that Obama might adapt in another way, by not immediately rolling back tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations; instead letting them expire in 2010 or even as late as 2011. This would be a bow to refraining from increasing taxes in a recession. And last week, it was reported that Obama will propose $300 billion in tax cuts or credits to individuals and businesses.If so, that's 40% of his estimated $775 billion stimulus package over two years, a high proportion that surprised many Republicans.
Is Obama just being a realist, adjusting his positions and choosing his top aides based on new realities, or has he gone back on some of the "change" he promised in his campaign? Was it realism that made Obama lean left to win the primary, move to the center to win the election, and will he stick to the center to appeal to mainstream America--not only as president but also to insure his re-election? Most importantly, will Obama's version of realism lead to real success, creating the change America values?
What gives you confidence or concern about Obama's chances of succeeding as a leader in the White House? How do you rate Obama's potential on these two measures of leadership ranking: rescuer and realist?
Click on "Leave A Comment" below. Tomorrow I will provide the final four of the seven roles a president may play to attain a ranking as a leader.
Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net.