Archive for October, 2008

Comment: On Sarah Palin’s use of language

Braden Goyett, McGill Daily

A major shift in U.S. political culture took place almost three decades ago, according to McGill Professor Gil Troy, author of Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s. Television had been around for long enough that major changes were taking place in the way politicians were using the medium.

“The average sound bite on television would go from two to three minutes to 17 seconds,” Troy explains – a phenomenon that drove up the importance of putting on a good show. “The more that happened visually, the more it affected the language.”

It’s no accident that this election seems to be a battle of key words and phrases – “hope” and “change” versus “mavericks” and “main-streeters” – even more so than in previous years.

“Obama and Palin are a different generation of leaders, post-baby-boomers. They’re children of the seventies – and very much children of Ronald Reagan.” Growing up watching Reagan on television, Troy says, both would have absorbed Reagan’s style, particularly his way of manipulating symbols and iconography.

It was during the Reagan Era that a rift between media image and political substance developed, a theme that Troy returns to throughout his book. Though it was fuelled in large part by developments in the media, Reagan’s way of generating feel-good talk while cutting social programs – sometimes linked to institutions he’d just been praising – aggravated the split.

“Not since Theodore Roosevelt had a president wrapped himself in the American flag so effectively; not since Franklin Roosevelt had a president identified his fate with the American people so convincingly,” Troy writes. “Administration officials and reporters agreed: there was a new language to American politics, one more visual than verbal, more image-oriented than issue-oriented, more stylish than substantive.”

More often than not, when I hear people talk about American political culture, it’s with a sense of fatalism. The elements that make U.S. politics such a media circus seem so deeply entrenched; it’s surprising to find they’re the product of developments barely older than I am.

This election year, it’s frustrating to hear people laugh dismissively about Sarah Palin’s turns of phrase, given how much power these kinds of sound bites can have. There’s a distinct narrative in the way she positioned her party in her convention speech: mavericks versus Big Government, the mom versus the suits, John McCain versus the forces of evil. Everything speaks to America’s distrust of Big Government – and considering that Alan Greenspan just admitted that the free market has foundered, what has de-regulation done for us lately?

Accents, word choice, and syntax also broadcast a lot of things implicitly, among them notions of identity. “Al Gore suffered when he ran against George Bush in 2000,” Troy says. “Americans, according to surveys, responded to Bush’s language, thinking ‘he must be honest, he must be like me.’”

With her folksy rhetoric and repeated mantras, Palin taps on emotional nerves: the current of anti-intellectualism that runs deep in American society, on class antagonisms, and antagonism to government as a whole.

More than that, she does it with feel-good charm, in a way that makes it seem innocuous: “She’s playing the divisive politics of red versus blue with such a charming smile, a giddy laugh that it becomes defused, detoxified,” Troy says. “In that way she’s like Reagan.”

While I’m hoping that she won’t make it to the White House this fall, according to The New York Times, many are pointing to Palin as the new face of the conservative movement. Her catch phrases aren’t a joke, but a sign of the state of the country – probably one we should take seriously, before our generation finds some of its own running for office.

Braden Goyette is a Daily culture editor. And she’s American.

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By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-30-08

In what is looking more and more like a campaign of nearly perfect pitch, Barack Obama turned in another virtuoso performance Wednesday night with his prime-time infomercial. Apparently weeks in the making, the infomercial pulled out all the stops. We saw snippets of Obama’s classic 2004 Democratic National Convention address. We saw photos from the Obama family album of Obama’s parents – and canned footage of World War II workers to help evoke the all-American lineage of Obama’s grandparents. We heard testimonies from Michelle Obama, Governor Bill Richardson, Senator Dick Durbin, and a retired Brigadier General patriotically named John Adams about the candidate’s wondrous qualities. We saw the candidate at rallies and we heard him giving the voters a more direct – and uncharacteristically subdued — pitch. But we did not need to hear the candidate – and potential president – as narrator, telling the stories of a handful of Americans tossed around in today’s economic crosscurrents.

I confess when I first heard that Obama was buying thirty minutes of prime time, I assumed it was for a traditional, thirty-minute closing campaign address. I was excited in that evoked the mid-twentieth century campaigns of Adlai Stevenson and John Kennedy, of Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. I was curious to see how Obama – with his extraordinary oratorical skill — would pull it off.

