O’bama Birthing Mystery Solved in a Tiny Irish Hamlet

May 23, 2011

Research by Irish scholars has revealed the truth about President Obama’s birthplace. It was the little Irish hamlet of Ballymeenag.

Conspiracy theories about President Obama’s place of birth have been found partly confirmed. The President was conceived in the rural hamlet of Ballymeenagh in the Republic of Ireland, but was born after his family moved to Hawaii, and where his father changed his name from O’bama to Obama. The tiny hamlet, now uninhabited, should not be confused with the beautiful township of Ballymenagh, County Tyrone shown clearly in the image.

The vital evidence comes from a document found tucked away in the Book of Kells, presumably used as a bookmark by a student from Trinity college, Dublin. The priceless evidence recorded the time the O’bamas spent in Ballymeenagh in rural povery.

Decoy helicopters

The President is travelling to Ireland today in attempt to throw people of the scent by claiming lineage from the nearby township of Moneygall. He is accompanied by 500 personnel including decoy helicopters. Some of the 300 inhabitants have been practicing their welcome song

“O’Leary, O’Reilly, O’Hare and O’Hara,
there’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama.

From the old Blarney stone to the green hills of Tara
there’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama.”

Truth or fiction?

Not all the information in this piece has been authenticated with the rigour to be expected from a Leaders we deserve post.


Netanyahu, Obama and the masks of command

May 21, 2011

Dennis Ross

When leaders speak publically they often have to address more than one audience. This explains why they have to wear the mask of command. Even more complicated is when leaders meet to discuss the fate of nations

The meeting

The BBC reported the meeting this week [May 19th 2011] between the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the USA.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected US President Barack Obama’s call for peace with the Palestinians based on pre-1967 borders. After tense talks at the White House, a defiant Mr Netanyahu said Israel was prepared to compromise but there could be no peace “based on illusions”.

The video clearly shows each leader wearing a (metaphoric) mask of command. Their words said one thing. The body language of each suggested something different.

Beyond the masks of command

Beyond the masks of command were two humans struggling to deal with dilemmas requiring superhuman efforts. The complexities are evident. The issues are simplified even if wrapped up in a label such as the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. Mr Obama speaks to those advocating a tougher line with Israel, and those opposing such a line. Mr Netanyahu could be seen as addressing somewhat different audiences, including those in and beyond Israel supporting a policy based on the pre-1967 borders, and those opposed to any such changes. Sometimes the simplification is made into hawks and doves, but who are the hawks and who are the doves?

Among the key players: enter King Abdullah and Denis Ross

Other key influences were revealed at a meeting this week addressed by King Addullah of Jordan. The New York Times reported that

King Abdullah II of Jordan gave his assessment of how Arabs view the debate within the Obama administration over how far to push Israel on concessions for peace with the Palestinians.
From the State Department, “we get good responses,” the Jordanian king said, according to several people who were in the room. And from the Pentagon, too. “But not from the White House, and we know the reason why is because of Dennis Ross” — President Obama’s chief Middle East adviser. Mr. Ross, King Abdullah concluded, “is giving wrong advice to the White House.” By almost all accounts, Dennis B. Ross — Middle East envoy to three presidents, well-known architect of incremental and painstaking diplomacy in the Middle East that eschews game-changing plays — is Israel’s friend in the Obama White House and one of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in town. His strategy sometimes contrasts sharply with that of a president who has bold instincts and a willingness to elevate the plight of the Palestinians to a status equal to that of the Israelis.

Easy for journalists to campaign

The highly respected English journalist Robert Fisk writing in the Independent has dismissed Obama as duplicitous and weak for failing to act decisively over the fate of the Palestinians. But it is easy for journalists to campaign as if there were no dilemmas of leadership. They do not have to offer strategies within the complex and extended processes involved in diplomacy and military adventures.

A more balanced view of the complexities of the situation was provided by Al Jazeera, quoting Mr Fisk as providing one strand of the argument.


Will Osama bin Laden be more influential after his death?

