“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you”
That’s the opening line of my favorite poem “IF” by Rudyard Kipling, and if Obama hasn’t yet read it, now’s the time. A sensationalist U.S. media, starving for some major misstep on his part that would fuel their audience’s penchant for the negative, has already begun to insinuate that the health care reform is not going to pass, that Afghanistan will be his undoing, that the stimulus package has not worked, that he’s taken on too much too soon. And they barely conceal their glee when announcing that his ratings have “plunged” to 59%.
What a colossal failure Obama is! After a whole six months, he hasn’t fixed anything yet! The sky will soon fall according to them. And it is unfortunate that the general public chooses to watch CNN and Fox rather than the level-headed, factual, seasoned experts invited by Charlie Rose and Jim Lehrer on their programs (thank God for PBS!). There one can find some semblance of sanity; there one will see “old” clips of Obama repeatedly telling the nation back in January and February that these are deep, long brewing, systemic problems, that are going to take some pain, and a long time to fix; there one will hear Director of Management and Budget Peter Orszag explain the lag required for a stimulus of that magnitude to take effect on the economy. But most of the public watch the network news, or partisan cable stations, and set their expectations accordingly, and have now started to scream for unemployment to fall by next week, for the Iraq and Afghanistan problems to be resolved soon
So Obama needs now to keep his head when all about him are losing theirs, and blaming it on him. From a leadership perspective, this is precisely the time that he must stay the course, and live by his principles and values, despite the firestorm whipping up around him, and the criticism and abandonment of those who such a short time ago were solidly on the bandwagon. It’s crunch time: time for steely resolve, calm thinking, and leading by example until the emotional crowd comes back to it’s collective sense and realizes that it can no longer place it’s head in the sand and delay the inevitable. It’s crunch time: time to take the lousy tasting medicine, and start the tough journey that will create a better future for them and their children.
The easy route for him would now be to stoop to the old politics: deal-making, compromises made to secure another term as opposed to solving the astounding problems the nation faces, let the riskier challenges fade off the radar. But that would mean a betrayal of those who elected him. True leadership means delivering on the tough promises, even when those you made them to waiver and flag because they seem too overwhelming. Great leaders, even so abandoned, persist until the right things get accomplished.
There were times like this for other Presidents: Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman. Each held the course, and persisted until their duty was complete, despite calls for their heads by many who had elected them. It is now Obama’s turn. Let’s hope he can keep his head.