Is Obama a Coward or a Principled Leader? And What Kind of Leadership Does America Really Want?

Is Obama a Coward or a Principled Leader? And What Kind of Leadership Does America Really Want?
In his recent New Yorker article about the midterm elections, Hendrik Hertzberg explains that "Obama's temperament has become a political liability." His serene and calm attitude, once considered a tremendous asset, is now widely perceived as either cowardice or indifference. In the aftermath of the midterms, Hertzberg sees the next two years as essentially lost. "There will be no more transformative legislation," and "it will be all Obama can do simply to protect health-care reform from sabotage."
I don't know about you, but I feel helpless in the face of last week's tragic election. A staunch supporter of the President, I'm nonetheless fed up with Obama's demeanor. Like many critics, I've written a lot lately about how he must "fight back" and "stand up for himself." I still think that's true, but maybe we're all getting ahead of ourselves. Or not.

On the one hand, perhaps we have something to learn from Obama. His decision to remain calm and call for cooperation in Congress seems out of touch considering how vicious and intransigent the conservatives have been. But his attitude is in truth consistent with the one that swept him into the White House in 2008. For all the hysteria from the left about how "this is not the man I voted for," certainly his temperament remains the same. His Presidential campaign called for a new kind of politics-an approach marked by a different tone from what we've seen in Washington for many years. He preferred calm rationality to hostility. When McCain referred to him as "that one" Obama did not reply in kind.

As matters stand, Obama's approach has led to both an historic sweep and a historic "shellacking." One could therefore argue that, unpopular as it may be right now, Obama's strategy has worked before and could work again. Perhaps if the unemployment rate starts to decrease pundits will look back at this time with admiration at the President's refusal to stoop to the level of his enemies. As he said on 60 Minutes the other day, the most salient thing he's learned about himself during the past two years is that he's very "resilient." Such an attribute carried him through tumultuous moments in 2008, and it certainly aided him in his Herculean quest to reform health care. Why change now?

But the obvious retort is that serving as president is totally different from merely running for the position. And the Republicans' approach to winning the public has unquestionably worked, while Obama's has thus far failed. Nevertheless, everything may come full circle because the Republicans are now charged with actual governing responsibilities. Considering all this, I think the election of 2012 will be the ultimate test of America's character. It will likely be the first time in years that the people will face a serious choice for the country's future, rather than merely another angry rejection of the party in power. Although I view last week's results as further confirmation that our electorate is hopelessly ignorant, a fitting follow up to electing Bush multiple times, 2012 may decide once and for all if we prefer calm rationality or bombastic, disinformation-based fear-mongering.


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