May 2, 2011

In earlier days, miliary leaders were rarely deliberately killed, even in battle. Other political and military advantages were weighed against such actions. A charismatic leader may have more influence dead than alive. It is not a matter of simple binary logic of ‘wanted dead or alive’

by Tudor Rickards

These gloomy thoughts occured to me on learning of the death of Osama ben Ladin by American forces in Pakistan last night [May 1st 2011]. I wondered about the ‘dead or alive’ dilemma as posed by some commentators.

Not simple binary logic

Like most dilemmas, it is not just a matter of simple binary logic. Once bin Laden’s location had been established, there were several options that had to be considered. Not all would have resulted in his death. If he had escaped an attack there would have been strengthening of his symbolic signficance to many unfavourable to Western overseas interventions however justified they might appear in the West. Or if he had been captured unharmed, there would be an extended process of establishing legal charges, and carrying out a sentence (I am presuming the process would have established charges of terrorism and mass murder against him). Such a process would have be long drawn-out, and likely to induce responses not all of which can be anticipated.

Bin Laden’s three assets

My point is this. Bin Laden possessed three powerful assets in pursuing his aims. He was enormously wealthy and he was able to present himself as a leader commanding loyalty to his cause and to himself. Great wealth can add to the social cachet of any individual. It can transform a nerd into a idealized business leader. It can reinforce self-belief into ego-mania. When the wealth is linked to a cause, the symbolic effect is heightened. And finally, if the individual fits the stereotype of a charismatic leader, bingo. He had the potential to become a revolutionary and charismatic leader. Such men are dangreous. But their violent removal is also beset with dangers.

Charisma

Shakespeare wrote how the evil that a man does lives after him, the good is oft interred with his bones. But Shakespearewas speaking ironically. It could also be argued that for followers, the charisma a man establishes lives after him. It is the wrongs which are oft interred with his bones.

To go more deeply

President Obama’s announcement (video)


Mubarak watch

February 5, 2011

The events of political turmoil in Egypt in the first two weeks of February 2011 are followed and evaluated for lessons of leadership and the management of change

Saturday February 11th Mubarak is gone. For Egypt there will now be a lengthy period in which the speed of change slows. Mubarak watch concludes. For status reports see
The Los Angeles Times
Aljazera
The Guardian/Observer

Friday February 10th

Friday mid-afternoon. Mubarak’s resignation announced. Much more to follow.

Mr Suleiman said Mr Mubarak had handed power to the high command of the armed forces.
“In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country,” he said.

Thursday evening, the world’s media turned to Tahrir Square. News was the Mubarak would speak to the nation to announce his resignation. Crowds expecting victory. Then dismay as Mubarak offers little. Confusion. Anger. “God help Israel now ” one commentator remarked. Fears for the next 24 hours.

Thursday February 9th

Intelligent discussion on BBC’s Newsnight. Historians plus activist spokesperson from Cairo. Lessons from history: revolutions result in emergence of ‘the strong leader’. Overnight, news of further initiatives, strikes in various parts of Egypt said to be ‘spontaneous’. Newsnight tested proposition that the protest could not bring down the Mubarak regime. Not easy to reduce to a logical proposition. Practically, Mubarak authority has been seriously and irrevocably damaged. He has lost unconditional support of his powerful ally the United States.

Wednesday February 8th Overnight view is broadly that there had been renewed efforts (if only in numbers) by the protestors in Cairo yesterday. Worth checking on the country-wide situation. A wikileaks view assembled by The New York Times mostly confirms what has been written about Mubarak’s negotiaons for US aid in return for his claimed ‘stong’ policies maintaining peace in the region. He viewed the removal of Saddam as a huge mistake which he believed made his own continued rule even more critical.
Tuesday February 8th In search of a leader? Aljazeera reports freeing of Google executive Wael Ghonim, whose facebook page has been considered to have triggered off the protests in Cairo.

Monday February 7th Overnight news indicates that the situation in Cairo has reached an impasse. The New York Times suggests it presents a dilemma for the Obama regime. Stock exchange opening has been postponed for 24 hours, as the government attempts to sell $2.5bn in short-term debt.

Sunday February 6th Muslim brotherhood in talks. Aljazeera suggests these to be ‘critical’ to next stage of events in Egypt. US sends mixed messages regarding the need for Mubarak to oversee a smooth transition of power. Brief opening of banks reminds us of the financial crisis running with the political one.

