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Howard Gardner
Scholar

Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner is the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero.

Giant in Training

It's not always the case but this week I agree both with the premise of the question and the implied answers. That is, there are now few if any giants in American politics (or, indeed, in business or other spheres) and the lack of giants is not an accident -- the media, special interests, and the financial costs of running for office are all major contributors. We should remember, however, that Ted Kennedy was hardly a giant when he arrived in Washington 47 years ago, and that it took his death to get many politicians on the other side of the political spectrum to acknowledge his achievements.

Many people, including me, believe that President Obama has the potential to be a giant. If he survives and achieves "giantdom," it is because he will have succeeded in redefining the rules of American politics, as they have evolved in recent decades. Not only will he have transcended the "gotcha" partisan politics that have gained hegemony in the last 25 years, but he will have had to mobilize a permanent cadre of supporters who are willing to provide both money and time to his causes; to promote media that are less partisan and expressed in softer tones; to define issues in such a way that they circumvent special interests; and convince both Americans and those in other lands that we have more to gain by being respectful and striving for consensus rather than by seeing all issues as zero sum.

This turnabout can be done -- indeed, much of the world is hungry for such giant leadership-- though the best giants often let other people take the credit (e.g. former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield).

Pres Obama is said to be a great learner from experiences, including failures. I will be watching carefully to see what he has learned from the so-far-unsuccessful launch of the health-care debate, his ill-considered ownership early on of the Afghanistan conflict, as well as situations that he has successfully confronted, like the saving of financial institutions and his recovery from initial, poorly chosen remarks about the Henry Lewis Gates-James Crowley affair.

By Howard Gardner

 |  August 31, 2009; 12:57 PM ET
Category:  Politics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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