September 10, 2012

Pearlstein: Both Romney and Obama Lack Leadership IQ

I've been hesitant about polluting this blog with politics. A life-long political junkie, I'm fed up today. Extremists on both sides have taken over the stage, egged on by the media, which loves conflict and controversy. The rest of us have become a silent majority, watching the train wreck of our collapsing political system.

The conventions' deceptions and distortions from leaders of both parties on issues I care about made me change my mind about keeping this blog politics-free.

I had planned to publish a post today in response to a recent comment from my son. He said he'd been watching my blog to see if I'd have anything to say about Ryan's plan for Medicare. I do have something to say and my son, who will turn 54 in December, is a perfect example of what troubles me about Ryan's plan. I'll get to that tomorrow. Then the next day, I'll take up my concern about what Biden has said.

For now, I want to discuss Steven Pearlstein's column in today's Washington Post. I urge you to read it: Leadership IQ and the race for the White House.

Just before reading this piece, I had an e-mail exchange with a friend. I had complained that Obama, when given a choice between good politics and good policy, has too often chosen the former. My friend responded: "I'm not sure that's true. It probably would have been better politics to give up on the Affordable Care Act and not do the auto bailout.

I thought, "He's got a point there." Then I read Pearlstein's column, which explained -- I thought -- why my friend and I were both right. The 2010 election results changed Obama from leader to politician.

Where I'm Coming From
Since I plan to write several posts on political issues, you should know where I'm coming from. I'm a lifelong "liberal Democrat," a designaton most Democratic politicians are afraid to use these days. But I'm not a politician.

Nor do I march in lockstep with the Democratic leadership. For example, I didn't vote in the 1996 presidential election, the first one I ever missed. I was angry with President Clinton. When Newt Gingrich proposed changes in Social Security in his 1994 "Contract with America," Clinton and the congressional Democrats should have taken up the challenge to see if negotiation on this crucial issue was possible. Instead, they did what the Democrats do all too often: resort to demagoguery aimed at frightening seniors anytime Republicans propose touching social security.

I can safely play this silly game of not voting because I live in the District, where the Democrats are sure to win with or without my vote. Still, I'm considering withholding my vote again this year. And I haven't given Obama and the Democrats a dime this year, contrasted with thousands of dollars four years ago.

About a year ago, I thought Romney might be a better choice for president. The Republicans would continue to control the House and would probably take the Senate, too, because more Democrats were up for re-election. I thought a second-term Obama would therefore be doomed to continued stalemate, while a moderate Republican might be able to enact some needed changes. I entertained those notions before Romney made it clear that he would go wherever the political winds were blowing... and those winds are gusting in the direction of the Tea Party.

Where Pearlstein Is Coming From
Pearlstein writes a column for the business section of the Washington Post twice a week. In 2008, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his "insightful columns that explore the nation's complex economic ills with masterful clarity."

He, too, has a liberal Democrat background. He worked on the staff of Senator Durkin (D-IL) for several years. But he's spent most of his working life in journalism.

The Essential Leadership Traits
Pearlstein says at the outset that he's trying to keep his ideology and policy preference out of the analysis of Romney's and Obama's "leadership IQ." From contributors like Warren Bennis and Tom Peters to The Post's "On Leadership" website, Pearlstein says:
... we know that the essential elements of successful leadership are authenticity and truthfulness, an unwavering set of core values, strong personal ethics, a passion for a larger purpose outside of yourself, the ability to communicate an inspiring vision, empathy and emotional intelligence, persistence, self-discipline and a boldness that sometimes borders on narcissism. 
How Do Romney and Obama Rate? 
Here's Pearlstein's summary:
So, let me put it right out there: Although Barack Obama is yet to fully deliver on his considerable leadership promise, Mitt Romney -- for all his history of running things and running for things -- remains clueless about what genuine leadership is all about.
Pearlstein presents a searing indictment of Romney, whose biggest problem is "his stunning lack of authenticity." That assessment is based on Romney's "reinvention from centrist and pragmatic Massachusetts Republican into a dogmatic social and economic conservative, totally disavowing explicit positions on abortion, gay rights, immigration, the bank bailout, environmental regulation and, of course, the health reform in Massachusetts that was once his signature  political achievement."

"Phony is the word that keeps coming to mind," Pearlstein says. He presents more evidence to back up his failing grade for Romney and concludes:
Despite his obvious intelligence, self-discipline and managerial ability, by any honest measure Mitt Romney fails the leadership test.
American voters apparently have misgivings about Romney on this score. Given the lackluster state of the economy, he should be far ahead in the polls, not tied with Obama.

