Inspiring a Tough Audience: Teenagers
The late Texas Governor Ann Richards said of the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan: "In a world that sways on the winds of trends and polls, she was as constant and as true as the North Star....There was simply something about her that made you proud to be part of the country that produced her." Observing how Obama has conducted his campaign, and even more so, the transition process, reminds me of those words.
Obama consistently has demonstrated six qualities that make presidents effective in their jobs, according to presidential scholar Fred Greenstein:
- proficiency as a public communicator;
- organizational capacity (note Obama's well-run campaign);
- political skill harnessed to a vision;
- a vision of public policy;
- a cognitive style that allows him to process advice and information;
- and emotional intelligence (note Obama's ability to manage emotions and turn them to constructive purposes).
During his campaign, Obama turned a potential road-block to his success -- the Reverend Wright fiasco -- into a lesson on race. In his appointment of Leon Panetta as CIA director, he selected someone who has an impeccable record as a public servant, knows first hand how decisions are made in the White House, and has the ability -- if anyone has-- to restore the public's confidence in the agency. For some, Obama's choice of Panetta was odd. I think it is in keeping with his vision for a government that is transparent, accountable and effective.
When trust in our public institutions and elected leaders is at an all-time low, Obama has been able to capture the energy and desire to serve among our nation's young people. And that is no small feat. My son, Matt, will be at the inauguration. Four years ago, he wrote his college application essay about Barack Obama, stating "America's youth do not have to be politically apathetic. They just have not been exposed to many political leaders that stand out as role models who demonstrate integrity, passion for their causes, and a commitment to involving young people in meaningful ways. Watching the Democratic National Convention in July, I saw a man who inspired me. Barack Obama, the State Senator of Illinois."
The inspiration wasn't a passing thing for Matt. He sees public service as his future. One of Obama's greatest strengths as a leader to date is his inspiring message. If he can turn the enthusiasm for him into service for the public good, then he will truly be a transformational leader.
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