Focus Sharpens On Obama's Management Style

After six months in office, a clear picture of President Obama's leadership and management style has emerged. On issue after issue, he has found a path that emphasizes the pragmatic over ideology. In the process, he's disappointment strong supporters on certain issues.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID GREENE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

And David, were going to be experiencing your host style in the next couple of weeks, while Steve is taking some summer time off. Welcome.

GREENE: Thanks Renee, Ill give em my best.

MONTAGNE: And we turn now to President Obama's leadership style. A clear picture of how hes handling his presidency is emerging after five months in office. It emphasizes the pragmatic over ideology, while playing to the center on a range of issues, from Iran and Iraq to gay rights, to Guantanamo Bay to health care.

NPR's Don Gonyea asked some analysts to assess the way the president is managing the job.

DON GONYEA: Conservatives call Mr. Obama the most liberal president ever. Liberals say they wish that were so. But, the president seems intent on defying any such categorization. He says he wants to hear many diverse voices as he makes policy. His comments, as he kicked off his push for an overhaul of health care, are typical.

President BARACK OBAMA: There are going to be different ideas and disagreements about how to achieve this goal. And I welcome all ideas. Weve got to have a good debate. What I will not welcome, what I will not accept, is endless delay or denial that reform needs to happen.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: During the 2008 campaign, candidate Barack Obama was a brand, marketed in a way to appeal to as broad of a swath of voters as possible. Professor John Quelch of the Harvard Business School sees the administration still doing that but now with policy.

Professor JOHN QUELCH (Marketing, Harvard Business School): Controlling the center is as important in the post-election period as it is in a campaign.

GONYEA: Quelch is the author of the book, "Greater Good: How Good Marketing Makes for a Better Democracy." He describes President Obama this way.

Prof. QUELCH: He is the chief marketing officer of the United States.

GONYEA: Which, Quelch says, requires being an effective pitchman.

Prof. QUELCH: He is the chief cheerleader of the United States brand, domestically and around the world. He has to articulate what that brand stands for and how it translates into specific policies.

GONYEA: But if some called the president the nation's chief marketing officer, others see a different template.

Mr. SANFORD HORWITT (Author, Biography of Saul Alinsky): I think of Barack Obama, now, as the community organizer in chief.

GONYEA: That's Sanford Horwitt, author of a biography of Saul Alinsky - the legendary Chicago community organizer. Alinsky's teachings were an inspiration to Barack Obama when he was a young organizer on the south side of Chicago.

Mr. HORWITT: There's one line that Barack Obama borrowed from Saul Alinsky that he uses frequently, and that line is, the difference between the world as it is and the world as we would like it to be. And a real hardheaded community organizer has a vision of the world as he or she would like it to be, but knows that he or she must start in the world as it is. And once you really accept that difference you really become, I guess you might say, very pragmatic.

GONYEA: And for a community organizer, pragmatic means winning some of what you want this year, making progress, and knowing you can always try to get more down the road. But that approach is what troubles some of President Obama's most liberal supporters. A partial list of their complaints would include an Iraq withdrawal that's not fast enough, a decision to close Guantanamo Bay but maintain the right to hold some detainees without charging them. There's the continued existence of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. And a determination to overhaul health care, but not going far enough toward establishing a much more government-dominated plan.

University of New Hampshire business Professor Ross Gittel says that's what happens when you look for a consensus by giving a seat at the table to those who aren't part of your traditional base.

Professor ROSS GITTEL (Business, University of New Hampshire): Those people who are strong supporters of President Obama who feel like they don't really want to share the table.

GONYEA: Professor Gittel then adds.

Prof. GITTEL: There's going to be, on some issues, where you find that moderate position where nobody is entirely happy, but nobody is entirely unhappy and dont fight and resist. And that's the only way to move forward.

GONYEA: Factor in that the difficult foreign policy and domestic challenges Mr. Obama faces, all at the same time, add to the pressure and the urgency. If the president gets positive results, then this approach will be praised. If not, then finding consensus gets even harder.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.