Story and Photos by Ken Krayeske • 12:59 AM EST
President Elect Obama in Hartford in February. This is the last of the file fotos from his vist back then. I am thankful I got to see him that day. He's kind of looking askance, to his side, relaxed, but tentative. The sort of contradiction we get from his appointments and then his words.
T he verdict is far from in on Obama. I am trying not to form an opinion of his presidency yet. He hasn't even taken the oath of office.
Yet the soft changes his leadership brings are amazing. And I don't use that lightly. He almost sounds like Spiderman talking to Barbara Walters:
That if you're placed in a position of power, then you've got responsibilities to your workers. You've got a responsibility to your community. That if - there's got to be a point where you say, 'You know what, I have enough, and now I'm in this position of responsibility, let me make sure that I'm doing right by people, and, and, acting in a way that is responsible.' And that's true, by the way, for members of Congress, that's true for the president, that's true for Cabinet members, that's true for parents. I want all of us to start thinking a little but more, not just about what's good for me, but let's start thinking about what's good for our children, what's good for our country. The more we do that, the better off we are going to be.
Not only that, but he is calling for captains of industry to forego their end-of-the-year bonuses. His rhetoric of veiled redistribution is thrilling. When was the last time we heard that out of the White House?
Now how do we reconcile this language with his appointment of Clinton retreads into every executive branch office he has touched so far? Can the theory actually be right about his leadership being able to change the quality and direction of work produced by Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner.
Or what about the fact that Obama will retain the services of Bush-appointee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates? Even uberwarhawk Bill Kristol is saying that Obama is making sober, rational choices.
Is Obama disarming his worst critics? Is it more art of war startegizing? Thomas Sowell of the National Review online can't even mention Obama's name when he tries to rationalize excessive CEO pay as the American dream:
It may tell us something painful about many Americans today, when so many people are preoccupied with the pay of corporate CEOs. It is not that the corporate CEOs’ pay affects them so much. If every oil-company executive in America agreed to work for nothing, that would not be enough to lower the price of a gallon of gasoline by a dime. If every General Motors executive agreed to work for nothing, that would not lower the price of a Cadillac or a Chevrolet by one percent.
His reduction to the absurd wonders why we don't complain about the salaries pro athletes make. The crux of Sowell's biscuime: It's the anonymous politicians, not the people, and the endgame is simple, "Demonize those whose place or power you plan to usurp."
So the socialist meme on Obama has cropped up again because he has called for profit with honor. Obama is far from telling those denizens of Detroit that they can't have a 20,000 square foot mansion in Grosse Point. So why is Sowell scared that Obama wants to nationlize industry? "Politicians who want the power to micro-manage business and the economy know that demonizing those who currently run businesses is the opening salvo in the battle to take over their roles," Sowell wrote.
Our administrative state already micro-manages the economy, but in favor of the one percent Obama wants to act like adults. And Obama reinforces his adult image by being a president raising kids, and being certain about his parenting decisions - like when he and Michelle tell Walters that their kids are going to make their own beds in the White House - that is such a huge shift in values from the Bush twins running wild, breaking laws while their dad was president.
So I'm not ready to cast everything aside with Obama yet, because the war machine will march onward, and he is hardly at the helm of that. But what he does have control over, he is throwing a 180-degree turn around.
Some on the far left may say, but he is only being devil who smiles at you and holds the knife behind his back, because he hasn't mentioned a word about poverty. But maybe, it's like your lawyer, you have to trust him, because he knows more than you. Obama is a smart dude. No question about it.
The scary part of the Bush president is that his leadership style had a trickle down effect. Executive officers around the country in business said to themselves, well, I can make preemptive policy, forget fairness. Monkey see, monkey do.
On the local level, I experienced it when fired once. "You're either with me or you're with him," him being my friend just canned. That dichotomous choice presented to me during an employment conference with a former boss - Bush enabled that kind of behaivor.
People are not going to feel like they can act like that with Obama. Will Obama's presidency change the way a guy like Eddie Perez governs? Will Perez have to embrace a softer touch? I have limitations - I understand Perez won't learn to speak in complete sentences anytime soon, but will this force Perez to abandon the Bushian unitary executive model in favor of a delegation doctrine?
All the hoopla this week about Obama's economic team, and since the election, his transition team, is about him delegating responsibility. Will Obama's public show of team-building inspire Perez to resign as chairman for the board of education and find a replacement? Will it make the political climate so that Perez has but no choice to return some of the jewels in his crown?
It will be interesting to watch how Obama's decision making impacts leadership in America. It is too early to jump to conclusions, and be dogmatic the other way, too - saying that Obama is too much inside the machine, already his presidency is doomed because he has too many Clintonistas on his payroll.
While giving him the benefit of the doubt, I want to remain skeptical, and listen to the doubts. I heard Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn on Democracy Now! express doubt as a virtue:
I think that if we’ve learned one thing from those perilous years, it’s that dogma, certainty, self-righteousness, sectarianism of all kinds is dangerous and self-defeating. So, to me, the rhythm that we tried to live our lives by and that we urge on our students and others is open your eyes, see the world as it really is. Act. Take some action within the world. Engage. And then, importantly, and something we forgot to do in 1970, doubt. Act and then doubt. Question yourself. What did you do right? What did you do wrong? And then act again. So that rhythm of opening your eyes, seeing the world, acting, doubting, acting, doubting, it seems to me is what ought to power us forward.
Somewhere I read some poet/theologian - maybe Rilke - responding to the question of doubt in faith in the divine, saying that the doubt, the ability to not be sure, is what makes one human. To erase that doubt is to erase the very nature of identity.
As a leader, I don't believe Obama has the luxury to express doubt. We need confidence and action. But he shows us he is vulnerable and concerned when he tells Barbara Walters: A lot keeps me up at night. I hope that he weathers the dark hours of soul doubt better than most.
For this, we should be thankful. Happy Thanksgiving!