One cannot begrudge Barack Obama the vacation he took with his family. After all, the guy had been on a non-stop schedule for more than a year, fighting out epic battles with Hillary Clinton and John McCain. In a way this little lavish trip at the time of Great Depression II, resolves a part of that bewilderment I felt about Obama‘s ascendancy.
I could not help wondering, all the time when Obama was running his flawless campaign, that it all seemed too good, too perfect to last. He would make some slip, I thought, he would falter somewhere. He would display some sign to show that the intelligence involved is not mechanical but human, he would show the little blemish that goes into the making of perfection. I waited for a falter that did not come (comments on lipstick on pigs don’t count). He ran his campaign all the way past the winning post.
He went on to select his top administrators so meticulously that the media nodded its hoary head with approval.
It helps when a guy makes mistakes, it shows you the boundary lines of his personality, his limitations, which conversely make you better understand his capacities. A person who does not makes mistakes is one of the two: an angel come down to earth, or a person following a text book (in the sense that we call some cricketers as text book cricketers, some pilots as text book pilots and so on).
Since we know that Obama is not a fallen angel (these things don’t happen nowadays) he must therefore be a text book person. What is the big deal, you may ask. Well…for one, it denotes that too much is invested in the show, to have much left for substance. Two, if you want to be right all the time, then you do not venture into things that are risky. In large matters, you follow the beaten track, the consensus of opinion, the middle road, you don’t venture out too far.
Leadership, on the other hand, wants you to stick your neck out for things you believe in. It wants you to shape public opinion rather than just go by it; it wants you to differ, to disagree.
Eventually there would be a crisis that would require more than intelligence and data to deal with it. It would require a sensitive understanding of the problem, of the human dimension involved, before a solution can be found. No text book, no school, can prepare you for this.
I know that such a thing exists, and leaders throughout the ages have demonstrated this quality. When Gandhi took to non violence against conventional wisdom, when Lincoln chose to fight out a bloody civil war rather than let the Confederacy secede, when Churchill glared at the House of Commons during the WWII and said ‘We will not surrender’, they all displayed that rare quality of leadership.
But how it is got, where learnt, and how practiced, I don’t have the faintest idea. What I know for a certainty, is that all these men reached as high as they did by climbing on a mound of mistakes.
They did not hesitate to have a heart to heart chat with their inner selves and follow its judgment (reminds me of a certain lady, who said something about listening to her inner voice while renouncing a country’s top post), even if it sometimes led them wrong.
Obama, simply put, seemed to have the qualities but not the failings of truly great leaders.
Now of course, there is this vacation. A little subdued as presidential mistakes go (ask Bush) and a little boring (ask Bill), but given that the guy is just starting out, it will have to do.
What would be interesting to see is whether it is just that little blemish of a great talent, or it is the mediocre reality peeping from the crack of a glittering façade.