Dear Mr. President:
You had requested an executive summary of my analysis of your current ability to influence and create constructive change. I’ve listed the points in no particular order, since they are all important. Sorry we couldn’t meet as planned, but I’m sensitive to the rigor of your schedule.
1. Ironically, perhaps, Americans crave an imperial Presidency. It’s one of the primary reasons that Jimmy Carter served only one term (he wanted to dispense with his limo and stop at red lights, for example). You’re on television too much. You ought to wear a suit and tie more often. No one needs to see you playing basketball all the time. We’ll take your word that you have a good jump shot. Start acting like the leader of the most powerful and freedom-loving country in the history of the world. Americans don’t need another friend, they need a strong leader, and they are looking to you to fill that role. (Note to staff: If unrequited love is deemed essential, elevate executive director of the American Kennel Club to cabinet level.)
2. Stop apologizing. Stop the perception of apologizing. People would rather have your wife place her hands on the arm of the Queen of England than see you bow to an Arab prince or a Japanese Emperor. The United States flag is never, ever dipped or lowered in salute to anyone, anywhere. Take your lead from that protocol. We’ve made mistakes, so has everyone else. We learn better than most, and constantly try to improve. Our country may operate first and foremost in its own self-interest. There is nothing in the Constitution about having to dazzle the Europeans.
3. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. What’s really important? You’re advocating a supposedly historic health care overhaul, but also dashing off to Copenhagen to try for an Olympic decision (that ultimately didn’t even have the U.S. in contention and provided a slap in the face). Why are you interfering with an overzealous cop and a curmudgeonly professor? Let them work it out. You’re not a community organizer any more. Trigger mechanism: Wherever American lives are being lost or are endangered, that’s a priority.
4. When you do communicate, you must provide a higher level of emotional investment. Pretend it’s a basketball game, and you were just fouled but the ref didn’t call it. You create tight intellectual arguments that don’t admit any passion. Logic makes people think, but emotion makes them act. Those folks showing up at town meetings to protest proposed health care changes weren’t organized by the enemy. They were people driven to a high emotional pitch by issues urgent to them. You need commitment, not compliance. You need to recapture the fervor of your campaign while leading.
5. Stop starting sentences with “Look!” It’s condescending and perceived as implying that the listener isn’t paying attention. You keep repeating, “Let me be clear….” You need to be saying, “Let me be specific….” Then people will look. And listen.
6. You must be politically effective, not politically correct, which are often antipodal. A “holiday tree” without religious connotation probably manages to offend most people and cause the rest to believe you’re afraid of offending anyone. You did attend church regularly yourself (remember the Reverend Wright debacle). Christmas is not originally a secular holiday, no matter what historical revisionists say. Either celebrate it or not, but stop trying to please everyone. Incredibly, you seem to lose sight of the historical fact of your election, and often revert to campaigning. Use the fervor of running, but the power of your office.
7. The honeymoon is over, the positive ratings are down, so you have to create a more professional appearance for your administration. That scary jet flyover in New York, the crashers at the state dinner, the complaints about no women in your “insiders” fun and games—the appearance is of amateurism, a meeting of a Toastmasters chapter instead of the Harvard Business School. We have a consulting term for this: taking names and kicking ass.
In summary, you need to reduce your exposure but increase the passion of those appeals you do choose to make, based on clear priorities. Don’t be arrogant in representing us, but do exhibit pride in our accomplishments. It’s time to take accountability as a leader. In the Civil War, the highest proportional mortality of any officer was at Brigadier General level (impossible today) because that officer got on a horse in full view and said to his brigade, “Follow me!” as he galloped off to the enemy lines. Those generals showed great courage which engendered loyal troops.
You need to get back on that horse, Mr. President, and people will follow. We want you to succeed because we want to succeed.
My invoice is in the mail, per our agreement. I’ve waived the expenses, since I simply took the Acela and greatly enjoyed having my picture taken at the dinner with Joe Biden and Michaele Salahi. (However, I thought the chicken was a tad dry.)
© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.