Just So, Mr Marshall

Josh Marshall, on Obama and the presidency:

Obama isn’t so much running for the nomination in the sense of reaching out and taking it. He’s trying to show us how marvelous he is (and this isn’t snark, he’s really pretty marvelous) so that Democratic voters will recognize it and give him the nomination.

But that’s not how it works in this country. I don’t know if it really works otherwise anywhere else. But you have to really want it, come out and say it, take it. … You have to want it enough that you reach out and take it. Which isn’t always pretty and admirable. But that’s what it takes.

Exactly right.

I’ve had many conversations with Europeans, mostly Germans, about US politics and about presidents in particular. I’m surprised (though I shouldn’t be by now) at how often people say they’re put off by how arrogant, how grasping, how pushy people in that position seem. But it’s absolutely built in, and that’s a good thing. Leading a large country is about setting the agenda. It’s about making things happen. It’s about getting large numbers of people to do things that you want them to do. Shrinking violets need not apply. And indeed people who do not want the job badly enough to reach out and grab it will not be very good at it.

It’s the same in the larger European countries, and most likely in the small ones, too. (Except Belgium.) Angela Merkel seems all nice and pleasant, but competitors who underestimated her all have one thing in common: They’re not chancellor. Stoiber, Schroeder, Koch, and probably many more back through the years. Schroeder was a famous showboater, and Kohl’s ego was every bit as big as his waistline. And that’s just Germany. Why would anyone think that Mrs Thatcher or General De Gaulle were any less arrogant than American presidents?

I’m inspired by the thought of an Obama presidency. He could be brilliant. But it takes more than brilliance to get to 1600 Pennsylvania, and Obama has to show that he can reach out and take the prize.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Europe and the world, Governments and parties, Not Europe by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

6 thoughts on “Just So, Mr Marshall

  1. Pingback: buzz

  2. Being able to drive events could be necessary but is not sufficient for a successful national leader. Knowing when to take a back seat is, arguably, more important.

    The Netherlands, for example, has spent most of the last 50 years bumbling along very successfully without the encumberance of a charismatic and forceful leader determined to make things ‘right’. A system which doesn’t allow egos to rule doesn’t move quickly but doesn’t screw up much either.

    My impression of Merkel’s success is that she gets others together to make decisions rather than stamping her own ideas on everybody.

    Clinton received much criticism for not actively ‘leading’, but the country propered.

    As the old saying goes: if they want the job, the’re probably not suited for it. As corollary, the more they want it, the less suited they are.

  3. There is no way Barack Hussein Obama will be president. He will not even win the Democratic primary.

  4. @MichaelD: You are right, but the Dutch aren’t immune to charismatic leaders with a big ego either. See Pim Fortuyn’s success.

  5. Maybe we Europeans are surprised because everything is bigger in the US… There’s a difference between being arrogant and pushy when you plan on governing an European country and when you plan on reigning on the World.

    This is in no way a structured reflexion, and it is of course very approximative, but this is the way it feels here. (Seriously, only American people say “everybody on the entire planet” when they mean “everybody in the US”. Or think in terms of “good” and “evil” about world politics.)

  6. You have to be pushy and aggressive in most countries to get to the top, big or small. The difference is that in the US you also have to show it.

    In the US it’s generally good to be seen to be pushy and aggressive whereas in most European countries, and especially in the Nordic countries, politicians generally don’t want to give that impression.

    In much of (southeast) Asia it’s the same thing. You have to be a strong man (it almost always is) but you still have to keep you dignity by maintaining a certain aloofness. Old Suharto of Indonesia was the best example of this kind of all smiles and behind the scenes string pulling.

    We’re all humans, it’s just that different cultures require different sets of behavior from politicians.

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