The Obama analysis was even more interesting. Pearlstein thinks the president showed great leadership potential in his best-selling books, in his election campaign, and his early years in office:
Whether you subscribe to them or not, he has a vision, a set of core values, a passion for a cause beyond himself.... As president, he has sometimes shown courage and persistence in pursuing unpopular initiatives, along with that boldness that sometimes borders on narcissism.  His empathy seems genuine. His public persona seems authentic and well-integrated with who he really is.
Where he has fallen short of his leadership promise, however, is by failing to tell the hard truths (Romney is not better) and making good on his promise to change the way business is done in Washington.
I wholeheartedly agree that Obama has failed to tell the public the hard truth. But I think he wasted too much time trying to make good on his promise to change the way things are done in Washington. It was clear early on that the Republicans had no interest in working with Obama and were only interested in destroying his presidency.

I also agree with Pearlstein's conclusion that after the 2010 election, Obama changed from being a potentially good leader to a traditional politician:
With the electoral drubbing that his party took in November 2010 and the sharp decline in his own poll numbers, Obama stopped being a leader with a passion for a larger purpose outside of himself. He became just another politician focused on his own re-election, pandering to the public and key constituencies, refusing to come clean about the sacrifices that would be required while demonizing Republicans with the same relentless advertising based on exaggeration and half-truths that Republicans had used so successfully against him.
The Obama strategists no doubt would argue that this is the only way to win re-election. Pearlstein thinks -- correctly I believe -- that sticking to a leadership strategy based on authenticity, core values, and courageous truth-telling would have been more effective, and a sure way to expose Romney's phoniness. (And to get big bucks from me.)

Obama's defenders also assure us that after winning re-election, he'll show that he can live up to his leadership potential. Pearlstein concludes:
I'd be skeptical that anyone who wins office by playing the old Washington political game will have the power -- let alone the instinct -- to change it.
What I Would Add
Being an effective president in our political system requires more than the leadership traits Pearlstein describes. It requires innate political skills to work one-on-one with other politicians... skills Obama has not shown.

Seeing him speak at the convention after Joe Biden and Bill Clinton reminded me how Obama lacks the "schmoozing" talent those other two veterans possess. It's a talent that comes naturally to fun-loving, people-loving guys like Biden and Clinton. Michelle seems to connect better than Barak. The president may have compassion for people generally, but he doesn't really seem to care much for those outside his family and friends, and he particularly doesn't like dealing with politicians. He's essentially a loner. Tellingly, as a young man he lived in New York City for a few years without developing any meaningful friendships.

If you don't like dealing with people, they aren't likely to want to deal with you..

Remember Barbra Streisand's song about "people... people who need people"? They're certainly missing in action from the top of both presidential tickets this year.

Thank God I've got Griffin and the Redskins to cheer me up this fall! Rather than "Hail to the Chief," it will be "Hail to the Redskins" -- I hope.

Reminder: For all of you who are ready to fire off a comment or email reminding me that the President nominates the Supreme Court Justices, remember I said I can indulge myself in not voting ONLY because I live in DC,  I certainly would NOT recommend this for anyone living in a jurisdiction where your vote could make a difference!


Brian said...

Excellent, as usual. Hate to see someone as bright and intellectually energetic as you so jaded that you are likely not to vote. Understandable though. Obama apparently is a real loner and not fun to be around, according to a friend of ours at the cabinet level.

gleesonjohn said...

Thanks Brian. But with the inaugural of the Griffin era with the Redskins, my spirits should be revived this fall. Ooops. I just remembered how happy and enthusiastic I was with Obama at the outset.

Nancy Sedmak-Weiss said...

John, Do you want him to walk on water too? Sure, I would have liked to see him change how things are done in Washington, but that was impossible considering the incredible resistance he encountered. Read "Its Even Worse Than It Looks" by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein and "The New New Deal" by Michael Grunwald, and see if that affects your opinion. PLUS, could he have accomplished the great things he did in the areas of gay issues, women's issues, health care, saving the economy, taking out Osama bin Laden (and more) AND change how things are done? I will take what he did do. And I am tempted to scold (severely) you on your "indulgence" with so many, many critical issues on the table. Nancy

gleesonjohn said...

Thanks Nancy. As I said in a subsequent post, I know I tend to careen from one side of the road to the other and need others to help steer me back to the middle. You and others have given me pause for thought. I still am not comfortable donating to a campaign that is focusing on negative trivia such as Bain Capital rather than the real issues. But I've decided to start contributing to a few key races and I've just sent off some $$ to Elizabeth Warren. She's waging the sort of hard-hitting campaign that I wish Obama would wage.