Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Obama's Failures... and Ours"

Eric Alterman:
In a brilliant op-ed published in the LA Times immediately after the midterm elections, longtime educator and organizer Marshall Ganz observed that Barack Obama "entered office wrapped in a mantle of moral leadership. His call for change was rooted in values that had long been eclipsed in our public life: a sense of mutual responsibility, commitment to equality and belief in inclusive diversity. Those values inspired a new generation of voters, restored faith to the cynical and created a national movement. Now, eighteen months and an 'enthusiasm gap' later, the nation's major challenges remain largely unmet, and a discredited conservative movement has reinvented itself in a more virulent form." Borrowing categorical distinctions conceived by political scientist James MacGregor Burns in the late 1970s, Ganz (who played a role in mapping out the original organizing strategy for the Obama campaign) assessed that immediately upon becoming president, Obama abandoned the "transformational" model promised by his presidential campaign in favor of a "transactional" model. "'Transformational' leadership," Ganz explained, "engages followers in the risky and often exhilarating work of changing the world, work that often changes the activists themselves. Its sources are shared values that become wellsprings of the courage, creativity and hope needed to open new pathways to success. 'Transactional' leadership, on the other hand, is about horse-trading, operating within the routine, and it is practiced to maintain, rather than change, the status quo."

The nation was ready for change, but Obama picked the status quo. And so "much of the public's anger, disappointment and frustration has been turned on a leader who failed to lead." Ganz identified "three crucial choices that undermined the president's transformational mission": "First, he abandoned the bully pulpit of moral argument and public education. Next, he chose to lead with a politics of compromise rather than advocacy. And finally, he chose to demobilize the movement that elected him president. By shifting focus from a public ready to drive change—as in 'yes we can'—he shifted the focus to himself and attempted to negotiate change from the inside, as in 'yes I can.'" MORE...

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