To my knowledge, some of the following points have never been the subject of a column before. Does that indicate I own a warped curiosity, or, much more to my liking, have I been kissed by flames of originality?
Even though he’s not running for president any more (some fear he’ll find a way!), President Obama’s personal popularity numbers hold a strange fascination for me. I think I’d look for the latest poll figures even before I checked the market on stocks in which I owned a substantial position. The fluctuation range of Obama’s popularity seems stuck between the high 40s and the low 40s. What staggers me is that this president has any following and support, considering the state of the union after almost five and a half years of his wretched presidency.
Sure, I realize he’s got a racial base, a far-left base, an “I-Love-Free-Stuff” base, but even so, how does Obama score so high against a performance so low? To see Obama winning over 40 percent of public support “after all this” strikes me as evidence that space aliens are narcotizing our earthly atmosphere.
We had a president, Jimmy Carter, who let interest rates rise above 20 percent, and we threw him out after one term. The 40 percent who still favor Obama may not be enough to win an election, but it’s almost enough for a modern pope to declare it a miracle. Hold that Jimmy Carter comparison in mind while we compare it with the example of the late Adolf Hitler.
The documentary I never tire of watching on the Military Channel tells us, “If you were a resident of Berlin in 1945, you had no running water, no electricity, no food” – and so on. How did Hitler hold the German population together with nothing to show in the latter pages of his scrapbook but privation, rubble and defeat? Yes, I know there was a Gestapo with no anti-torture lobby to stand in its way, and the American-British-Soviet demand for unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany made the German people feel there was no alternative other than to fight to the end. Nevertheless, these two modern populations – America and Germany – with so much in common in terms of literacy, technology, Western thought and so many et ceteras, reacted breathtakingly differently to failing leaders. America’s Jimmy Carter with 21 percent interest rates? Gone after one term. Adolf Hitler with his “Thousand-year Reich” dissolving in ruins after 12 years? The Germans fought on until literally unable to resist further. Is there a science to loyalty?
We’re taught that Columbus, with his three ships unable to communicate with one another except through line-of-sight signaling, experienced mounting levels of dissent and rebellion until land was sighted in the Caribbean. I don’t know how much charisma Columbus had, but suppose he had a troy ton. How could he have worked that leadership magic with the communications technology of 1492? We’ve all heard combat veterans praise their squad, platoon, company, regiment etc. leaders, swearing, “I’d follow him into hell!” What was the difference between those leaders and those who died by fragging – with an activated hand-grenade between their legs planted or tossed by a “follower” in the same uniform?
There have been many books written about “leadership,” but so far none that can claim to administer an effective “dose” of leadership by injection, example or the printed page. Go, nonetheless, to the best of those books on leadership and circle those passages that describe the absolute worst attributes of poor leadership. And it will look like a biography of Barack Obama!
Hesitate. Obfuscate. Use rhetoric like a spray-deodorant rather than go up front and lead. Praise your enemies to make everybody think you’re nice. Criticize your allies to make everybody think you’re “fair.” Draw red lines, and when your fearless enemy sneeringly crosses them demand that red pen back so you can draw a new red line. Tolerate – in fact, nourish – slogans such as “leading from behind” in your repertoire.
The only hope I see is that the other side is worse than America is. There are occasional hopeful signs of that, but not enough to sustain hopes for the successful continuation of representative democratic government.
The boys were once asked to define the “sex appeal” of a certain woman with whom all were familiar. “I don’t know what it is she has,” began the best answer, “but whatever it is, it comes right into the room with her!”
Maybe leadership is something similar. During the Korean War, Marine hero Gen. “Chesty” Puller once shouted out to his embattled troops, “Men, the enemy has us surrounded. Don’t let any of them get away!”
Which way is hell? If that’s the way Chesty went, I want to follow him.
Media wishing to interview Barry Farber, please contact [email protected].