Thursday, October 02, 2008

Leadership in crisis

Watching the two candidates respond to the ongoing U.S. financial crisis has been instructive. While the media spin has been that these are a continuing series of "bailouts" it is hard to think who has been bailed out, instead the owners (stockowners) of the institutions in questions have taken a bath, while their customers, clients and counterparties are merely protected from loss (to the extent that their individual dealings were of good quality).

The two candidates (McCain and Obama) do show their different ideas of leadership. McCain opted for publicly jumping into the fray with his physical presence. Senator McCain openly stated he would jump into the negotiations of the U.S. House of Representatives (which he is not a member) and inject his leadership. Nevermind if the House leadership was interested in this (polite statements afterwards aside). Senator Obama spoke to his colleagues in the House so he could understand the issues, then spoke to the American people to explain what the issues were (see LaCross, WI speech below).

The McCain is the in-your-face Great Man view of how things work. He promises that his vast experience will enable him to survive and be successful in the backroom face-to-face negotiations. Can this occur? Every freshman political science student has seen pictures or descriptions of President Lynden Johnson giving "the Treatment" from when he was Majority Leader of the Senate.

But there are actually facts and realities that lie behind these issues, and it is more then just personalities and "special interests" (are "interests" "special" when you are talking something so broad as the U.S. banking and financial market? Who does not have a bank account, work for someone with a line of credit, or have investments in stocks for retirement?) And this is where Obama shines in comparison to McCain. McCain derides as elitist Obama's tendency to explain the issues in their complexity as opposed to giving out soundbytes. But the historical parallel here is Franklin D Roosevelt, in the 1930s during the Great Depression with his fireside chats. Talking directly to a population scared of the future, he acted as if normal people were capable of understanding issues, or at least listening to them. But he also convinced the people that he had taken the time to understand something that was unfathemable to them, and because of that, he could guide them through the fearful unknown.

And that is what Obama is doing. Instead of riding the popular "hang them all" opinion that was seen by the House Republicans, he works behind the scenes in Washington and takes part in the building of a plan that he can understand and then go to the American people, and let them know what the issues are, not just the soundbyte "this is a bailout of fat pigs" rhetoric. He takes risks, as the conservative Republicans threaten they will use any vote that preserves the financial system to cruxify their opponents. And he does this, not in sophisticated audiences like those found in big cities, in university towns, or in a financial audience, but LaCross, WI. In a rural corner of a state that is bordering another rural corner of another state.

As for myself, I'll take intelligent analysis that can be presented to the people over backroom deals, soundbytes, and trying to fly in front of the wind any day.

Reno, NV

"if your neighbor's house is on fire, you can say that he is irresponsible . . . but first you help put out the fire, because it can spread to your house."

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