Of course, the campaign producers needed to produce a more varied, even herky-jerky, thirty minutes to keep the modern viewer engaged. And most of the half hour was compelling, although it was surprisingly sobering. The Obama campaign responded to the criticism that his earlier speeches were too lyrical and vague by setting their man in a mock Oval Office and having him talk substantively and directly into the television cameras, with a far more subdued tone. In fact, it was refreshing to hear him not speak in his trademark singsong.

The message also was a bit of a downer. The background music tended to be slow not stirring. And, following the recent economic meltdown, Obama chose to go with the more unnerving message that the nation is in crisis which upstaged his usual uplifting message that we can solve all the world’s problems by working together.

The infomercial was less effective, however, when Obama started narrating the stories of regular Americans in distress. This was what we might call the Joe-the-plumberization of American campaigning taken to yet another extreme. It started, in many ways, with Ronald Reagan’s ritual of pointing to one or two representative Americans during his State of the Union addresses. It led many candidates, especially this year, to insert moments of faux intimacy into their speeches and debate appearances wherein they told the story of one voter by name, whom they had met and supposedly bonded with on the campaign trail. In the third presidential debate – and subsequently – John McCain took this technique even farther with his deification of Joe the plumber. (Of course, following the natural course of American celebrity, Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, now has a Wikipedia entry, and a manager).

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By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-29-08

Senator John McCain’s campaign should be experiencing a surge in this final week of the campaign, a narrowing of the gap between him and his opponent Senator Barack Obama. In almost every campaign since 1988, except for when Senator Bob Dole lost to President Bill Clinton in 1996, the eventual losers experienced a last minute burst of energy. In losing campaigns such as Michael Dukakis’s 1988 effort and John Kerry’s 2004 race, a loser’s psychosis set in. Insulated from reality by sycophantic, encouraging aides, surrounded by adoring crowds wherever they went, both Dukakis and Kerry seemed convinced they were going to replicate Harry Truman’s come-from-behind win back in 1948. The result was an energetic, euphoric, sprint toward the finish line that while delusional limited the winner’s margin of victory.

Speaking to Tom Brokaw on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday morning, John McCain seemed to be channeling Dukakis and Kerry. He was not as petulant as Walter Mondale appeared when he lost in 1984. He was not as resigned as Bob Dole was as the 1996 campaign ended. Instead, McCain was confident and ready to fight. Characteristically, his campaign of many strategies introduced yet another approach in the penultimate weekend of the campaign, arguing about the danger of having Democrats dominating both Capitol Hill and the White House. On the campaign trail, McCain has been delighting in the prospect of defying the pundits by winning.

McCain’s confidence is not completely delusional. He knows that Ronald Reagan gained as many as ten points in most polls during the last days of the 1980 campaign, ultimately defeating Jimmy Carter. McCain knows that he has been counted out before, even during the 2008 campaign for the Republican nomination. And McCain sees that, for all the hoopla surrounding Barack Obama, Obama has not quite closed the sale with millions of Americans.

If there is any narrowing in the race between McCain and Obama in these last days or on Election Day, analysts will be quick to cry racism. Pundits will continue the incessant chatter about the “Bradley Effect,” recalling the African-American Mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley, who failed to be elected Governor of California despite a lead in the polls. The conventional wisdom attributed the drop to the racism of the voting booths, the fact that many voters told pollsters they would vote for a black but ultimately could not pull the lever for Bradley.

McCain, who has been careful to avoid playing the race card, is banking on other, more benign, factors. The truth is that Barack Obama has not closed the sale because his campaign has been so cautious. Since the convention, Obama has followed a conservative strategy that avoided mistakes but minimized the sparks he generated last spring. Especially since the economic meltdown, Obama has let McCain stumble. During the debates, most people were impressed by Obama’s cool. Still, displaying maturity is not the same thing as convincing the American people. If Obama loses in an upset, the Monday morning quarterbacking should lament his passive, seemingly defensive, campaign rather than Americans’ racism.

If – as the polls seem to suggest – Obama wins, he will have to recall what Ronald Reagan did in 1980. That year, Reagan basically won the election by default – it was an ABC vote, “Anybody But Carter,” the incumbent president. But from the moment Reagan won, he and his aides began speaking about Reagan’s Mandate. By the time Reagan was inaugurated, talk about Reagan’s Mandate had caught on, and Reagan entered office with more power than he deserved based on his Election Day performance.

