Interim assessment of a President

Introduction.

President Barack Obama addresses the House Dem...
President Barack Obama addresses the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the 2012 US Presidential elections in sight, we are now slowly closing in on the first 1000 days in Office of the current 44th US President Barack Hussein Obama, – borne the 4th of August 1961 in Hawaii.

Upon taking office Barack Obama was seen as a refreshing alternative for his predecessor  President  George W. Bush, the last being embattled both as due to an increasing and soaring national budget deficit, apart from and unpopular war in Iraq.

With the midterm 2010 elections for both the Senate and the House of Representatives the Democrats lost ground to the Republicans, creating more challenges for the Obama administration in terms of required legislation.

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Various Presidents have been assessed on their performance after they left the White House.

As described in “The Presidential Difference” – written by Professor Fred I. Greenstein – there are 6 quality indicators which largely relate to a Presidential job performance,  regardless whether he or she is popular or not.  With a minor variation and adding the quality of “courage” (being part of integrity)  those quality indicators are applied to President Barack Obama in this article, – being mindful however that this is just an interim assessment of a dynamic Presidency not being completed as yet.

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The Presidents ability first as a public communicator is presenting actually the outer face of leadership, as it provides both  the ability to energize the creative resources and intellectual skills of  various groups of people in society.  It is by far an important quality to be assessed because if the President in his role is able really to offer sustained vision, direction and hope,  – he will prove to have a lot of leverage at significant levels of people, –  both at home and abroad.

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The second quality is the President’s ability to select and organise an effective team, – working in alignment with his vision.  Professor Fred Greenstein calls it: “to organise the inner workings of the Presidency”.

The third important quality of any significant leader in a country is his or her political skill, to make manifest real “vision” in public policy that works.  It is a skill requiring and maintaining a wise balance  between both supporters and opponents.

The fourth skill of a President is his ability to have access to – and to filter and use the relevant daily information, – with a view to work effectively on a day to day base, besides preparing his or her strategies for the future towards meaningful purposes.

The quality of courage enables a President or Prime Minister to do what is right and just at a specific time and place – despite opposition and despite risks of not being elected anymore, not to speak about other risks. This quality of courage or >”Grace under pressure” <(as once called by Ernest Hemingway)  is closely interlinked with the integrity of a leader.

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Andrew Jackson once said: “One man with courage makes a majority.”  Examples of this did include both Churchill and Roosevelt, besides many others. This quality is not only a virtue in times of war, but for certain today rather a virtue at times of peace, to prevent the dangers of war, and to aid progress to reduce both the risks of our time and increase prosperity at different national and international levels, – with the inclusion of proper law enforcement.  At times it means a firm choice for the benefit of a whole country amidst gross opposition. There are many “people” examples in the past, not rarely as such being only recognised in retrospect, – sometimes many years later.

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Barack Obama made history on its own by becoming the first African-American President, with an unusual background as an American born in Hawaii.

Being largely raised by his white mother following a divorce from his Kenyan father in 1964, – he moved to Indonesia after his mother remarried a Geography graduate from Indonesia in 1966, who took his new family to Jakarta.   Until 1971 Barack Obama attended primary school in Indonesia and returned afterwards to Honolulu to live with his maternal grandparents. His maternal grandma died 2 days before the 2008 US Presidency elections.

With a background of various political science studies on US mainland,  Obama studied eventually law at Harvard University and graduated magna cum laude.  He married Michelle in October 1992 and amidst  his  position as a senior lecturer at the Chicago law school he joined a Chicago law firm specialising in civil rights, litigation and neighbourhood economics. His work before in the poverty-stricken areas of Chicago neighbourhoods made him realise that the scope and the domains of his actions were fairly limited and that a different direction of development was required.  This work in the poorest areas of Chicago was at the personal level most important for him. He decided not to be willing to be limited by America’s history but to change it.

He became a State senator for Illinois, representing the 13th district on Chicago’s south side. Between 2005 and 2008 he was a US Senator for exactly 3 years and 11 months, before being elected US President, – defeating the Republican nominee John McCain.

His movement for change to “>A  better Union<” is and has been in some sort of way an expression of  an older US movement for justice,  with roots going back to the movement which brought forward various people, – including e.g. Chicago’s first black Mayor, Ref. Martin Luther King,jr and Senator Robert F Kennedy. The tradition however goes even further and has  links with the Lincoln legacy.  –  Abraham Lincoln’s  Presidency has been always a source of inspiration for him.  Barack Obama’s inauguration on the 20th of january 2009  did show the spirit of some of his most remarkable predecessors.

>BRIEF SUMMARY OF PRESIDENTIAL ACHIEVEMENTS TILL SO FAR<

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Shortly after his inauguration and within the context of America’s deepest recession since Roosevelt, Obama signed the American recovery and reinvestment act as part of an economic stimulus program in February 2009.

