Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Character and leadership of Obama

Andrew has published an email from a Dish reader that perfectly captures my feelings about President Obama (frustration and admiration), his character and leadership.

The reader is responding to that moment in the debate when Obama looked Mitt Romney in the eye and called his politicization of the Benghazi attack and murders as "offensive".   Here is the video from the debate and below is the readers response.  Forgive the long quote but it's important and I want it here for my own future reference.

Andrew's reader:
I keep coming back to a moment I think was the most important of the debate, and in some ways, Obama's whole presidency. When he called Romney's accusations of politicizing Libya "offensive," I pumped my fist in the air, thrilled. Then, when I found myself going back to that moment again and again, I wondered why it was so powerful.

Yes, the language was probably planned and practiced, yes it was partly political theater, but it reinforced something about this leader that I think many of us feel, even if we're not always aware of it. For all the complaints we have about Obama, especially in the conduct of domestic policy, one thing he demonstrates to me, and it's the reason I revere him more than Bill Clinton, is that he makes careful, patient, principled -- and practical -- decisions, waits patiently for them to bear fruit, and when they do, he trusts the public to analyze and understand what he's accomplished on their own. Libya, tellingly, happens to be high on the list.

There was no crowing about the delicately coordinated bombing campaign (and the covert actions on the ground which helped it succeed) that brought down a tyrant. No "Mission Accomplished" banners, no bold predictions about the future of a remade Middle East thanks to our military efforts. But Obama got results. For less than a thousandth of the cost of Iraq, and with no lives lost until September 11th, Obama gave us a democratically elected Arab ally, an ally whose people -- not their leaders, their people -- are so grateful for what America did and how we did it, that after the death of our Ambassador they poured into the streets in outrage, and attacked the Islamic militias responsible.

No the story's not over. But name another Arab country where you've seen anything remotely similar. What political hay does Obama make out of all this? Very little. Then or since. (To my great frustration, frankly.) After the ambassador dies, Obama's language is full of firmness, but also restraint and moderation, and zero politics. Mitt Romney's language? The opposite. Obama trusts us to use our eyes and give credit where it's due.

His anger in that moment, theatrical or not, was about something deeper. At least it was for me. There must be something horribly galling to our president about being called out for an absurdly minor offense (if it even was one) in the context of a huge foreign policy triumph. It should be galling to us too. We fail to appreciate this president's exceptional character at our own peril.
Bill Clinton, who hasn't been this popular since Newt Gingrich impeached him, is getting a lot of attention. No one could work a town hall like Bill and his policy mind is as sharp as anyone who ever occupied the White House. But in the afterglow of the Clinton years it's easy to forget how very political he could be in his decision making, which always had his own political survival as the top priority as he triangulated from none near death experience to another. This is where Obama is different, often times to my considerable frustration. Obama is maddeningly patient and both arrogant (neither Clinton suffers from a lack of arrogance as well) and at the same time understated.  I think Andrew's reader captures this perfectly.  

Obama is a leader first, and politician second -- an accusation no one would ever throw at Bill Clinton  And this doesn't mean he hasn't made plenty of policy decisions for political purposes, but when he does it, I'm often surprised.  That the decision would be political was a given with Bill Clinton, the surprise was his selling it and coming out the winner nearly every time.

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