Barack Obama and his advisers understand the need for his own final surge – and the need to start thinking about an Obama mandate. As the campaign winds down, Obama seems to be returning to the “Yes We Can” spirit of last spring. He has spoken to adoring crowds of as many as 100,000 voters. His campaign spent four million dollars purchasing 30 minutes on CBS, NBC and Fox Wednesday night, for the first prime time candidate’s extended infomercial since Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign. And with an eye on healing the day after, Obama has returned to the unity rhetoric that first catapulted him into the American political stratosphere with his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address. “In one week, you can put an end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election, that tries to pit region against region, city against town and Republican against Democrat, that asks us to fear at a time when we need hope.,” Obama recently proclaimed. “In one week’s time, at this defining moment in history, you can give this country the change we need.”

Some applaud this final week because this seemingly endless campaign is almost over. But the last week of a campaign is often the best week of a campaign. As both candidates make their best efforts to win, we can remember what a privilege it is for citizens in a democracy to choose their leaders freely. Campaigns get passionate, messy, even ugly – as we have seen this fall in the United States and Canada. But the one prediction we can make with assurance – and with a sense of tremendous satisfaction – is that on Election Day we will hear the sounds of democracy in action – reporters chattering, voters shuffling in line, the click and whir of voting machines. And we should all celebrate that the sounds are in contrast to the sounds of regime change in other parts of the world, which usually include the rumble of tanks and the rat-tat-tat of bullets.

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By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-28-08

Here’s a fantasy for Americans exhausted by this endless presidential campaign. Imagine a campaign limited to six weeks. Imagine a campaign that cannot bombard voters with advertisements, because each television station makes available 390 minutes for political commercials which a broadcasting authority allots based on the various parties’ relative strengths. Imagine a campaign with restrictions on fundraising and campaign spending – that candidates actually follow. Imagine a campaign run by already designated and experienced party leaders, so the messy process of choosing a standard bearer does not run right into the messier process of choosing a leader. Well, Canadians just finished such a campaign – yet, they too were miserable.

News reports from up north said that Canadians suffered from a severe case of “election envy.” Many Canadians wished their candidates were more colorful, their campaigns were more exciting. It seems that many Canadians wished their elections were, dare we say it, more American.

Yes, even though most Americans did not notice, Canada just finished its own national elections. The incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper, riding high in the polls, announced the elections on September 7, eight months and fours days after the Iowa caucus and nearly sixteen months after Democrats hosted 2008’s first primary candidates’ debate. Canadians voted on October 14 three weeks before Americans finally voted. Harper was returned to office, although the stock market implosion deprived him of the majority in parliament he sought.

One exceptional phenomenon in the race was that more Canadians than usual admitted their feelings of inadequacy vis a vis the Americans, at least electorally speaking. Canadians – like so many Americans – have been swept up by the 2008 campaigning drama, scrutinizing the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton soap opera, wondering how different John McCain might be from George W. Bush, alternately fascinated and appalled by the political rookie of the year, Sarah Palin. Besotted by European-style pretensions to cosmopolitanism, Canadians like to pretend they are not nationalistic. They believe that unlike their American neighbors, they have evolved, beyond such primitive feelings. Yet conversations about the United States inevitably bring out Canadians’ inner chauvinist. Canadians assert their patriotism by caricaturing America as a land of gun-toting, health-care-deprived red state-rednecks. Thus, this admission of election envy was surprising and significant.

The green-eyed view of the land of the red, white, and blue makes sense when you compare the leading candidates in both races. Barack Obama’s eloquent, historic quest to become America’s first black president induces goosebumps, while John McCain’s trajectory from five and half years suffering in the “Hanoi Hilton” to the cusp of living in the White House is cinematic. On the Canadian side, the incumbent prime minister who called the election, Stephen Harper, of the Conservative Party, is a steadfast Canadian bloke, as solid as an oak, as charismatic as the country he leads. The first great campaign controversy he triggered stemmed from donning a baby blue sweater for a campaign photo op at a suburban home. Critics felt it was phony from such a jacket-and-tie kind of guy. And he was the exciting candidate running. Harper’s main rival, Stephane Dion, heading the Liberal Party, is a colorless academic – at the risk of being redundant – whose mediocre English speaking skills only provide a partial excuse for his lack of campaigning talent. A fierce defender of Canada’s federal union, he is even less popular in his French-speaking home province, Quebec, where they can understand what he says, than he is in what locals call ROC, the rest of Canada.

