5.06.2009

Robert Reich on Obama, Leadership, and Morality

Take a look.

"To be sure, all Presidents want to be seen as political centrists. They dare not proclaim themselves 'Right' or 'Left,' or even 'conservative' or 'liberal,' on an ideological spectrum that’s become ever more highly polarized. It is politically safer – yes, even pragmatic – to describe one’s values as 'commonsensical' or 'middle of the road.' But even this description minimizes and distorts a president’s capacity for leadership. A true leader does not take the public to where the public happens to be, because the public is already there. A leader takes the public to where the public should be, according to that leader’s view of the society’s highest ideals – ideals that the public shares but which have not yet been realized.

Obama did this several times during the presidential campaign, most notably in his courageous speech on race. He took America to a higher place by explaining what we all knew and felt but giving it a larger and nobler frame. He educated us in the best sense of the word. Doing so may have been politically pragmatic but his goal was not solely to get elected. Nor was it simply to demonstrate to us the leadership of which he is capable, although the speech did that. His goal was also to make us more aware about how race is used divisively. In doing so he drew on what in retrospect seem 'commonsensical' positions and 'middle of the road' values. But that’s not how the speech struck most of us then. We were transformed by the power of his thinking and the values that underlay it – values that we share but had not thought through."

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