During the transition period from the President's election to his inauguration, Barack Obama would sometimes talk on the phone with other world leaders. He seemed to make sure that he had a beginning acquaintance with all the people who would be key players in the later months. But he purposely kept a very low profile, saying, "We have only one president at a time." At times people demanded that he step up and lead, but he limited his involvement. We like it that he plunged into work on the day he was sworn in, however, and has not slowed down since.
President Obama's interactional style with Americans and with people from other countries seems to be remarkably similar. He can be a school master, a conciliator, an expert, a listener or a star -- on both sides of borders. He is not threatened by people who are his intellectual equals or his elders, in fact he has gathered many such high achievers to serve in his administration, who can walk and chew gum at the same time. These big egos can rub people the wrong way, but self deprecating humor takes the edge off the President's highly confident style.
The President loves to travel better than to eat, it appears. That is due in no small part to having traveled to far away places as he grew up, not once but many times. He seems to be delighted that his job comes with a great big airplane. A steep rise in the price of fuel would present him with a terrible dilemma, of wanderlust vs. frugality. He seems at home in many lands and cultures and the people he visits must sense that about him.
President Obama dislikes beets, obtuse reporters, having to wear a jacket and tie all the time, and having to be the bad guy. At the same time he can be firm and quick to correct performance or cut a non performer loose. He does not bail out when things get hard, however, nor does he seem to bail out on others who make normal mistakes.
That does not extend to allies and enemies, however. His foreign policy style is to be clear about what he expects of adversaries, and welcoming of strong relationships with friendly nations. He appears to have a strong sense of respect and reciprocity in deal-making, and welcomes frank communication. At the same time he has a remarkable ability to thread a verbal needle when needed, or communicate by modeling and example, rather than pronouncement.
One hundred days of high exposure to someone peels away some of the mystery for a politician watcher such as I am. And we got to know Barack Obama as he campaigned. His public approval poll numbers remain high with good reason. The people who are his avowed adversaries are missing out on getting acquainted with a really neat guy, and a very fine leader.
[Post date - May 2, 2009]
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