Monday, July 27, 2009

Obama's Charisma: Loved or Feared?

Niccolo Machiavelli believed it was better to be feared than to be loved. It takes a combination of fear and love to ultimately gain respect. President Obama's quest to be loved has bumped up against the realpolitik of the world. While he's enjoyed a "Rock Star" reception in the US and abroad, at the end of the day, American citizens specifically and the world generally look for concrete results based on the current challenges across a wide swath of issues ranging from the US economy to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The need to be loved will eventually falter Obama's efforts to be effective. It has been argued that President Obama's leadership style falls under the Charismatic Leadership Model. Charismatic leaders have been divisive by their mere nature due to their "single-mindedness" of purpose. To date, President Obama really hasn't stood for much outside of bromides and platitudes. As such, he has yet to create the enemies typical of charismatic leaders who operate through sheer force of focus and personality. This doesn't suggest that his political instincts aren't keen. Some would say that he's doing exactly what Machiavelli advised, respond to each challenge according to one's best interest. For all the disparaging comments made against President George W. Bush, one always knew where he stood on an issue. Time will tell whether the Bush Administration will be vindicated based on the decisions of the past.

As Senator Obama, President Obama had the luxury of throwing stones from the sidelines as a mere spectator on national issues. At this point, his politics hasn't been that different from President Bush's. He's merely re-branded the packaging to make it go down easier for the palates of the world. Invariably, effectiveness lies in staking out the lay of the land, making an assessment and moving forward based on the interests of a country. The old saying in politics, "There are no permanent friends nor enemies, only permanent interests" is prescient to the core of human nature. By trying to be all things to everyone, you work against yourself and eventually lose the respect of initial supporters based on the choice to be popular over being effective. People often don't care where the line is as long as you draw one.

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