Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Real Leaders

Shorter David Brooks, "The Leadership Emotions", April 22 2014:
Barack lacks all conviction, while Joe Biden
Is full of passionate intensity.
O Captain! My Captain!.
We start off today complaining about how the politicals manage policy nowadays, something with which you and I might wish to concur with a hearty "Damn right, curse that Karl Rove!" or "Ol' Michael Deaver certainly has a lot to answer for!"

But it turns out that Brooks's problem isn't exactly that: it's more that dominance by the politicals has led to a presidency that's not amateurish enough:

certain faculties that were central to amateur decision making — experience, intuition, affection, moral sentiments, imagination and genuineness — have been shorn down for those traits that we associate with professional tactics and strategy — public opinion analysis, message control, media management and self-conscious positioning.
For example, the way the White House was maneuvered into officially believing what the human being Barack Obama has been known to believe since 1996, that the ability of couples to get married should not depend on their gender; unable to move until Nature Boy, the vice president, accidentally blurted out his own views.* I think Brooks, and Jo Becker, the gossip writer on whom he depends, seriously underestimate the professionalism of Biden, by the way, and the extent to which his finest outbursts are themselves the result of careful calculation (I don't mean to suggest that Becker isn't really good, but George Packer has a more profound and rather sadder perspective).

Anyway, it's the old complaint not that Obama is too stage-managed, but that he's so low-class as to stage-manage himself; is too much of a techie, not enough of a gentleman, and thus not enough of a man, because we all know the real guys' guys are the ones with inherited wealth, out on the polo ground while the servants hang out indoors writing their speeches; not enough of a George W. Bush, in fact, impetuous leader, glorious victor:
With such soaring rhetoric, matched by bold but sensible policy, Bush has turned his opponents into churlish conservatives, in the old-fashioned sense of the word [ed. query, which word? "churlish" or "conservative"?]. They are the ones who oppose daring change. They are the ones who found themselves sourly defending the Iraqi status quo. They are the ones who ask the American people to walk away from the noblest elements of their creed.
Who was that? Why, David Brooks, in his old Weekly Standard gig, vintage 2003!

He even brings in his heaviest artillery in the form of an Edmund Burke quote about how emotional the true leader needs to be:
“The true lawgiver ought to have a heart full of sensibility. He ought to love and respect his kind, and to fear himself.” 
That "fear himself" should have been a warning to our humilist that Burke was not talking about George W. Bush here. Brooks doesn't carry on with the quote, in any event; Burke goes on to say that the lawgiver needs to be sort of Obama-like; must use his intuition but not get swept away, must work with prudence, patience, and collectivity, and must listen to the techies:
It may be allowed to his temperament to catch his ultimate object with an intuitive glance; but his movements towards it ought to be deliberate. Political arrangement, as it is a work for social ends, is to be only wrought by social means. There mind must conspire with mind. Time is required to produce that union of minds which alone can produce all the good we aim at. Our patience will achieve more than our force. If I might venture to appeal to what is so much out of fashion in Paris, I mean to experience, I should tell you, that in my course I have known, and, according to my measure, have co-operated with great men; and I have never yet seen any plan which has not been mended by the observations of those who were much inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business.
D. George Thompson after J.W.E. Williams, 1851: Members of The Club meeting at the house of Sir Joshua Reynolds;  Burke is the unwigged, red-coated gentleman getting a talking-to from Dr. Johnson.
*I wrote something about the process at the time, and the new revelations haven't, I think, weakened what I said.

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