Apr 29th 2009

The First 100 Days -- How Obama Scores on the Nine Qualities of Leadership

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on amazon.com.

At 100 days, the political vital signs of President Obama and his administration are robust. The averages of public polls published by Pollster.com show the president's job approval at 62.2 percent. Sixty-four percent of the voters view him favorably, and only 26.8 percent unfavorably.

More remarkably -- even in the midst of the worst economic downturn in a half-century -- 50.9 percent now think the country is on the right track. That is a massive turnaround in sentiment from the almost 85 percent last October that thought the country was on the wrong track.

What accounts for these terrific numbers? In his first 100 days, Barack Obama has consistently scored very highly on each of the nine qualities that voters use to evaluate leaders.

1). Is Obama on my side? This is the threshold question of all politics. Voters want to know that when the chips are down, a candidate or leader will understand them and stand up for them. Obama has done an outstanding job of communicating empathy for everyday Americans, and willingness to take on special interests on their behalf. His focus on health care, education and energy has demonstrated to average voters that he understands their real world concerns. And his demand for change in the way things are done in Washington resonates with average people who think that those with wealth and power have stacked the "business as usual" deck against them.

On this critical parameter, Obama's only vulnerability has been a nagging fear that his Treasury Department's attempts to rescue the financial system go too far to bail out the Wall Street types, whose sense of entitlement and reckless risk-taking led the country over a financial cliff. The AIG bonus scandal crystallized that feeling. So far Obama has managed to stay on the right side of that divide. It's critical that he stay there.

2). Does Obama have strongly-held values -- or is he just a "typical" politician who does whatever he thinks will help him politically? Voters want leaders who are strongly committed to core values -- and every day they see a President who meets that test. Obama frames everything he says in terms of traditional progressive American values. And he does more than talk. He believes in those values, and his actions reflect it. In his first week of office he ended torture -- no exceptions. He called Americans to a new era of responsibility and sacrifice. He has demonstrated an uncompromising commitment to equality and to the principle that every child should have the same opportunity to live up to their greatest potential.

Every day Obama gives voters a sense that he is centered-- and that he will doggedly defend the things he believes in. That centeredness is one of his most powerful political assets.

3). Is Obama a strong, effective leader? Voters don't just want leaders who are on their side, they want leaders who get things done. Obama's success at moving elements of his program has contributed mightily to the voters' view that the country is on the right track -- and that he is doing a good job. His ability to work with Congress to pass an economic recovery package, his budget, equal pay for women, and expansion of the health care for children have given people a sense that he knows how to get things done. Voters have also watched him succeed in improving America's reputation around the world.

But Obama is keenly aware that in the end it's not just the "sizzle," it's the steak. By this time next year, they will expect to see concrete improvements in their lives. Obama knows he will ultimately be measured by his success in actually improving the economy for everyday Americans. His administration is focused like a laser on making that happen. He said himself, that if he fails to do that he will be a one-term president.

4). Does Obama have Self-Confidence? Voters want leaders who have confidence in themselves. God knows Obama exudes confidence -- genuine confidence, not the kind that morphs into arrogance -- but the kind that allows him to listen to different points of view and then make decisions. It's the kind of confidence that allows him to shake hands with Hugo Chavez and know he's not going to be "taken advantage of."

Obama has the kind of confidence that we loved in the movie character James Bond: cool under fire -- capable of dispatching a dozen bad guys, all without mussing his tuxedo.

The quintessential "self-confidence" moment of his first 100 days came during the episode with the Somali pirates. Right-wing talk show hosts brayed that he was exhibiting a "pantywaist" response to the "crisis." They wanted the kind of bluster and "big talk" they loved from George Bush. Instead, Obama calmly and effectively managed the situation; then when the moment came, Navy snipers took out the pirates with three well-placed shots. Obama looked like Paul Newman's Cool Hand Luke.

5). Does Obama Respect Me? Once people's physical needs are met, there is nothing they want more in life than respect. That's because people are driven by their need for meaning. They want to matter. And the converse is true. Voters never forgive being disrespected.

Barack Obama treats everyone with respect. When he speaks to the American people he speaks to them like adults. Just as importantly, he treats everyone in his life with respect -- his family, his staff, his political opponents, the leaders of foreign governments.

6). Does Obama connect with the voters -- do people like him? Chemistry and personal connection is a huge factor for any political leader. It was one of Bill Clinton's greatest assets -- Al Gore, not so much. On this measure Obama is a star. His smile, his family, Bo the dog, his warmth, his vigor, his story, his basketball. People connect. They love him.

7). Does he have integrity? People want leaders with integrity. Obama started out by insisting that no one is to be hired by his administration who has lobbied in the last two years in an arena in which they would be working. He refused to take money from lobbyists during the campaign. While some of his appointees have had tax problems or other issues, so far at least, no serious scandal involving conflict of interest or foxes guarding chicken coops have yet cropped up in the new Administration.

Just as important is the ethos of Obama's inner circle. Obama's administration is packed with people who have come to Washington to get things done -- to change the country. His people want to make history -- not pad their resumes so they can make money.

8). Does he have vision? Yogi Berra used to say that "if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." Voters want leaders who have vision -- who know where they want to take our country over the long run. Especially when it comes to the economy, polls show that voters want their leaders to create a foundation for long-term prosperity -- new "clean energy" jobs, and 21st Century education.

Obama has framed all of his economic initiatives in precisely these terms. Vision for the future is a key element in both in his policy-making and in messaging for this White House.

9). Does Obama inspire me? People want to be inspired by their leaders -- and, of course, Obama delivers like no other president has since John Kennedy.

We mean something very specific when we talk about inspiration. When someone feels inspired, they feel empowered. Inspiration is a sense that you can be more, and do more -- as an individual and as a society. It is a sense of being part of something meaningful that is bigger than yourself, and that you have the ability to play a significant role -- personally -- in making it happen.

On a personal level, of course, great relationships are based on a feeling that you are empowered when you are in the presence of another person. The same is true in politics.

People know instinctively that the feeling of inspiration Obama communicates not only makes us feel good about ourselves -- it also enables us to do more and achieve more than we otherwise would.

The ability to mobilize the American people through inspiration is a major weapon in Obama's arsenal. It will help him be successful at creating a new economy, providing health care for all, and charting a new energy future.

In summary, Obama gets an "A" on every one of the nine qualities that, in my experience, are the most critical measures that voters use to evaluate political leaders.

Of course you might say these parameters don't measure a president's actual accomplishments, only the way he or she is viewed by the voters. I would answer that the chief measure of leadership is the ability to mobilize people in order to make change.

If his first 100 days are an indication of how Barack Obama will perform against these nine measures of leadership, he is poised to be a transformational president.

Robert Creamer's recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.



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