Still, despite the Canadian candidates’ lack of flash, and despite campaign rules that American progressives fantasize would turn our pols into Solons and Solomons, Canadians endured a nasty battle. This was the third election in four years – and the current Conservative government was and remains a minority government. As Americans know too well, divided polities and tight races cause intense political combat, no matter how noble the candidates’ intentions. Moreover, operating in a parliamentary system, Canadian prime ministers lack the awe-inspiring majesty and physical insulation the American president enjoys. For all their reputed niceness, Canadians have a vigorous tradition of questioning, even heckling, the prime minister in Parliament. And the Canadian televised debates, which are much less choreographed with far less journalistic interference than American debates, degenerated into shouting matches with charges of “liar” aired.

Americans and Canadians share a common embarrassment in that both countries have among the Western world’s lowest voter turnout rates, hovering around sixty percent. For Americans, that rate represents a recent surge; for Canadians, a disturbing drop. And yet, the United States and Canada are two of the world’s safest, richest, and freest democracies. Just as George W. Bush learned in Iraq and in Gaza that it takes more than a vote to make democracy succeed, North America’s frustrating, often ferocious, and frequently alienating politics shows that it takes more than complaints about voting and campaigning to deem a democracy a failure. Maybe, just maybe, we love to complain about the intensity of electoral battles – but love the fights even more.

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By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-26-08

The “experience” argument has had a funny track record this campaign. Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to float her way to the White House based on her supposedly considerable experience – and lost. Barack Obama may be one of the least politically experienced politicians since that other Illinois pol, Abraham Lincoln, captured the White House, but most voters don’t seem to mind. In fact, the candidate who has been repeatedly denounced as inexperienced and unqualified to be president is the only national candidate with actual executive experience in the race, the former mayor and current governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

All this goes to show that a resume only tells part of the story. Any fair observer who has watched Palin’s interview with Katie Couric should admit to some reservations about Sarah Palin’s readiness to lead. Couric asked fair questions in a straightforward manner, and Palin often responded like an unprepared undergraduate who tries to reframe a question or sling broad generalizations about America to substitute for specific answers. Similarly, in her debate with Joe Biden, Palin came on strong but by mid-debate was sidestepping too much and repeatedly invoking her McCain-and-me-are-Mavericks mantra.

Most disturbing of all, Sarah Palin seems singularly unqualified in the field of foreign affairs, even though John McCain’s candidacy rode – and seems to be falling – on the argument of its primacy during these touchy times. I have no problem with Republicans who say “yes, she’s unqualified but I’m still voting for president and McCain is my choice.” I can even accept Republicans who argue that the media has been particularly tough on Palin and soft on Joe Biden, who has made a number of unacceptable factual errors on the campaign trail in addition to his role as gaffe-master general. But I have a hard time accepting those who claim that they have no concerns about Palin’s limited national experience and superficial understanding of foreign affairs.

At the same time, it is extremely disturbing that most polls suggest that Al Franken is about to be elected Senator from Minnesota. Franken is not only unqualified, he has been a destructive force in American politics for years. That Minnesota, a state once known for its calm, constructive, progressive politics, could take this aggressive, mean-spirited, Democratic clown at all seriously shows how far American politics have fallen. We all know that we live in an age of celebrity and that stardom in one field transfers over to another arena far too easily. Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger may have been equally unqualified when they won their respective gubernatorial seats, but at least they had not been harming the system with harsh rhetoric and buffoonery for years. Al Franken is no better than Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, who also should – by now — have talked their way out of being taken seriously by voters.

It is fashionable to lament that partisanship is blind. Actually, partisanship is myopic. Partisans have a distorted view of the world, wherein they are able to see the flaws in a rival party’s candidate while overlooking similar flaws in a candidate from their own camp. So here is my test for 2008. How many people are willing to denounce both Sarah Palin and Al Franken as unqualified for the respective positions they seek? Even at this late date, it is important to test ourselves and each other for consistency, to see if we have any objective standards – or it is all a matter of partisan positioning.

