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Obama's 'Perfect Storm'?

06/14/2010 01:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sebastian Junger wrote a gripping description about the fate of fisherman in their boat, the Andrea Gail that went down in October 1991, somewhere off the coast of Massachusetts. They lost their lives during what the author called, "the perfect storm." The event was later the subject of a hit movie.

No one has yet compared the White House to the Andrea Gail. However, it appears that we are watching and participating in the Obama administration's efforts to navigate through a political "Perfect Storm": Israel's bloody interception in international waters, of the Mavi Marmara's attempt to challenge Israel's blockade of humanitarian aid to Gaza, Arizona's new illegal immigration law, continued high unemployment, British Petroleum's gigantic oil spill in the Gulf coastal waters of the United States, our decades failed "War on Drugs," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's report that "our nation faces a dropout crisis when 25 percent of our students -- and almost 40 percent of our black and Hispanic students -- fail to graduate high school," and escalating American casualties in the war in Afghanistan.

Criticism of President's leadership, alleged lack thereof, or its substance, if not, the style of his leadership, is the common denominator of many comments in magazines, on the internet, radio and television, and, especially 24-hour cable news shows. Such criticism is reminiscent of the presidential primaries when news pundits said Obama was either "too white," "not black enough," or too "elitist" as a candidate. Now, as president of the United States, he is either "too cool" or "too aloof." Specifically, in response to the Gulf oil spill, he is not angry enough, publicly, at BP, etc.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd reminds us that "The 21st Century press beast is a scary multimedia monster, caught up in the trite as well as the vital, and reporters rarely can be as contemplative as cerebral as Obama would like."

Several media pundits want Obama to "kick ass and takes names." Saying, authoritatively, "this is what the country wants."

Hold on, not so fast. Is this the person we elected as president?

I thought Obama was elected because, among other things, he represented a new generation in the 21st century that has developed its own unique genre of political leadership.

Business Week
, in its November 11th, 2008 magazine, described Obama as "A Leader for the 'We' Generation." It noted:

20th century leaders focused on money, fame, and power, earning the title of the "me" generation. Their leadership destroyed many great institutions, as evidenced by the failures of Enron, WorldCom, and dozens of companies like them. The recent fiascos on Wall Street can be traced to the failure of 'me' leaders who put themselves ahead of their institutions.

The sweeping victory of Barack Obama ushers in a new era of leadership that will affect every aspect of American institutions and that sounds a death knell for the top-down, power-oriented leadership prevalent in the 20th century.

"A new style of 'bottom-up, empowering' leadership focusing on collaboration (is) sweeping the country. A new wave of 21st century authentic leaders will take over U.S. institutions of every type: business, education, health care, religion, and nonprofits. These new leaders recognize that an organization of empowered leaders at every level will outperform "command-and-control" organizations every time.

If current domestic and foreign events constitute a political Perfect Storm for President Obama, his friends and supporters appear to underestimate him. To refresh my own recollection, I reread some of candidate Obama's campaign speeches, especially his victory speech, in Grant Park, Chicago, IL, on election night. In referring to his successful election as President of the United States, Obama said to his supporters that his victory was:

... the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve, to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment , change had come to America.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America -- I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you -- we as a people will get there.

There will be missteps and false starts. Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that have poisoned our politics for so long.

President Harry Truman said, "Men make history and not the other way around... Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better."

Barack Hussein Obama's decision to become a candidate for President of the United States was undoubtedly influenced and motivated by many things that occurred in his life prior to November 4th, 2008.

Obama's deep and abiding religious beliefs appear to have been an important part of his personal journey. In announcing his candidacy in front of the Illinois State Capital on that cold windy day in Springfield, it may be that Obama was responding to an inner voice within his soul, similar to that of Isaiah in 6:8: "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send?' And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'"

The current "perfect" political storm confronting Obama says more about his supporters than about him. This "storm" may be a litmus test of the political maturity and wisdom of President Obama's organizational and voter base. They have a choice: They can either become 24-hour cable news surrogate piranhas, cannibalizing the actual and potential public reception and support for Obama's efforts during this "Perfect Storm"; Or, they can marshal grassroots support to enhance the political power of his leadership.

