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Michael Maccoby
Scholar

Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.

Hard-to-please followers

Leadership is a relationship between the leader and the led. As a candidate, Barack Obama was followed by people who projected their hopes on to him. Those on the left expected him to change America so that it was less materialistic, more caring and egalitarian. They expected him to create peace in the Middle East. The independents hoped that he would bring the country together, ending the ugly partisan mud throwing. Those on the right who were not his followers expressed their fears that he was really an extreme liberal, a socialist who would take from the haves and give their hard-earned dollars to the have nots. His willingness to talk to leaders in Iran and North Korea indicated a dangerous softness that would make America more vulnerable.

Now those on the right feel fully justified in their concerns, while most of the others, even those who remain Obama's followers, are disappointed. He has been unable to change the minds and hearts of those on the right who consider government the problem, not the solution and who don't see why their taxes should pay for other people's health care. He has failed to be the Israeli-Palestinian peace maker, and he has expanded our military presence in Afghanistan.

Obama does not get the credit he deserves for improving America's image in the world, saving capitalism from further collapse, and taking significant steps to improve health care and education. The main reason is that his achievements have not met the hopes of his supporters, and they can be interpreted by the right, magnified by the angry voices of Fox News and talk radio, to confirm their fears. Nor is Obama's personality an advantage for him. He is neither a Reagan-like reassuring daddy or an affable Clinton or a Bush-like buddy. Only a minority of Americans can identify with his cool, detached analytic idealism.

Given this, I consider it a hopeful sign that 50% of Americans believe he is doing a good job. It remains to be seen whether Obama's initiatives will succeed. Will his rejected attempts to cooperate with Iran persuade the Russians to fully support strong sanctions? Will health-care legislation become a law that really moves the system in the direction of improved quality and cost control? Will the race to the top improve America's schools?

We'll know better the results of these and Obama's other initiatives on climate change and financial regulation in the months to come. We can wonder whether he would be more successful if he had different personality traits. However, I can't imagine anyone else in the political spectrum doing a better leadership job for this country. Some of the problems he faces, especially in the Middle East, can only be solved with the support of other countries. But progress in his domestic agenda depends on support from his American followers. Leadership is a relationship between the leader and the led. If Obama's leadership does not succeed, it will be as much or more our fault than his.

By Michael Maccoby

 |  January 19, 2010; 10:47 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Obama promised transparency, bipartisanship, no backroom deals, no lobbyists, no new taxes on middle class, leadership, responsibility and eliminating business as usual. By turning his agenda over to Pelosi and Reid, he has accomplished none of that. Americans are very fair but want leadership and people who will take responsibility. Obama and the Dems have done neither.

There is no doubt Obama inherited a mess. According to liberals, though, Obama, Frank, Pelosi, Reid, Dodd, Conrad, Rangel, Schumer, Gheitner, Bernanke, and all other leading dems had zero accountability from 2000-2008 even though they have controlled congress and the legislative agenda for the past 3 years. Americans know better.

The economy and jobs should have been his number one priority but he let his progressive agenda get in the way. Cap & Trade, uncertainty in health care costs, card check, higher taxes, higher debt, anti-business rhetoric, favors to unions and necessarily higher energy prices (Obama's own words) are making companies nervous and less likely to hire aggressively. You can't do all these things and then wonder why companies are moving overseas.

Posted by: Tostitos | January 19, 2010 1:39 PM
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America has become a "church" waiting for the pastor(Obama)to perform miracles on their behalf... We want our economy, our jobs, our homes, our bank accounts back now and without the suffering that goes with it... We want a faith-healer in our president especially after 8 long years of Bush and the Republicans who were trusted beyond their worth. Republicans are determined that Obama will do no healing, and have been instrumental in changing the blame from Bush to Obama with the blessing of corporate owned media.

Posted by: gmoore40 | January 19, 2010 1:19 PM
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With all due respect to your leadership expertise, True leaders establish the baseline or common understanding of the current state, establish a common vision of the ideal state, then direct the compromises along the path to ensure the vision is realized. They do not need to worry about making excuses for the masses not wanting to follow. At best BO can consider himself the leader of the democratic party, in actuality (even that is generous as he really only leads those who implicitly share his ideals), he has done nothing to demonstrate he can lead a nation...

Posted by: Wcmounce | January 19, 2010 1:05 PM
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Obama is both moderate and modern, and it's the modern part that gets the socialist smear a la SMC635. Welcome to the 21st century.

Also, I find Obama plenty passionate. What he isn't is opportunistic in his passions. His rhetoric against Wall Street is growing now and word is he's going more populist.

If the Left buys the smears of the Right they have only themselves to blame. And, as Michael points out, if the Left continues to live in some fantasy world that it's easy to get progressive change through our system and doesn't require strategy, incremental moves setting up bigger changes and their pushing the agenda themselves instead of relying on one man, they also only have themselves to blame.

Posted by: trinkschiz | January 19, 2010 12:48 PM
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Ok, for the first half of his term Obama gets to blame George Bush; and for the second half he gets to blame the voters. Do I have that rifght? Perhaps he should govern with American values and be accountable for a change. I fear America may take decades to recover fro his ulta socialist policies, They will not work here.

Posted by: smc635 | January 19, 2010 11:48 AM
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You got that right!
His critics are forgetting the enormous mess left behind for him to clean up! There is no 'surplus' to order immediate fixes and there are two wars going on and he does not have all the support he needs. At least his so called 'supporters' that voted for him should give him more time before judging him. In my opinion, he is doing far better than anyone else would have, in the circumstances.

Posted by: postreader110 | January 19, 2010 11:21 AM
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I just wish, for once, Obama would show some passion for something, give his supporters some red meat. Maybe he could give us some memorable phrases or sound bites, some positive inspirational imagery that symbolizes his worldview, the thrust of his administration, e.g. "Tear down this wall....", "...man on the moon within this decade...", "Our long national nightmare is over..." He's New Age background music in a country that prefers heavy metal, rap, cry-in-your beer country or hummable B'way. As it is I can't quote anything he's said, nor remember any Obama melodies or lyrics.

Posted by: alonzoQuijana | January 19, 2010 11:12 AM
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