22 January 2009

The First UCaPP President

It seems so obvious, but yet stymies the most experienced and seasoned of leaders: Bring diverse voices, including those that oppose you and listen to their counsel; lead not by fear, coercion, command, or control but through mutual respect, inspiration born of sincere dedication, and passion; be responsible for what you do to others and move quickly to right wrongs (especially systemic wrongs); adhere to, and hold sacred those principles and values that are fundamental to you achieving leadership in the first place; truly value those that bring value to your enterprise and endeavours, including those that provide you the challenges and the privilege to lead. These are aspects that characterize leadership in a UCaPP world. And these are the aspects that seem to describe the new President, Barack Obama, even as he officially reported for work on his first day.

The Ibbetson article in the Globe mentions that, "The business day began with Mr. Obama alone in the Oval Office for a few moments of reflection and to read a note from George W. Bush addressed "To: 44; From: 43."" I can only imagine what that note said (cue the harp music)...
Dear Barack,

Well, this is it. You have assumed the most powerful and challenging position in the land, perhaps in the entire world. To tell you the truth, I'm glad to be done with it. It was fun for a while, but to tell you the truth, after that jaunt in the flight suit on the aircraft carrier, you know, mission accomplished and all that, the whole thing became a bit of a drag. Anyway, I want you to know that I left you the same advice that Bill left me, and my Daddy left him. Look in the top drawer of the desk. You'll see three envelopes. Each time you get into trouble, open each envelope in succession. Good luck. You'll need it. And if ever you're in Texas, why don't you and Michelle drop by and visit for a spell. GWB

President Obama smiled at the sentiment (although visiting with the former President at his ranch was close to the last thing he wanted to do), and he pulled open the desk drawer. Sure enough, there were three envelopes, labelled One, Two, and Three. He closed the drawer and set about accomplishing the business of the day: ordering the suspension of the military tribunals and closing Guantanamo, phoning Middle East leaders to press for peace, consulting with both his national security and economic advisory panels. It was a full day, and indeed, a full first-one-hundred-days.

But after a time, the public were becoming impatient. Yes, there were high hopes, but even his ardent supporters were beginning to wonder when change would actually occur. So one day, President Obama returned to the desk drawer and opened the envelope marked, One. In it were two words written on a piece of paper: "Blame me." So Obama called a press conference and reminded the public of the legacy left to him by the forty-third president. He recalled the economic mess created by the war deficit and the sub-prime mortgage debacle. The greed of people like Bernard Madoff. And the public backed off for a while.

But mid-way into his term, once again the public grew restive. Obama opened the drawer and pulled out the second envelope. Again, only a few words: "Blame the terrorists (or whoever we're at war with)." So once again, Obama spoke to the nation and with his soaring oratory, focused the blame squarely on the collective fear and impatience promulgated by those who lacked imagination and vision (after all, blaming a specific group would be inconsistent with the whole unclench the fist rhetoric from the inauguration). And once again, the public calmed down and the heat was off.

Finally, though, people began to see through the rhetoric, and jobs were still being cut, and homes still being lost. The shine had inevitably come off and people again were confronted with the harsh reality that, for all of his good intentions and accomplishments, President Obama wasn't really the second coming of any messiah. So he quickly retreated to the Oval Office to retrieve the third, and final, envelope. In it were three words: "Get three envelopes."

Good luck, President Obama. Hopefully, you won't need more than the first one.
(I first heard this joke in the context of Leonid Brezhnev handing over power to Yuri Andropov in the Soviet Union: "Blame me"; "Blame the Americans"; "Get three envelopes.")

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