Monday, November 7, 2011

Presidential Leadership

In the current issue (2011 November 7th) of Time Magazine (U.S. edition), Chris Matthews wrote a 2,000+ words feature article, entitled Five Things JFK could Teach Obama.  Chris Matthews is an outspoken and articulated political commentator.  He is an avid admirer of President Kennedy.  He was very enthusiastic about and having had high expectation of President Obama during last presidential election in 2008.  

You may or may not agree with Chris Matthews political views or may or may not support President Obama.  But the article does make excellent observations about what are missing in President Obama’s leadership for wanting to be a transformative president.  Such insights are useful for leaders (and those aspired to be a leader) in general.  Equally important for those who care about the future of Taiwan, much of Chris Matthews’ unsolicited advices for President Obama are strikingly useful to President Ma of Taiwan, ROC as well.   Since the full article is not accessible without a Time Magazine subscription, I summarize and discuss it below. 

The five things Chris Matthews wants President Obama do are:

1)You’ve Got to Ask Chris Matthews starts with the frequently quoted phrases of Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural speech "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country".  He expands it further and points out that the president cannot do it alone, and must ask and invite his fellow citizens to join him and to follow him with specific actionable programs.  Chris Matthews clearly feels disappointed that President Obama had stopped at asking people after the election and left his enthusiastic supporters watching at sidelines.  His advice for President Obama is simple: start asking.

2)Create a Political Band of Brothers and Sisters Chris Matthews notes that Kennedy had forged a team of confederates including capable young lieutenants who are middle class to the core.  In contrast, he has not seen President Obama forge bounds and only see “a band of political neutrals” around him.  He can’t stop wondering who would speak up for Obama with real passion these days when things get tough.  Chris Matthews also relates a story that says it all: a congressman told Tip O’Neill (who was the Speaker of the House from 1977 to 1987) that he couldn’t stand with him on a tough vote and that “I’ll vote with you when you’re right”.  O’Neill responded “I don’t need you when I’am right”. 

3)Take Responsibility Chris Matthew points out that President Kennedy took the personal accountability for the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion.  People in fact responded positively to the admission as reflected in the approval rating polls.  Learned from that mistake, a year later, President Kennedy resisted the push by Joint Chiefs for air strike or full scale invasion and successfully resolved the Cuba missile crisis peacefully.  President Obama needs to take the heat and explains why 2009 stimulus bill has not achieved what he said it would for the economy and unemployment.

4)Believe! Chris Matthews points out that President Obama himself has recently quoted from Kennedy’s 1963 American University speech “… Our problems are man-made; therefore they can be solved by man.”  He reminds President Obama the most powerful emotion of American people – the astonishing optimism and the can-do resilience.  He advises President Obama to tap into that emotion by pointing to the victories such as the turnaround of auto industry and brining Osama bin Laden to justice.

5)Show the Vision Chris Matthews reminds all of us that “we knew what Kennedy wanted to do, where he was going.  He showed us his dreams right there in his programs: the peace Corps, the space program, nuclear-arms control.  Chris Matthews suggests that “what is missing now is a spirit of adventure, of common purpose, a positive feeling, even romance about the times for meeting the challenges in the world, a stirring national cadence, a sense of mission.”  He asks “what are Obama’s dreams?  Where would he take us?”  and “Tell us, Draw a picture. Throw a cap over a wall.  The last metaphor is especially important.  It came from President Kennedy who related a story of how little Irish boy would get themselves climb over orchard walls by first throwing their caps over.   Only with that level of commitment and risk taking, can one hope for a complete success.

For those who are familiar with the politics of Taiwan and President Ma Ying Jeo’s leadership, I am sure now you can see the similarity and understand why I thought Chris Matthews’ advices are relevant for President Ma.   How many times have you felt that no one is speaking up for President Ma with real passion?  Where is he taking or wants to take the people of Taiwan?  Why hasn’t he admitted to major mistakes and taken personal responsibilities? Why hasn’t he shown his confidence and tapped into the resiliency of Taiwan people?  Why hasn’t he forged any alliances?  Why is he standing alone and hasn’t asked people be with him and follow him with actionable programs?  My advice to President Ma is he needs to read this Chris Matthew’s article, NOW!

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