Yesterday I was very hard on President Obama. I do believe that as a leader he could bring government, business, and the community together to create positive solutions for the social ills of our nation. But, I also believe that he needs to be more Clintonian in being able to bring the warring factions together to make a difference. We can say so much about Bill Clinton and his Presidency, positive and negative, but he was able to accomplish things during the second half of his residency in the White House because he got people to work together. President Reagan was another who was able to get strong personalities to work together for the good of the whole. So if Obama is half the leader some think he is, then he knows what he needs to do.
Nelson Mandela is one of President Obama’s heroes, and rightly so. Mandela was one of those people tempered by the heat of adversity, who emerge from the oven of trial to become a great. Mandela evolved from being the “Che Guevarra of Africa,” and a “failed Marxist revolutionary,” to become a respected world leader affectively governing a country torn in two by Apartheid.
“Nelson Mandela inherited a fractured nation. He led it back from the brink of civil war, forming a government of national unity that demolished apartheid and established a constitution that is one of the most liberal in the world in terms of human rights.” He was a man educated by 27 years in a prison, who emerged as the leader South Africa needed to reenter the world stage in a more positive light. “He entered Robben Island a militant who had failed to topple a government, but came out as a leader who succeeded in building a new nation on a platform of peace and reconciliation among races.”
Mandela could have been a leader after the style of Lenin in Russia, eliminating all opposition with a blood bath. He did not do that. He started negotiations with the white rulers five years before he was released from prison. He actually stated that those five years were critical for the new direction because it gave the upcoming leaders time to talk through all of the issues and differences. It is reported that he did not tell his ANC compatriots that he was talking with the government. He stated in his memoir, “There are times when a leader must move out ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident he is leading his people the right way.” The work that he and Mr. De Klerk did to end white minority rule set a new standard for resolving conflict.
Mandela was not a perfect leader, which he freely admits. He felt he did not do enough about AIDS and he did not deal with corruption within the ANC. This makes me think about the powerful scene in Schindler’s list where Liam Neeson as Schindler reflects on how he did not do enough to save Jews from the Nazis. Even though he did so much to save people, he felt he just did not do enough.
Nelson Mandela was a man who made a difference. “He started his life sentence at Robben Island prison near Cape Town a would-be Lenin. He walked out of jail on February 11, 1990 – at age 71- an African Vaclav Havel.” He was able to bridge the gap between two very different factions for the evolutionary good of a nation. Yet he felt he did not do enough!
So President Obama, there is your exemplar. There is your standard. Obviously President Obama you are a man who has broken down barriers as the first black President of the United States. However, your legacy of leadership is in question. Can you lead the warring factions of the political parties to create a budget, economic opportunity for all, and improvement of our health care? Can you lead our political executives into a collaborative effort to help restore the middle class? Can you help create a vision of America that we can share and more forward? This is what we need, but we also need a Mandelian leader that can break down very thick walls of distrust. That is a high and difficult calling. However, that is why you get the big bucks. I hope you can accomplish this, because that is the only way you’ll be able to accomplish what you said you wanted to do during the last three years of your Presidency. I hope you are successful. I really do. But!
And that is my thought for the day!