President Obama himself was quite surprised receiving in October 2009  the Nobel Peace Prize, however it was perceived by “The Nobel Peace Prize Committee” that he already contributed in significant ways to peace.

Various other legislation followed, including the Tax Relief, the Unemployment Insurance  Reauthorization, – and Job Creation act.  Besides this the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Consumer Protection and the Dodd- Frank Wall Street legislation and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal.

Obama was able to gradually remove combat troops from Iraq. He increased however troop levels in Afghanistan after close consultation with his military advisers and signed an Arms Control Treaty with Russia. Early 2011 he ordered an enforcement of the UN sanctions-no- fly- zone over Libia and on the 1st of May military forces under his direct command killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

President Obama seeks to be reelected in 2012.

In summary President Obama has been quite active on various domestic policies, economic legislation, healthcare reforms and foreign policy. Main obstacles apart from the US economy are the war in Afghanistan and a “humbling” 2010 mid-term election, where the Democratic Party lost 63 seats and control of the House of Representatives. The US combat mission in Iraq has been finalised in August 2010, with still support for counter-terrorism and training security forces in Iraq. Regarding the 10 year old war in Afghanistan President Obama replaced the military commander General David D  McKieman with former special forces commander Lt general Stanley McChrystal in May 2009, as this would help the increasingly required  counter insurgency tactics in this longstanding war. After an incident with McChrystal’s staff criticising White House staff in public, – he was replaced by David Petraeus in June 2010. Anticipating troop withdrawals some 17 months from now it seems likely that David Petraeus may be nominated as the next Director of the CIA eventually, unless perhaps he opts to run as a Republican for the US Presidency in 2012

The Middle East with ongoing unrest in the Arab world as a result of various national uprise against oppressive governments are subject for intense US surveillance on balancing strategic interests and support of legitimate liberation movements. The policy on Libia and restrictions upon Syria are examples of this. Attacks by NATO war planes are continuing in Libia and there is a  international arrest warrant against Colonel Gaddafi.

The arrest of the IMF leader and potential Presidential candidate for France (in the US) did lead to significant upheaval this week, reflecting that US law in some cases does not discriminate.

Obama’s approval rate jumped recently with some 11% following bin Laden’s death but the slowly economic recovery remains a  significant factor in America’s judgement and approval rate. However in general, –  job creations have trended up with some 16% from March 2010, with the last 3 months an average of 250000 new positions being in place. Recent market gains have been due to higher earnings but US home values reduced further. The CPI index gained only 0.4 % in April 2011. Earnings and increasing jobs are essential with innovation reforms being required to sustain the popularity of President Obama, but the pace remains slow. A comprehensive immigration reform will be  one of the most turbulent political issues. As part of Obama’s long-term plan to reduce dependence on foreign oil, he will enhance a strategy to continue expanding safe oil production within US territory, with lessons drawn from the BP Gulf disaster.

Before the death of bin Laden President’s Obama charisma as a leader was not satisfactory in the view of public opinion. It is this public perception which requires ongoing attention within the context of the pending 2012 US Presidential elections.

Leadership skills are evidently there and particular circumstances are able to aid those skills to become more obvious and public. Many President’s in the past were faced with issues where bold decisions were required, based on integrity. The last however is already an existing and profound feature of the current US President.

>THE PRESIDENT AS A PUBLIC COMMUNICATOR<

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There are various references which do show that the 44th US President has exceptional  communication skills. Obama is connected with millions of Americans on a human and personal level. During the elections in 2008 he proved being able to underpin his public presentations with a bold vision around his “Politics of Hope.”  He knows that facts, details alone, will not move the people, –  and many of his communications and speeches are of an inspiring nature.  He has a willingness to listen in an emphatic way with a profound ability to hear different opinions in a respectful manner. In his communication he appears quite confident, but for certain not arrogant. He is aware of the importance of being deliberate thoughtful and not losing “his cool” under pressure. He has largely a relaxed communication style, being passionate at times to get his points through. Despite being under pressure at times, you never see it.  It proved that he is very much under control. He tends to take a pause before answering challenging questions. Even by those who do not agree with everything he says, he seems well liked by (most) Americans for his communication style.

>ORGANISATIONAL ABILITY<

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In line with President Lincoln, Obama did select wisely a cabinet of rivals where he appears clearly the leader in an environment of team discussions – with at times strongly different views. Within his own inner circle he became an increasing respected figure and though much has changed since a brilliant campaign organization in 2008, the political people advising him are still at large the same. He trusts his inner circle and they trust him, both at managerial and organisational level. His team seems to be  in alignment with the planning and vision for the future, – within a context of various obstacles and a significant loss in the House of Representatives. Though discussions can be intense, – the President appears not to have  much difficulty rallying support from his own Cabinet for the same ongoing purposes. Both his ability to listen and his relaxed communication style (with a good sense of humour as well)  is able to ease tension or potential tension. This seems to apply as well with his working relationship with his military advisers and the CIA.