Parties serve an important role in American democracy, as do hard fought campaigns. But politics is about governing not just winning. Occasionally acknowledging your own party’s missteps is an important step in building those bridges of civility and mutuality that are essential for going forward the day after Election Day, a day that is rapidly approaching.

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By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-24-08

Where is Michelle Obama? Since the Democratic nominee’s wife delivered her warm, charming, effective address at the Democratic National Convention, she has remained remarkably low profile. The Obama campaign has used her sparingly and – to the Democrats’ good fortune – she has triggered no controversy. This quiet is a remarkable contrast to the tumult that surrounded her during Barack Obama’s primary campaign. It reflects some of the particular dynamics surrounding the Obama partnership in private and in public. But Michelle Obama’s demeanor also reflects the broader strategy in the Democratic campaign this fall. If Barack Obama wins on November 4, it will feel more like a victory by default than a sweeping mandate for change.

When Barack Obama first emerged as a serious presidential contender, his wife Michelle had an important, if reluctant, role in the narrative. For a politician who was triggering near messianic fervor, she was the reality check, proof that he put his socks on one foot at a time, like the rest of us mortals. It was a role she seemed to relish – and took a little too far. Her comments about her “stinky, snorey” husband in the marital bed triggered collective shouts of “TMI” – too much information. They were far too reminiscent of both Clintons at their worst, combining Hillary Clinton’s occasional flashes of anger about her husband’s tomcatting with Bill Clinton’s willingness to answer the undignified question posed to him as president, “Do you wear boxers or briefs?” Still, Mrs. Obama did what candidate spouses have done for decades. She helped humanize her husband. Michelle Obama filled out the profile of Barack Obama as a regular guy with two adorable children and a smart, capable, if occasionally neglected wife.

As the primary campaign heated up and became a two-person struggle pitting Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama’s role expanded. Bill Clinton’s controversial involvement in his wife’s race helped shine the spotlight on Barack Obama’s spouse. Michelle Obama’s now infamous comment that her husband’s rise made her proud to be an American for the first time in her life hurt the Obama effort. Although Mrs. Obama’s gaffe was less destructive than Mr. Clinton’s egocentric, race-baiting antics, the comment played into the Clinton narrative that the Obamas were unpatriotic, supercilious, elitists, privileged Ivy League types bashing America while enjoying her bounty. Well aware of how much Hillary Clinton’s frankness detracted from Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992, the Obama campaign sought to reposition and then silence Mrs. Obama.

The effort has largely succeeded. In her convention tour de force, Michelle Obama used her life story to normalize her husband’s biography. Her stories of local Chicago girl made good helped tailor Barack Obama’s less conventional biography to fit the more classic contours of the American dream. Her delivery was as good as her content, and she came across as warm, supportive, accomplished but not threatening – not an easy task given the many racist and sexist stereotypes she must overcome.

Since then, it has been relatively quiet on the Obama home front. Barack Obama did one round of interviews with his daughters, which he immediately regretted. Michelle Obama has dutifully accompanied her husband when necessary, but even Cindy McCain has generated more national attention. More broadly, the Sarah Palin phenomenon has been the distaff story of this campaign. It seems that Americans – or journalists – have a limited quota of attention they will pay to women during a campaign, and both potential First Ladies seem to have had less scrutiny than usual, partially because of all the Palin controversies.

Michelle Obama’s passivity is also a reflection of the relatively subdued campaign Barack Obama has run — to his great benefit. In many ways, since the convention, he has shifted gears. The flamboyant, exciting, “yes we can” candidate of last spring has become the calm, unruffled, cool customer of today. Since the financial meltdown, Obama has – publicly – taken the lead by default. He has let John McCain stumble more than anything else. At the same, Obama has run a brilliant ground game, raising money prodigiously, and organizing his ground troops. The upside is that it just may win him the presidency, as people’s perceptions of his maturity and readiness to be chief executive have grown. The downside is that he is smoothly gliding his way toward the White House rather than taking it by storm. If he wins, he will need to work harder during the transition to shape – or even retroactively create – a mandate.

