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Howard Gardner

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.

Obama needs to take a stand

Question: In a high-stakes game of political chicken, President Obama appears to have bowed to Republican threats to block the extension of tax cuts to the middle class--and all other legislation--unless a similar tax cut for high-income households was also included. Is this realistic bipartisan compromise after a sobering election, or is it a sign of weak leadership?

I have no doubt that President Obama has deeply held beliefs, as expressed in his books and in his votes while a legislator. The problem is that, as an individual of mixed background growing up in the United States and other countries, he came to occupy the role of synthesizer and mediator. He was always looking for a way to resolve conflicts peacefully and productively. When he became an executive for the first time, in January 2009, he thought that he could continue to occupy the role that he had realized with much success in earlier years.

Unfortunately, if mediation is to work, it takes two willing parties. Obama had little experience in such a situation. As a result, in the eyes of an increasing number of Americans and other observers, Obama looks like an individual without strong values for which he is willing to go to the mat--except for the value of mediation and compromise, which does not work when you occupy a role that requires decisions and the appearance of decisiveness. The success of the next years of his presidency, be it two years or six years, rests on his capacity to meld his strong beliefs to a personality which still has an impulse to mediate but which is far more willing to take a principled stand, even if he loses many battles.

By Howard Gardner

 |  December 7, 2010; 10:02 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Crisis leadership , Economic crisis , Government leadership , Leadership weaknesses , Managing Crises , Political leadership , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: On tax cuts, pragmatism vs. principle | Next: Not the right deal to cut


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The issue of standing or not standing for principles is a very tricky one. Professor Gardner seems to miss the point that the old Washington adage that "where one stands depends on where one sits" is still valid. Clearly Obama as President does not sit where he once sat as Senator. He has very different responsibilities, not the least of which is to concern himself with the consequences of his decision from the perspective of the one office holder in the nation who must act with the entire nation in mind. He must reconcile those who hold equally valid and contending principles and values in a process where no single group has the ability to play and trump card and control the outcome. If the President has forsaken the past role of visionary and taken on the role of mediator and broker of deals, tempered by political realism, the nation will be served well, given our clear preference for a divided government which can govern only through compromise. What Professor Gardner finds distressing is to those of us who see no other way forward than the play of compromise a very welcome sign indeed.

Posted by: jweley | December 11, 2010 11:11 AM
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Obama didn't blink , he closed his eyes and gave up! This is just plain stupid, a disaster, and an unconscionable capitulation to the most reactionary elements of our society! This is not a stimulus in any way; is a first step in ending Social Security, does nothing to create economic growth, end the unfunded expenditures for wars, military toys, corporate welfare, foreign military aid, or any infrastructure improvements or even maintenance! This continues basic consumption at a minimal level for the likes of walmart!

Posted by: CHAOTICIAN101 | December 8, 2010 9:05 AM
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Obama got rolled on the health care reform, I guess he want's to be rolled face up again.

Posted by: TigerPaw1 | December 7, 2010 9:55 PM
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Look at what Obama did during his short tenure in IL. VOTED PRESENT most of the time and you expect something different he has no backbone.With his surprise visit to Afghanistan he said he was proud of the job that they are doing . If that is the case why did he make a date for withdrawal the only withdrawal is when we win. Lets put it so even he can under stand if you know the score of the basket ball game that you are playing and you allready know the score and you lost then why try hard to win.If you don't know who is going to win then you try harder until you do.By setting a date why should we try knowing we will leave no mater if we win or lose.This would have worked real well in WWII think about it.Yes he is taking a stand but it always seams to be wrong for AMERICA.

Posted by: freedon | December 7, 2010 1:15 PM
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