12 Sep 2011

Obama must dispense with the calmer and rev up the drama

It has always struck me how obsessed Americans are with the concept of leadership.

Perhaps it comes with the Super Power territory. Perhaps it is a product of a presidency that has all the trappings of a monarchy, albeit an elected one without a succession.

I remember one of the American producers in my last bureau sending a senior editor in London an email about a story. He ended it by writing: “thank you for your leadership!” The editor, a Brit, thought it was unctuous and embarrassing.

The highest compliment that President Bush reserved for his closest chums, like Tony Blair, is that they showed great leadership.

Obama is cooler on the rhetoric of leading. And that may be one of his problems.

Even after the execution of Osama Bin Laden he refused to project the muscular image that Americans expect from their Commanders in Chief. He remained no drama Obama.

He is a decidedly understated President, which is perhaps why Europeans feel so comfortable with him and Americans often deem him detached and aloof or, worse, “professorial”.

It was striking that the only man who got an impromptu cheer yesterday at Ground Zero was the President who failed to find Bin Laden and led America into two unpopular wars, not the one who got him killed.

Assuming for one bleak moment that the economy won’t improve dramatically in the next year – barring any divine intervention from the latest job’s bill- then Obama needs to acquire some of his predecessor’s leadership mojo, add some drama and a hint of anger, while not losing his cool judgement.

I am told by friends of his that Obama hates the theatre of the Presidency. But as Ronald Reagan once put it: “I don’t know how you can do this job without being an actor.” Obama needs to be less Sydney Poitier and more Denzel Washington if he wants to save his own job and renew his four-year residential lease on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

– Matt Frei

Follow @mattfrei on Twitter

Tweets by @mattfrei