Monday, November 7, 2011

Is President Obama a good leader?

When President Obama was elected he seemed like a different kind of leader.

Not just the first black man in the White House but a new sort of American president: thoughtful, reflective and determined to represent all of his country.

Now, a year away from the next presidential election many people question what sort of leader he has turned out to be.

One unkind critic said that he seemed like a 50-year-old man who has just got his first proper job, that he has had no experience of running any organisation and it shows in his management of the White House.

Republicans are of course the harshest critics. Ed Rogers, a veteran of the George H W Bush and Reagan White House, told me: "I think Obama is not a very effective leader. "I think he is a thinker and a ditherer to a fault. I think his leadership style does not lend itself to crisp decision making.

"I get the impression he anguishes before a decision, and even worse for a president, he anguishes after a decision. So, his team never has certainty.

"They never know if the other side is back in appealing to the president, they never know if they have gotten clear, certain decisions.

"And at the end of the day being president is about making decisions and sticking with them." Of course in part Mr Obama's initial appeal was that he did consider the facts, carefully and dispassionately.  Ron Suskind points out the story is not yet over.

"I think he is a leader with extraordinary capacities. He is brilliant. The question that emerges is, 'is his brilliance the kind that makes for great presidents?' The kind that creates a distillate of decisiveness?

"That remains to be seen. He only has a few months to do something dramatic in terms of words and deed before he slips into the swirl of an election. This is his moment." Second-term presidents, freed to a certain extent from the cruder political considerations about their own future, can surprise.

We may see that happen. But we may not. Mr Obama first has to convince people that he is a leader, even if one with faults.

An election is a choice, not the final judgment of history. He has to persuade people not that he is the best leader ever but the best on offer.


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