Congratulations to President Barack Obama for his reelection! After a long and disputed campaign, he is the leader of the United States of America for the next four years!
Now, after the festivities and celebrations of the victory, real life presents the challenges of a weak economy, unemployment, partisan disputes and many other problems that will test the leadership of the President. The question is, How will Obama survive the Leadership test?
In his seminal book Running Alone: Presidential Leadership, the political scientist James MacGregor Burns analyzes the leadership experience of several American presidents and concludes that presidential leadership in America has been in decline since the middle of the last century. He refers to a presidential-ranking survey designed by Harvard Professor Arthur Schlesinger, whose results are harsh on most presidents. According to the survey, this is the perception about several presidents:
After rating FDR “great” and Truman “near great,” the scholars graded Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson as merely “above average”; Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton as “below average”; and Nixon as flat “failure.” Surely they would rate Bush II today, fairly or not, as another failure. (p. 191)
Burns identifies Kennedy as the starting point of this leadership decline due to his individualized style. According to Burns, “Kennedy had rejected collective leadership in favor of a highly personalized presidency.”
I don’t know how Barack Obama would be rated in such a survey compared to the previous presidents, but regardless of partisan preferences or personal traits of the presidents, Barack Obama’s reelection provides us with an opportunity for a philosophical reflection on the challenge of combining leadership and service. How would you rate his domestic and foreign policies in regards to the concepts of Servant Leadership or Transformative Leadership? Is his leadership focused more on serving people and society at large or on political interests? How much does his leadership address the needs and the value of people?
Of course this discussion depends how we perceive each one, and different people will have different perceptions of reality. Anyway, whatever our perception, history will eventually determine how Obama will be perceived in the future. But before history makes its assessment, you can make your personal reflection on the dilemma between Presidential Leadership and Servant Leadership! By the way, your comments are welcome!