"Obama Power" is a fascinating phenomenon. It is the first association of an African-American man with power since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It has a far-reaching, amorphous nature. Obama appears to be personally admired in all corners of the world.
His real power is nebulous. His speeches have been and continue to be persuasive. He is admired more than followed because the pathway to his promised goals are not clear. His power in the presidential office is not as direct as his campaign power was. Still, his celebrity has a power potential if it is channeled and used effectively.
Obama Power stems from early preparation in a nurturing environment, his hard work and the extraordinary luck which he and others were able to utilize at an opportune time. His excellent education has prepared him to address the challenges.
Armed with a first-rate education, an attractive personality and a healthy base of moral and ambitious concern for others, he encountered incredible luck. He was able to capitalize on the many opportunities afforded him. His political path was not direct, but he navigated the circuitous road to the Democratic Convention and his election to the Senate.
The previous Republican screw up, an energized youth following and the Internet became the stallions that he rode to the nomination for the presidency. His aspirations, intelligence and charm were just what the doctor ordered to fix the Republican debacle, which led the nation into a multifaceted crisis.
Utilizing this array of personal attributes, a group of excellent campaign advisers and staff, as well as a strong public following, Obama Power increased magnificently. This was the context in which Obama offered his persuasive messages of hope and change.
The pinnacle of Obama Power was reached on the night of the presidential election when the world celebrated Obama's win and his inspirational promise of hope and change.
Now it’s Hammer time. Administration is akin to a dynamic chess match with each piece having a dynamic changeability. Chess moves in this context are not static or permanent. Public administration entities such as schools have products to gauge success such as student proficiency and graduation rates.
Government administrative success is more varied. There are factors that can be utilized to demonstrate administrative success in government such as economic impacts, national security employment and educational changes. The ability to develop, communicate, enlist and lead the many sectors of the government and the public toward a higher quality of life is a prerequisite for a good governmental leader.
The president must transparently interpret values and expected outcomes from policies so that the maximum number of sectors are motivated to support his expected outcome. He or she must be accountable and demand accountability for their work in the governing process. All of these variables must be involved creatively to achieve success in a context of varied interest. The context is constantly changing and can’t be ignored — the economy, national security threats, weather, resource fluctuations and patterns of behavior and a myriad array of unforeseen occurrences are all parts of this multifaceted context. The Democratic team has to produce some marketable products.
Obama Power alone can’t administrate the government in the manner a campaign was run. The Democratic Party, the legislature and the voters have to join in the governing endeavor. Public expectation has to be altered toward this new reality. Carrots and sticks have to be used appropriately. All of those who appeared to be impressed by the Obama-Power phenomenon must now hold him and his party, as well as the opposing party, accountable.
The strengths of the Obama Power are still oratory, celebrity and personal charisma. Overuse coupled with no production will cause people to doubt that he, his party and the government can lead the country out of the abyss. The access to youth, the Internet and other resources needs to be exploited for problem solving rather than as a resource for the next presidential campaign.
Obama Power does not trump good administration with integrity. Obama’s propensity to try to make everyone happy, as well as his desire to be dismissive about racial realities surrounding him, challenge him. Obama Power is still a great potential resource if he has the creativity and guts to use it.
William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeretis for MU.