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By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-23-08

The campaign’s excitement, loyalty and zero-sum polarization has distracted Americans from a worrying thought – what if neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is qualified to be president? Both lack serious executive experience. The jump from running a senate office to running the White House, let alone the country, is like catapulting from owning a mom-and-pop candy store to managing a multinational conglomerate overnight.

As the CEO of the White House and the nation, being POTUS – insiders’ acronym for President of the United States – may be the toughest executive job in the world. The stakes are high, the scope is vast, the scrutiny intense, the criticism constant. As Dwight Eisenhower warned John Kennedy, only the impossible decisions end up on the president’s desk.

As an academic, with limited managerial experience, I am conscious of the executive skills I lack, but only have an inkling of all that I do not know. Those of us who have never budgeted, hired or fired, supervised multiple levels below us in a bureaucracy, are lucky. We can focus more directly on fulfilling our own tasks independently and (hopefully) responsibly. But a president not only has to manage the country, the president also has to run the ever-larger White House and the gargantuan federal bureaucracy.

Many talented politicians in the Oval Office have committed rookie mistakes most experienced CEOs would have avoided. Lyndon Johnson intimidated and humiliated staffers, discouraging them from delivering bad news, alternative perspectives, the essential reality-check leaders need. Rather than inspiring his aides, Richard Nixon shared and fed their fears, creating a White House of co-conspirators some of whom ultimately betrayed each other – and him. Jimmy Carter interrupted his presidency to consult experts about the country’s direction at Camp David, unaware that displaying such weakness undermined Americans’ faith in him. Ronald Reagan allowed staffers to run a rogue Iran-Contra operation, with his wink-wink, nudge-nudge consent but without his supervision. And George W. Bush proved that loyalty cannot be blind; it must be tempered by a focus on results. Had Bush fired Donald Rumsfeld earlier, the mess in Iraq might have been easier to clean up, and Bush might have had more Republican legislators supporting him in Congress.

Fortunately, there are inspiring models for the Senators to study too. America’s greatest chief executives were visionary executives who understood that the delicate dance of democracy usually requires a light but sure touch. Like a large, sprawling corporation, a country needs a leader to set a tone, chart a course, put out fires, and make the tough calls. A successful president, like a successful CEO, has to consider followers’ morale among the many other factors that shape decision-making. Center-seeking, consensus-building, help foster a sense of camaraderie and a commitment to a broader mission necessary for group success. And knowing what to avoid is often as important as knowing what to embrace. Just as Al Gore teaches about minimizing our carbon footprints, successful executives minimize their toxic footprints, leaving a legacy of good feeling not bad faith.

A center-seeking CEO and POTUS will remember George Washington’s lesson that civility is contagious, as the father of our country spent much of his tenure managing squabbling subordinates, trying to keep them focused on “our common cause” not their conflicting agendas. A moderate CEO and POTUS will mimic Abraham Lincoln’s pragmatism, noting that Lincoln positioned the country to abolish slavery eventually – after the Civil War — by first keeping the union united and inviolable. Similarly, great leaders consolidate gains that are attainable while stubbornly seeking ever loftier goals. An effective CEO and POTUS will master Franklin Roosevelt’s skills, infusing a sense of mission throughout the bureaucracy, by articulating the vision and by occasionally leapfrogging down through the chain of command to quiz lower-level managers about the facts on the ground.

Moreover, as Barack Obama has argued, running a presidential campaign requires considerable executive skill. There are budgets to be drawn and approved, subordinates to be supervised, strategies to be set. Obama emphasizes this because even Republicans would acknowledge that Obama’s campaign has been far smoother, reflecting remarkable discipline in defeating the Clinton machine in the spring, and being so brilliant run this fall.

McCain’s people make a different argument, that legislative consensus-building and symbolic tone-setting are essential presidential skills. McCain honed these skills in the Senate. He and his supporters claim that he understands the challenge of leading a nation more than any governor or corporate CEO could.

Ultimately, great leadership in the White House and in corporate headquarters is not formulaic. There is no recipe for good judgment, for knowing when to hold and when to fold. But our leaders can learn from the past how others built cultures of cooperation and civility that flourished. And like it or not, come January 20, one of these Senators is slated to be sworn in as President. The gray hairs that emerged on the heads of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter suggest that nothing quite prepares anyone for the considerable tensions and challenges of this high stakes office.

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