Monday, December 1, 2008

Observing a pre-Presidency

Barack Obama is definitely not President of the United States yet. But, to be sure, how he is operating as president-elect, is gaining more scrutiny than any other newly elected chief executive since FDR. Like Roosevelt, the times are determining the level of intense interest.

An interesting thing has developed on the way to the White House, however. We're hearing words that are being refreshingly associated with the presidency. Words like, smart, intelligent, impressive, articulate, curious. During the primaries and the presidential campaign itself, articulateness and intelligence became dirty words. It was almost as if being thoughtful and reflective was a constitutional disqualifier.

I almost expected Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to be removed from the roster of former presidents!

This interregnum between administrations has actually turned into an Obama 'pre-Presidency', again, a sign of how desperate the times have become, but as such, it is only a hint at the decision making process of the the soon to be POTUS, not necessarily a guarantee of success. However, it apparently is enough to make the country feel, well - hopeful.

The intelligence and thoughtfulness with which Barack Obama is approaching the monumental task of righting this country's economic ship is being met with a great deal of admiration by even conservative columnists. David Brooks, referring to the current announced administrative appointees and personages ar a 'validictocracy' says, " much as I want to resent these overeducated Achievatrons (not to mention the incursion of a French-style government dominated by highly trained Enarchs), I find myself tremendously impressed by the Obama transition.

"The fact that they can already leak one big appointee per day is testimony to an awful lot of expert staff work. Unlike past Democratic administrations, they are not just handing out jobs to the hacks approved by the favored interest groups. They’re thinking holistically — there’s a nice balance of policy wonks, governors and legislators. They’re also thinking strategically."

Washington Post's David Broder said, "...I am struck by how lucky this country is, at the moment, that the president-elect is a super-smart person like Barack Obama."

These are not homages to a brainiac Commander in Chief, but rather, I believe a recognition that maybe we need more than just reflexive certitude in a president. Having the smartest guys in the room surrounding the president doesn't necessarily mean that there is an overlooked magic bullet to fix the economy, health care, end the war, prop up public education and - well I don't need to go on, you get the picture - that only the uber educated can find. But some Americans could learn that its not enough to just have an ideological predisposition toward a solution; that intellectually disciplined women and men, committed to presenting well thought out points of view, with enough depth that those points of view can be probed and adjusted as circumstances dictate, are an asset not a liability. It will be important as we entered the uncharted territory which the new president and his administration will surely face.

I also wonder about the example this might to our young people. All young people. African-American youth and children, Hispanics, high school age, elementary, you name it. It's a good thing to have the President of the U.S., with the ability to communicate clear strategy, inspire hope through his articulation of vision, and the capacity to critically think through problems and issues and develop a process based on the most thoroughly debated range of options?

Consider another one of Broder's observations, "...the quality of his questions -- and his follow-ups -- were a measure of the depth of his knowledge of the situation.

"He has not been tested that rigorously in the news conferences he has held so far, but his ability to respond to the questions he has been asked, to make his points in a coherent, balanced way and to avoid any misstatement has certainly been a treat to watch."

What a great object lesson it is to have a leader (and leaders), in our country who have not allowed ethnicity, age and socioeconomic challenges serve as barriers to achievements, but stepping stones? I think Kathleen Parker, another conservative columnist had it right: "By [Obama's] example, he telegraphs the following messages: Being smart is good; education is good; being a good father is essential. Being an egghead is cool."

Think about it. According to Brooks, on January 20, these are the personalities who will support the new executive branch of government:

"Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law) will take the oath of office as his wife, Michelle (Princeton, Harvard Law), looks on proudly. Nearby, his foreign policy advisers will stand beaming, including perhaps Hillary Clinton (Wellesley, Yale Law), Jim Steinberg (Harvard, Yale Law) and Susan Rice (Stanford, Oxford D. Phil.). The domestic policy team will be there, too, including Jason Furman (Harvard, Harvard Ph.D.), Austan Goolsbee (Yale, M.I.T. Ph.D.), Blair Levin (Yale, Yale Law), Peter Orszag (Princeton, London School of Economics Ph.D.) and, of course, the White House Counsel Greg Craig (Harvard, Yale Law)."

Again, I want to stress, Barak Obama's not POTUS yet (although there are some who are arguing that his first 100 days have already started), and it takes more than a degree to make one an effective leader, after all, the smartest guys in the room sunk Enron! But the example Obama currently projects may be good for more than just our fiscal and political future. It just may be good for our image of ourselves.


Anonymous said...

Obama is good at talking pretty coherently, if you discount the stuttering, but actually saying nothing.

Gerald Britt said...

We will indeed miss the eloquence and profundity of the past eight years. It's been severely 'misunderestimated'!