Saturday Feb 5th Yesterday’s ‘day of departure’ is now evaluated as no clear tipping point. Around 100,000 rather than a million people were reported around Tahrir Square. The possiblity of a longer struggle is now firming up.

One of the leaders of the protesters, George Ishaq of the Kifaya (Enough) movement, told the BBC they intend reduce their presence in Tahrir Square, holding big demonstrations on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“Protesters will remain in Tahrir Square on all days of the week,” he said on Friday [4th Feb, 2011]. “But each Friday, there will be a demonstration like today.”

Friday Feb 4th This was the day announced in advance as the day when a million protesters would symbolically end the Mubarak regime. But the tone of reporting of a few days earlier has been somewhat muted. There is greater concern that there is more of a temporary condition of stalemate.

Another voice was raised in support of Mubarak, President Berlusconi of Italy, himself facing a struggle to survive politically. Like Tony Blair he considers the merits that stability of regime has brought to the wider Middle East.

Feb 3rd Situation is confused. Voice of America suggests that the Pro-Mubarak forces are gaining ground. The BBC however reports gains by the opposition demonstrators. What is clear that there have been fatalities acknowledged. Prime Minster Ahmed Shafiq broadcast an apology for the fighting, which has killed nine and wounded hundreds and promised an investigation. Tomorrow is the scheduled ‘day of a million protestors’.

Feb 2nd Reports a few days ago were talking of repid removal of the President from power. Now the tone is of more organized efforts to resist the revolutionary forces concentrated in Cairo. Jeremy Bowen of the BBC described events

Since I arrived a week ago I have seen no significant demonstrations for President Mubarak. But from the morning there were thousands of his supporters on Cairo’s streets, mobilised presumably by the ruling party, the NDP. The pro-Mubarak demonstrations were well organised, not spontaneous. Numbered buses unloaded supporters. Many placards looked as if they had been made by professional sign writers. Their opponents claim that they are paid to demonstrate. For an authoritarian leader like Hosni Mubarak, the sight of so many people in Tahrir Square calling for his removal must have been deeply humiliating. He will have wanted to reassert his authority over his capital city – and his supporters were given the job.


Martin Luther King day in Miami

January 19, 2011

Americans honor the birthdays of three of its citizens with holidays named after them. George Washington and Christopher Columbus were the first two recipients, Martin Luther King the third.

It’s a day off work for government employees, and for workers in some other sectors such as banks. In America the date is fixed on a Monday closest to the actual birthday. Martin Luther King day falls on the third Monday of January. The edict was eventually enacted by all 50 States, although there were some who reluctantly gave up celebrating a more local hero on the day.

Miami celebrated under grey clouds this monday [January 15th 2011]. A visitor to the city might not have appreciated its significance. Traffic downtown was light. But the near deserted finance sector could have signified any non-working day.

King, and the “I have a dream” speech

I remember Martin Luther King, from a time when I was working as a research assistant at a New York medical college. That was in the 1960s. The civil rights movement seemed to an outsider like me to be lead by more militant characters. It was typified by the cool supporters of the Black Power movement held out leaflets from the street corners of Manhattan. Sometimes I would take a pamphlet. The activists seemed more concerned with getting their message across to “brothers rather than others” who mostly hurried by, occupying a different space on the sidewalks.

The controversial figure of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was also rarely out of the headlines. Powell was a firely politician and pastor who represented Harlem, in the United States House of Representatives for a staggering period from 1945 until his removal in disgrace in 1971. Although I did not know it at the time, Powell strongly opposed Martin Luther King’s non-violence policies.

But it was King’s voice which won through, both in a literal and metaphoric sense. His speech has become one of the most praised of all time for the power of its delivery and its impact. It is said to have encouraged President Kennedy to put more weight behind the Civil rights campaign (JFK was rather more ambivalent about his direct involvement than was his brother Bobby.)

Elsewhere

King Day events were reported rather modestly, and outside the news headlines. In Atlanta, the symbolic focus was at MLK’s Ebenezer Baptist church close by his birth place. The messages from political leaders and members of his family picked up on the continued need for non-violence and reconciliation. The recent slayings at Tucson were picked up as a theme.

