BUSH AND OBAMA: A Difference? A Meaning?

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Mr. Joseph P Garske is a retired private investor. He is an invited contributing writer to the www.BusinessThinker.com
He holds a bachelor degree in history from Harvard.

The presidents Bush and Obama are often compared with one another in terms of how different they are. Undoubtedly, they are dissimilar in many obvious ways. They may even be precise opposites in a few aspects. Yet, setting aside differences in political view and ideology there are other levels on which to compare them. One has to do with their habits of behavior as individual persons and as leaders.

For example, if we suspend political judgment for a moment and view them simply as hypothetical types, there arises a very timely question: “Which is worse, a president who has the wrong purpose, but is clear and decisive in setting out to attain it, or a president who wants the right things but is vague and indecisive in attempting to achieve those ends?”

Of course, in the case of the two presidents under consideration here, their approach to the office had much to do with circumstance. One began his tenure with the extreme urgency of a massive attack on American soil. The other began his service in an atmosphere of general malaise where he was able to offer a message of hope, an appeal to a higher public aspiration..

However, we are not precisely concerned here with either the politics or the historical circumstance of either President Bush or Obama. We are rather attempting to raise a different kind of question, a question of types. Arguments can be made, of course, for either alternative, a lesser of two evils. But ultimately the real answer may be that neither set of traits is desirable. In fact, the question may raise to consideration a more fundamental problem, a problem having to do with the structure of American politics.

After all, even the harshest critics of President Bush would have to concede that after eight years in the White House, followed by several years of reflection, the former president might be potentially more valuable, more useful in the formulation of policy. Who else could match the perspective he had gained?

A similar point might be made about President Obama. After he has experienced both the euphoria and the bitterness endemic to the highest office in American politics, after he has retired from public life with time to reflect, he may offer valuable insights into the necessary qualities of an effective leader.

In fact, the lesson to be drawn here may only incidentally have to do with either of these presidents–or these hypothetical types. Instead, it has more to do with a political structure. That is, a political structure that often brings to office a candidate who has no established or sophisticated understanding of the world, or even the issues facing the country at large. Perhaps his most prominent attribute is his skillfulness at elective politics. This person is not only expected to lead our government, but in a way to be a kind of leader to all  governments in the world.

Then at the end of his term of office he is set aside from direct involvement in these affairs. His experience as both a formulator and executor of policy are lost to the public–and to the world. Perhaps the problems now encountered by our struggling republic are more fundamental than the transient fare of popular politics. Perhaps it is time to step back to examine the system itself.




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