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Rick Rochelle

Rick Rochelle

For the past 22 years, Rick Rochelle has taught leadership skills on remote wilderness expeditions around the world for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Currently he directs the school's custom course division, NOLS Professional Training.


Question: From a leadership perspective--moving the country and the political process away from division and gridlock and toward consensus, confidence and action--how would you grade President Obama's State of the Union speech?

I'd give President Obama's State of the Union address an A-, primarily for the positive tone of the speech. In the opening, he acknowledged our differences, then affirmed our unity: "The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. That's a good thing. That's what a robust democracy demands." Then with a brief, powerful reference to the Tucson tragedy, he reminded us, "We are part of the American family...we are still bound together as one people." This was his most important message.

A weakness may have been a lack of detail in legislative priorities. But avoiding detail may have been a calculated move to the center to reduce political rancor. Inspiring bipartisan collaboration is one of the most important things our politicians can do at the moment.

As we argue, the Chinese, Indians and others move forward. Recently, columnist Thomas Friedman mused about a fictitious wiki-leaked Chinese diplomat's cable, "Things are going well here for China. America remains a deeply politically polarized country, which is certainly helpful for our goal of overtaking the U.S. as the world's most powerful economy and nation...There is a willful self-destructiveness in the air here as if America has all the time and money in the world for petty politics."

The president was effective in pointing out our need for investment and innovation to remain competitive--our "Sputnik moment." As an educator, I appreciated his emphasis on education, for instance. Appropriately he addressed the deficit, but was not as effective in describing how we will reduce it.

His acknowledgement of Rep. Boehner's rise from janitor to speaker of the house was masterful. Whether you agree with the president's policies or not, to get anything done, we as a country need to build capacity to better respect and listen to one another. We need politicians on both sides not only sitting together, but also acknowledging and listening to and learning from one another--and imploring their constituents to do the same. As the president said, "We will move forward together, or not at all."

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By Rick Rochelle

 |  January 26, 2011; 9:56 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Says Rick Rochelle about Barack Obama's state-of-the-union speech for 2011 in the US House of Representatives:

"As an educator, I appreciated his emphasis on education, for instance."

That reminds me: One of the biggest gaps in education in schools (ie in elementary and secondary schools) in the USA seems to be a mathematics-shaped gap.

For instance many a revered and expensively employed but undereducated celebrity presenter of news and current affairs in the USA (and a much smaller fraction of hacks elsewhere in the world) is in the habit of uttering such fluent nonsenses as "a blood alcohol content of point nineteen percent".

That unlikely wording, representing a habit that tends to elicit winces among listeners in the rest of the world, was gaily uttered by a leading light of NBC's morning current-affairs program Today on Wednesday 5 August 2009.

Thus she implied that if she'd been asked to identify the larger fraction out of "point nineteen" and "point two" then she would have identified the former rather than the latter—because "nineteen" is bigger than "two", innit?

The biggest irony is that a large minority of people reading this comment of mine will wonder what I'm driving at. QED.

Posted by: LeighOats | January 28, 2011 1:06 AM
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