This echoed a recent speech by President Obama which had also called for greater efforts toward reconciliation. The tragedy had triggered mourning and a political storm of accusations that rhetoric had inflamed the popular mood and precipitated acts of violence.


Obama’s Health Care Reform bill wins vital vote. Not even the beginning of the end?

March 22, 2010

The House of Representatives reluctantly reached sufficient consensus for President Obama’s Health Reform bill to win the vote permitting its progress to a next stage of so-called reconciliation. The world watches and learns much more of the complexity of the American political process. The nature of battles ahead is becoming clearer to the outside world

For students of leadership, the story has become a must-study case. It contains all the ingredients of tough game-changing events and actions so often found in business cases. The “facts” are important. But marshalling and evaluating the information can be mind-boggling challenges. Another benefit of a thorough case-study study approach is that it permits refinement of analysis from colleagues and students, avoiding the dangers of instant punditry.

The bill passed by 219 votes to 212, with no Republican backing, after hours of fierce argument and debate. It extends coverage to 32 million more Americans, and marks the biggest change to the US healthcare system in decades. “We proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things,” Mr Obama said in remarks after the vote.

“This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system, but it moves us decisively in the right direction.” The President is expected to sign the legislation into law shortly.


Steps along the way

Events building up to this vote were summarized by the BBC in December 2009

The Senate passed its version of a healthcare reform bill on 24 December [2009]. This must now be squared or “reconciled” with the House bill passed in November, a process that is expected to begin in mid-January. With the various players in the debate all wanting different things from the reform process, the final passage of the legislation will still need much discussion.

The article shows how complex are the forces involved.
The Republicans
Republications were (and still are) presenting a united opposition which has blocked hope of a bi-partisan approach. This may have given Obama a fighting chance to present a semblence of unity among the Democrats, in view of their razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives.
The Democrats
But the democrats may be simplistically split roughly into two camps: liberals wanting less dilution of the Bill’s original powers, and the more conservative blue-dog coalition organized enough to build a political base around the proposed bill
[Blue Dog website, downloaded 22nd March 2010: “Currently, the U.S. Debt is estimated at: $12,278,635,997,966.88. Your share of today’s public debt is: $39,934.67”].
Assorted lobby groups
Not to mention assorted big-hitting and lobbying members of the Health Industry: (Insurance companies, The American Medical Association, Big Pharma) and the media, mostly lined up with the Republicans and Fox News. In the Senate, blue dog Ben Nelson had eventually been brought on board after receiving numerous benefits for his home state of Nebraska, along with promises on tighter curbs on abortion, which he opposes.

The Vote Approaches

As the vote approached in mid March 2010, President Obama cancels international commitments to add one final squeeze to wavering voters. The Economist [March 20th 2010] points out the significant political role that was being played by House speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“An effective Speaker need not be loved or think original thoughts. Her job is to round up votes and at that Mrs Pelosi excels… So she has been coaxing waverers, calling in favours, breaking fingers and pulling toe-nails.. It will take all [her skill and some] ugly parliamentary manoeuvres. But if Mrs Pelosi succeeds, she will take her place in the Democratic pantheon”.

The Vote

The roller-coaster that is President Obama’s destined mode of political travel screeches to a temporary halt. The President and others in the front car step out wobbly-kneed. They have made it back to ground level. And wearily, he and his entourage head back to the next car for the next ride.


Obama seeks peace, Labour party seeks assisted suicide

June 5, 2009

Crash

As President Obama seeks to kick-start the Middle East peace process, Gordon Brown’s labour administration seems intent on committing political suicide

I will reserve comment until later on Barack Obama’s efforts on the world stage. Politicians in the UK have a far more important preoccupation, namely self preservation. The instinct mingles with a mood of self-destruction.

Battle for survival

The battle for political survival is reaching a peak in a week of resignations and political plotting against his leadership. Cabinet members and back-bench MPs had no longer any doubt that their political days are numbered unless something drastic happens. They hope for miraculous rescue through a change of leadership and a revival of voter confidence among voters.

Gordon Brown’s reaction is to plan a much trailled and imminent reshuffle of his administation.

