Small World: The President, a jolly good fellow?

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht
BN Columnist
Few pundits or politicians would agree with that judgment. Obama is hardly ever considered the life of his Democratic Party — or any other kind of party for that matter, “Sour” is the word one hostile columnist has used. Golf didn’t play out with House Speaker Boehner. In six years, the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, got one one-on-one invitation to the White House.
The question for today’s discussion is, “So What?  Does a talent for amusement and fellowship make a more meritorious leader?”
On one hand, a keen sense of humor, an affable attitude toward antagonists and a reservoir of good cheer are considered requisites for effective leadership.
On the other hand, let’s examine what history might teach us. I would say that the presidents Mr. Obama most resembles in brains, good liberal intentions and starchy personality are Jimmy Carter, minus the piety, and Woodrow Wilson, minus the inner arrogance. As we know, the former was smashed by the relentless good cheer and friendly smile of Ronald Reagan. The latter overreached and fell hard.
Compare Kennedy and Johnson: The first had a graceful light touch; his successor was stern and serious. Johnson’s successes far outweighed Kennedy’s.
An absence of the common touch damaged George H.W. Bush — e.g., an inability to find his way in a supermarket. Despite his enormous experience and clear thinking, he was topped by Bill Clinton who was nobody if not a super lively human being. He was followed by a somewhat dour, but well intentioned, if error-prone, George W. Bush who appealed to our like qualities and, after 9/11 and follow-on wars, patriotism.
If there were any president who inspires Obama’s emulation, I would imagine it would be Franklin Roosevelt,w described as a “first class personality with a second class mind.” Obama has earned exactly the reverse description. He can’t fight a combination of genes and nurture.
Now let’s move on to geography. What foreign life-loving leaders have succeeded, which have failed and how are the glum faring? At the top of today’s list has to be France’s President Hollande with three mistresses — two for a spell at the same time. No one has ever sunk lower in French polls, which instructs you that sex is not absolutely everything for the Gauls; the economy also counts.
Possibly outscoring Hollande was another Latin, Sergio Berlusconi of Italy. Despite allegations of criminal offenses and indictments, the girlie shows on the TV channels he owns plus parties with questionable female guests, he kept winning elections. The Shah of Iran used to import women from Europe, but his public didn’t know that and brought him down. Turning to our current antagonists: Russia’s President Putin impresses his public with personal feats of strength and courage. Popular, though hardly a laugh-a-minute unless Russians relish a cynical chuckle as he wags a finger at the West. Nationalism trumps laughter. Then there’s China’s boss, Xi-Jinping, who, graciously greeted the hated Japanese with a frozen smile. Dignity signifies strength, I guess. Switching to glumness, surely Germany’s PM Merkel tops the list; she also tops the list of Europe’s most effective and popular rulers.
But back to Obama: Would his scorecard of achievements be improved by a little lightness? Suppose he and the Republican leadership got soused every Saturday on McConnell’s Kentucky Bourbon as served in a bar like the one Boehner used to sweep. Would the outlook for legislation addressing climate change or immigration be improved?
Or suppose that Obama found an old Adlai Stevenson joke book in a Chicago second hand shop. Would the polls point upward, if he lifted a few lines from the sharpest sense of humor ever to run for the highest office (and fail twice)?
If humor helped him, the joke would be on me!
Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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