I am not suggesting that the president be given an uncritical "blank check." I am saying, however, that the political and ideological maturity of Obama's election supporters requires, during this "storm," that in their desire for immediate successful results, the "perfect" does not become the "enemy of the good," and, that criticism be constructive and prudent so that measurable and achievable goals do not become the unintended hostage of political nihilism.

Is it better that Obama remain silent with an implied and tacit endorsement of Israel's armed intervention in international waters of a civilian sponsored effort from Turkey to provide humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza?

The cover story of last week's center right The Economist was captioned, "The Israeli Government's macho attitude is actually making Israel weaker." The article continued:

For anyone who cares about Israel, this tragedy should be the starting point for deeper questions -- about the blockade, about the Jewish state's increasing loneliness and the route to peace. A policy of trying to imprison the Palestinians has left their jailer strangely besieged.

"The blockade of Israel is cruel and has failed... It is startling how, in its bungled effort to isolate Gaza, democratic Israel has come off worse than Hamas, which used to send suicide -bombers into restaurants. (The Economist, page 6, June 5th, 2010)

Friends of Israel are offering President Obama thoughtful advice as he tries to navigate through this part of his Perfect Storm:

In the aftermath of the flotilla fiasco, it is not just Israel's military tactics and its blockade of Gaza that need a thorough reexamination. Its narrative does, too. A dose of empathy might be a place to start. Israel will not break by military force and tough rhetoric alone the political and moral double standards by which the world judges its actions. But it can make its case better by tempering force with diplomacy, by caring as much about the humanitarian distress among Palestinians as it does about humanitarian causes elsewhere in the world, and by developing a storyline infused with the moral and ethical standards by which Israelis judge their own behavior. (Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, is a visiting professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.)

Will President Obama's efforts to address the oil spill and its ecological and economic consequences on the residents of Louisiana and other Gulf states be more effective if Obama's immediate principal objective is to publicly kick BP's ass? If so, maybe before he does, he might want to reflect on the cogent question presented by Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times:

Why is Obama playing defense? Just how much oil has to spill into the gulf, how much wildlife has to die, how many radical mosques need to be built with our gasoline purchases to produce more Times Square bombers, before it becomes politically "safe" for the president to say he is going to end our oil addiction? Indeed, where is "The Obama End to Oil Addiction Act"? (New York Times, May 18th, 2010)

Will the escalating U.S. casualties in Afghanistan be reduced or the war there "won" if Obama's current military policy continues without any military or diplomatic course correction? New York Times columnist Bob Herbert asks Obama and the American people whether or not they have "The Courage To Leave" Afghanistan?:

What's happening in Afghanistan is not only tragic, it's embarrassing. The American troops will fight, but the Afghan troops who are supposed to be their allies are a lost cause.

Americans have zoned out on this war. They don't even want to think about it. They don't want their taxes raised to pay for it, even as they say in poll after poll that they are worried about budget deficits. The vast majority do not want their sons or daughters anywhere near Afghanistan.

Why in the world should the small percentage of the population that has volunteered for military service shoulder the entire burden of this hapless, endless effort? The truth is that top American officials do not believe the war can be won but do not know how to end it. (New York Times, Sunday, June 13th)

Will the deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops to boost security along the U.S.-Mexico border and requesting $500 million more for border protection and law enforcement resolve the issue of illegal immigration?

Will widespread unemployment, continued housing foreclosures, or high school drop rates among African-American and Hispanic students be significantly reduced by publicly kicking BP's ass?

Need I continue ad nauseam?

If Obama's supporters want the change they voted for, then they should return to their grassroots agitation and organization to mobilize voters in support of the change they seek. Now is not the time to pursue political makeover cosmetic surgery of President Obama's leadership. It ain't the style, but the substance of leadership that potentially will make a political difference. Continued criticism of his style may be self-defeating.

Moreover, the continued cascade of criticism by several persons in the so-called "liberal media" may result in unintended consequences: the "validation" of the new emerging form of the feel-good-media sound-byte style created and championed by lipstick-on-a pig Sarah Palin and the leaders of the emerging Tea Party Movement.

Is this really what those who criticize Obama's style of leadership want? In contrast to the fate of the Andrea Gail, don't we want President Obama to navigate successfully through this "Perfect Storm"?

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