A particularly unfortunate combination of events have contributed to the current outbreak of desperate political actions. Polls have continued to head south for the Government to near unprecedented lows. The public obsession over MP expenses in the UK blots out stories even of celebrity reality shows. This applies to the BBC Newsnight programme. Incidentally, that late night show is not normally noted for innovation, but now it has announced plans [June 4th] to present a new format for modelled on the more popular, but equally confrontational Dragons Den format. Maybe the mood of desperate searching for rescue has infected the decisions of the Newsnight programmers.

The crisis intensifies for the Government

The crisis intensifies as first local election results confirm the Government’s gloomy expectations. There was a certain black humour in an early teletext announcement overnight [June 5th 2009]

The early counts were dominated by Conservative wins, but as the night wore on …

there was no solace for Labour. [I.e. the results continued to be dominated by conservative wins].

The resignations

The resignations of cabinet ministers continued, as commentators assessed the nature of the actions. Hopeless individuals wanting out of an intolerable political situation, or a synchronized plot?

James Purnell’s shock resignation [Work and Pensions] on Thursday night follows news that Jacqui Smith [Home Secretary and Hazel Blears [Communities minister] are quitting. The Lib Dems said it was clear the government was in “total meltdown”.
Mr Purnell’s resignation letter – printed in Friday’s newspapers – calls on Mr Brown to “stand aside” to give Labour “a fighting chance of winning”.

Meanwhile in another part of the world

Meanwhile, President Obama has been as outward looking as the British politicians have been introspective. [So why place it to the end of this blog post? Partly because this a story unfolding over a far longer time period. The political frenzy in UK politics is only worth reporting quickly as events crop up with increasing velocity.]

President Barack Obama has said the “cycle of suspicion and discord” between the United States and the Muslim world must end.
In a keynote speech [at Cairo University] Mr Obama called for a “new beginning” in ties. He admitted there had been “years of distrust” and said both sides needed to make a “sustained effort… to respect one another and seek common ground”.

He received a standing ovation at the end of his speech. White House officials had said the speech was intended to start a process to “re-energise the dialogue with the Muslim world”.

Obama is fast becoming the signature figure of a charismatic leader. But his impact while emotionally engaging is also accompanied by intellectually powerfully developed arguments. The combination will be needed throughout his Presidency and beyond.


Barack Obama’s inauguration: meaning more that he says, saying more than he means

January 22, 2009

obama-inauguration-crowds

Well over a million people, almost universally supportive of Obama, had crammed into the Mall for his inauguration on the steps of the Capitol this week [Tuesday Feb 20th, 2009]. His arrival was greeted with such acclaim by the crowds that someone watching with me muttered about historic precedents (at least that’s what I thought he said). Part of my mind flashed back to the adoring crowds of similar scale erupting with joy at the public appearances of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

What would Obama’s dazzling rhetoric do today? What would the world think? Would this democratically appointed president demonstrate such charismatic power over his people, that the watching world would be reminded of the power of other, less democratically-elected charismatic leaders?

I need not have worried on that account. The speech was more than adequate for the crowd to celebrate their witness to an historic moment. But there were no transcendent flights of rhetoric. The words had been carefully chosen, and were not chosen to sweep up a crowd to the emotional heights. The inaugural speech of an incoming President is going to become part of history. The new leader is aware of the multiple audiences in time and space. So he (always he for the time being, although Hillary may have cracked that particular glass ceiling a bit further) treads carefully, picking his words and tone with those audiences in mind.

Did Obama flunk an historic opportunity?

Some reporters later damned the speech with faint praise. And it is also true that he fluffed his few lines in the swearing-in ceremony, and was clearly ill at ease. So much so, that a rather clandestine repeat was quickly held with a minimum of witnesses later, to head off future stories of a lack of legality in his appointment.

But did that did trigger an unintentionally low-key performance? For me, the tone fitted the intended message. The words effectively said. We are in deep trouble, deeper than we may like to accept economically, environmentally, and as part of a squabbling community of nations. The tone was about right.

The challenge he confronted was to perform a metaphorical juggling act on a high-wire. Would he avoid saying some things that had to be said, or say things that were better left unsaid? How to call for collaboration and reassure all parties of his good intent. How to reassure, while maintaining his can-do message of rapid change, now increasingly delivered with the implications of personal hardships to come. How to seek unity and be gracious to the outgoing administration and its leader George Bush, while making it clear that it had contributed to problems that now had to be tackled big time.