>POLITICAL SKILL<

Obviously President Obama has evidently very profound political skills which are hard to be argued. He is well able to balance  among political opponents. As the second phase of his Presidency will be different from the first, he has to continue to balance wisely between various dynamics until he is secured of his second term in Office. Consensus over reforming corporate taxes including some concessions, – and highlighting revenue issues are pending matters. The debt ceiling fight will be full on within the House of Representatives, with leadership at the centre of the direction to be taken.  The decision to be against any tax increases and support the Bush “things as they are” on tax cuts will put more pressure on the debt ceiling, with a 14.4 trillion debt at present. President Obama is much aware of this and politically balancing through the economic pressures, – he seems to reveal himself as both the defender of sound and sober principles, where the Republicans have failed to come with a  helpful and united alternative. The President seems most pragmatic and is willing to take what he is able to get.

>INTELLECTUAL AND  EMOTIONAL  ABILITIES<

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The current 44th President proved very resourceful in sifting and selecting the required information for the effective use in his day-to-day activities. He operates from a sound belief system, well grounded in the contradictions of day-to-day reality. He is definitely able to relate to people from various classes and backgrounds, with effective emotional skills, – stable enough not to make similar errors as being made by some of his predecessors with the potential of embarrassment at the personal level. With both this balance of emotions, spirit and mind, – he is well positioned for the challenges in his position. He seems well-integrated at the “Centre of power”, cooperating wisely with both his Generals and CIA, – but not accepting inappropriate reflections or behaviour of any kind.

>LEADERSHIP<

To support the needs of US society and international developments,  the second term of President Obama – if reelected – will offer a sound base to provide more leadership than during his first term till so far. However he proved already a willingness to make tough decisions and the strength and decisiveness of leadership. The BP oil disaster nevertheless could have been taken up more proactively by accepting expertise abroad at an early stage. It is to early day to give a full assessment on this quality. Till so far he seems to be more a good person and a good politician with good intentions, – however the strength to unify the US over the edge of a further economic downfall and away from the pointless war in Afghanistan will test his skills to be the leader the US needs. The last  after the  previous Administration corrupting both the law and the US constitution in various incriminating ways, – apart from a total irresponsible way of overstretching the national budget with various war’s for the wrong reasons. This is the background  for the challenge in the hours of increasing heat which will enable steel to harden, but as the level of leadership may increase the level of personal danger may increase as well as the existing establishment is reluctant for the change being desired. Leaders following a line not in tune with the major background powers in the US are at risk of being assassinated, like this happened with President John F Kennedy in 1963.

>COURAGE<

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Ernest Hemingway described this once as: “Grace under pressure.”  The courage to stand up and to stand out at times of controversy were quite clear in 2008 when Senator Obama did raise the issue of race and religion as the 2 most toxic subjects in politics.  His ties to Mr Wright were put in the nations controversial racial history, which started with slavery and still continues today in the school achievement gap and ongoing discrimination between banking service and law enforcement. Courage whilst embracing the required actions on the needs for the future generation is a need for the person who fills the position of the US  “Commander-in-Chief”. The virtue of courage reflects on the spiritual capacity or integrity of the person being in charge, and this will prove even more to be within the domain of President Obama when circumstances will face him in the future in which he has to act, – and when times are more testing. This goes together with the quality of leadership.

As Robert Parry wrote on the 1st of May: >”No black man in the US who makes a serious run for the White House can be described as a coward or lacking guts.”- “He has taken on this role with full acceptance and knowledge of the risks. He is targeted by extremists, whilst living in the spotlight of the world with his family. Governing a nearly ungovernable country with the most obstructive House of Representatives, – left with a legacy of the worst economy of the century in the US.”

Indeed, – much of the criticism is profoundly undeserved and whatever happens President Obama keeps his smile and correct approach. President Lincoln went through the scrutiny of criticism and has been perceived in retrospect as one of the greatest Presidents the US ever had.

Likewise if President Barack Obama will be reelected and push forward the concept of social justice and a “More Perfect Union”, together with the required economic reforms – against the testing times of pending  increasing international political tensions  – he has the potential the be seen in retrospect as the first African-American President who made a real difference, at a time this was really required for both the US and the world.

From my point of view he is the best US President since JFK with perhaps slightly more favourable personal dimensions. He has the capacity to reach far beyond his current dimensions, depending on time and opportunity.

History will tell!

Thank you!
 Paul 

Paul Alexander

https://paulalexanderwolf.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/we-dream-of-things-that-never-were-and-say-why-not/

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