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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Shades of Dignity

A favorite topic lately is the American president Obama's restoration of dignity to his office. Nobody can dispute this. He is certainly more poised, more graceful, more elegant than either of his two predecessors. But is he more formidable? That is a different, more important, question.

Americans have a strange, seemingly paradoxical, taste in leaders. They like those who stand above them but who also possess the common touch. That is why both Roosevelts and Kennedy succeeded to captivate their country while countless others in the Jimmy Carter mode, failed. And it is why George W. Bush, who seemed to be play acting most of the time, had his moment in the sun while visiting the downed towers in New York. When he grabbed the bullhorn, put his arm around the fireman and shouted to the crowd, he seemed genuinely to mean what he said. He was, for one brief moment, one with his people.

Obama inspires and moves but he does not touch. He rarely connects or “feels.” All leaders have an Achilles’ heel and Obama’s is aloofness. There is nothing he can do about it; it is part of his character. He would do well to continue being himself. But this means the burden on him to succeed with deeds is ever greater, no matter how dignified their presentation.

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