The touchstone is the alignment of the words and mood with actions. He may have a great wealth of goodwill, but he also has to demonstrate quickly that “yes he can”. Within 24 hours several symbolic actions suggested to me he was a step ahead of the commentators. He signed an order effectively leading to the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

He also announced an effective pay freeze for White House officials. A waste of time, one former Bush aide called it. But he missed the point.

Another statement of intent was to deal with the culture of lobbying at the heart of Washington’s political life. That would be a great political change. I don’t know what it will take, but he’s passed the first credibility test in committing himself by speaking about matters which a more cautious leader might have left unspoken.

For students of leadership (the academic bit)

Barack Obama’s inaugural speech will be analysed as much as any text in contemporary history. We must we forget that it was a speech and a speech act through which we mean more than we say, and say more than we mean. Study it for examples of dilemmas of leadership.

Since the evolution of post-modern man we have acquired skills at taking a speech and deconstructing it to arrive at meanings that are not grounded on authority, not even on the authority of the author of the speech. If, like Chip Morningstar you are not totally convinced by postmodernism you may want to take a different approach.

This not just a speech, but a speech act. A friend who is a gifted figure in the world of linguistics has tried from time to time to help me understand speech acts. I may not have got it right, so anyone trying to extract some of this post for an essay, be warned.

For what it’s worth, my understanding is that a speech conveys social actions, and so can be studied as a social act. Now that sounds pretty modern, but you can go back to the time when America’s first President was polishing his famous speeches for that idea. The English philosopher Thomas Reid wrote in his Active Powers of the Human Mind (1788, chapter VI, Of the Nature of a Contract).

“ Between the operations of the mind, which, for want of a more proper name, I have called solitary, and those I have called social, there is this very remarkable distinction, that, in the solitary, the expression of them by words, or any other sensible sign, is accidental. They may exist, and be complete, without being expressed, without being known to any other person. But, in the social operations, the expression is essential. They cannot exist without being expressed by words or signs, and known to the other party.”

Which still serves as starting point to studying a social act today.


Obama, vision and reality

November 25, 2008

barack-obama

In fairy tales there is often a point at which a spell is broken. Cinderella has to leave the ball. Like many others, I was caught up in the new fairy story of Barack Obama. Now I am receiving those signals warning that the every fantasy coach has the potential of turning back into a pumpkin

Update:

The original post was written in November 2008 as a counter-balance to the enormously high expectations set upon the newly elected President. It is now possible to take the wider picture and examine the post in light of the President’s first hundred days in power.

After the honeymoon, the complexities of his role and the tasks facing his administration quickly became clear in foreign and domestic fronts.

Original post follows

It helps bring some balance to the perspective of Mr Obama as an outstanding political figure, a breathtaking orator, if we also recognise him as a human being, facing the dilemmas which confront every leader.

Rahn Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel was written up as The Attack Dog

Described by those who know him as variously an attack dog, warrior, political gangster – the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Barack Obama’s chief of staff has sent a shiver of unease through Republicans hoping for a new spirit of conciliation under the newly-elected president.

Then there was Timothy Geithner

More consistent with Obama’s inclusive style was the appointment of
Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary, a move largely acclaimed.

Now there’s Hilary.

The media were writing headlines well in advance of the appointment of Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State

The combative, feisty, Hilary who nearly nailed Obama in the democratic run-offs. The Hilary with both helps and hindrances gifted by husband Bill to her career prospects. In fantasy land, Hilary was the wicked witch to be defeated and cast into outer darkness. Banished from the kingdom, as rewards go to those who fought the good fight. But now she seems to be rewarded despite her campaign. Come to think of it, husband Bill lost his cool at one point in the campaign warning the electorate that Barack Obama was creating a fantasy world.

What’s going on?

Harvard Business Review, (admittedly synopticised by Business Week) spots the implication of the decision to appoint such a confrontational figure as Emanuel. They took the view that every leader with inclinations towards a generosity of spirit should have an attack dog to do the dirty work. The following misses one additional factor, that of total loyalty to the leader.

