Hillary Clinton has thrown out an important challenge, namely, “It’s 3
AM, you have a national security crisis on your hands, who do you want
answering the phone?”
I am anxious about Barack Obama picking up
that phone, but I would be anxious if Hillary Clinton picked it up
as well. Let’s face it, we’d all be anxious about whoever picked up
that phone (as all of America was when it was J.F.K. in the Cuban
As I look back at the group of Presidents since
J.F.K., I think the person I would be least anxious about picking up
that phone would be Ronald Reagan. And even I am surprised by my choice. How and why would I pick someone who was a running mate of Bonzo?
all the Presidents since J.F.K., Reagan had three of the central
qualities of great leaders: 1) a vision and the will to commit to it;
2) talented people; 3) the ability to engage the talent of those people.
the two Democratic candidates, Obama seems to be more successful than
Clinton in the vision department, the ability to surround himself with
talented people (at least with regard to running a campaign), and the
ability to engage the passionate involvement of those talented people.
True his speeches often seem sweeping and less detailed in nature, but
Clinton’s seem to focus on specific issues without a vision. If we look
at details as the charms on a bracelet and vision as the bracelet,
Obama seems to epitomize the bracelet, Clinton the charms (without the
If many of our problems are the result of charms (or
silos if you prefer) of special interest groups competing against each
other in an uncharming, “zero sum” fashion, it would seem that we are
in sore, if not dire, need to find a way to get all the special
interest groups on the same page and pulling together in the same
I question Clinton’s ability to: 1) articulate a
single, ennobling and compelling vision; 2) surround herself with
talent (reference her changing staff and subsequent finger pointing,
responsibility evading squabbles between them); 3) engage her staff in
a passionate call to action manner that works.
Obama has shown
himself to be able to paint a vision and to enroll people passionately
in service of it. He has also shown himself to be someone who can
select talented people with regard to running a highly successful
campaign. Whether this is enough to successfully lead a country remains
to be seen.
But it does seem clear that a leader who can’t
articulate a compelling vision, select talented people, or engage them
has less of a chance for success.
(c) 2008 Mark Goulston