Obama radiates a cool, steady calmness. Watching him from afar, you cannot imagine him coming down hard on people to get things done; this is not his style and he knows it. That’s why he chose as his chief of staff a man who loves to “win.” Brash, bold and abrasive, Rahm Emanuel, a former Clinton White House aide, is opposite of Obama’s cool; he’s fire and passion backed with relentless drive. For someone of Obama’s temperament, Emanuel is an ideal chief of staff, a job that H.R. Haldeman, President Nixon’s chief of staff, viewed as being the “president’s S.O.B.” Emanuel’s selection demonstrates how leaders need to surround themselves with people who complement them, not replicate them.

How to make sense of all this?

These issues may be uncomfortable for the millions who bought into the oratory of Obama, with its messages of hope and change. But now, perhaps, we have to be prepared to let go of some of the fantasy. America has elected a President who does bring hope for change a remarkable set of unrivalled leadership skills. But the charisma must not blind us from the otherwise obvious: that he is a human being, nevertheless who will wrestle with the realities of political power in a democratic society, and with the dilemmas of leadership.

There are strong indictions that charismatic power may well have helped Obama’s rise to office, but that the realities of leadership require explaining in other ways such as a distribution of roles (distributed leadership), including some good ol’ fashioned situational leadership opportunities, and more than a touch of accomodation. I’m inclined to see the appointment of Hilary Clinton as an indicator of creative leadership, and a willingness to find imaginative approaches which turn ‘threats into opportunities’

For students of leadership:

Students of leadership may be interested in an examination of how Barack Obama’s oratory works its magic.


Brown v Salmond was the undercard to the Obama McCain fight

November 11, 2008

don-king-wikimedia

As Obama cruised to his historic victory last week, little attention was paid internationally to the fight between Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown in the Glenrothes by-election in Scotland. The pre-match posturing suggested Alex was supremely confident. But the voters marked their cards rather differently

To be precise, Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown were the fight promoters. Lindsay Roy (the eventual victor) and Peter Grant of the Scottish Nationalists were not exactly billed as crowd-pleasing performers.

That was partly why I began to think of Alex Salmond as a fight promoter such as the legendary Don King. He has this way of dominating a press conference with his creative imagery. And sometimes happened with Don King, Alex Salmond was also grabbing more headlines than his fighter. When the bout was lost, it was Alex Salmond who retained the headlines. The vaunted clunking fist of Gordon Brown had done some damage. And Alex Salmond didn’t just hit the headlines, he hit the canvas.

The BBC reported it as follows:

The by-election was a result of death of Labour MP John MacDougall. He had held a majority of over 10,000 votes in 2005, but Labour’s decline and the upsurge of support in Scotland for Salmond’s nationalists have put them favourites. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, MP for the neighbouring constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, had departed from the tradition of a PM staying away from such by-elections. Mr Salmond said it was “clear” the SNP could win the by-election.
“Just as Americans voted for hope over fear, people in Glenrothes can choose between the positive record of the SNP and the negativity and scaremongering of Labour”

Polls seemed to back up this claim until a few hours of the polling booths closing. The seriousness of another defeat for Brown was the main topic of the closing days of the campaign.

What happened next?

Within hours of polling ending, rather like the Obama battle, the grapevine was indicating a clear victor. But it wasn’t the ante-Post favorite.

The BBC again:

Lindsay Roy [Labour] was elected the new MP with a majority of 6,737 over the SNP’s Peter Grant …BBC Scotland political correspondent Brian Taylor said: “Labour attacked the Nationalists day and daily over claims that the SNP-led administration in Fife Council had cut home care services for the most vulnerable.
“In vain did the SNP protest that this was driven by externally imposed exigencies, that they were doing nothing different from several other councils (including Labour ones) and that they had increased the budget in key areas of expenditure.”

Down, but is he out?

So we can say Alex even from the ringside ended up on the canvas. But even if it’s been a knockout, is it such a blow as to be the end of the victory which his party is scenting in the longer term? Above the political battle, the vision of the SDP is for a free Scotland away from the shackles of the Union, and with a new poliical relationship between Scotland and England.

In the week of Obama’s triumph, it would be a bold person to predict that such an outcome will never happen. Obama’s was victory for the originally oppressed minority. We might also remember Mandela’s victory in South Africa. But in each of these cases, there was one big difference: the direction of change was towards integration not differentiation.