Leadership and Fear: The Main Difference Between Obama and Romney

Fear is the way the warrior gets us to follow him.

Romney proved that in tonightʻs debate. Repeating that Iran is closer to having a nuclear bomb, that the world looks at America as weak, that we need a strong leader. Repeating that, even in the face of Obamaʻs evidence that the US has been strong on those issues, that alliances with other nations make us strong and safer, that — oh, yes, that we have less to be afraid of.

So, while Romney agreed with most of Obamaʻs policies and choices, with a few minor exceptions, he disagreed with Obamaʻs approach to leading. He wants us to believe we have a lot to FEAR, and therefore we need the bulldog warrior, the focused entrepreneur who knows how to blow (or buy) the competitor out of the water. The manʻs man. The same policies, but a more forceful face.

My friend kept punching my arm, and saying, “Why doesnʻt Obama just BLAST Romney!” Because he didnʻt need to, I said. Obama just kept repeating, in essence, we donʻt have to give in to fear — we can take considered action. We donʻt have to be loud, we need to be clear, we need to connect with our allies. (I loved his comment, “Romney agrees with everything Iʻve done, he just says he would have done it louder!” — forgive me for my paraphrase — tomorrow Iʻll link to the actual quote.)

The Warrior vs. the Sage, once again…

Romney criticized Obama for going to the United Nations before committing the US to action against Iraq. Why? Because we needed to take immediate action because the situation was DIRE. We had to STRIKE. We had to apply “crippling sanctions.” With our without the world. Obama calmly, quietly said, in essence, whatʻs the good of sanctions if weʻre the only ones applying them? And then let loose with an accusation that during the time Obama was establishing sanctions, Romneyʻs investments in China supported oil shipments to Iran.

Whatʻs a warrior to do? The only thing a cornered warrior knows how to do! Talk more about how we need to FEAR Iran. How TERRIBLE they are. Imply that SLOW responses will KILL US ALL!  If only heʻd committed to really demonstrating how his responses could have been faster, louder, more mean — I mean meaningful. If only he could present statistics and support for the effectiveness of his warrior leadership.

Because he canʻt, because he essentially agreed with most of Obamaʻs policies, all Obama had to do is invoke the sage: cite statistics, dates, facts of his decisions as President. And mention that Romneyʻs stance, largely in agreement with the Presidentʻs, had differences that were reactive in the same way as the policies that involved us in expensive, economy-crushing wars. (i.e., the elephant in the room, Republican President George Bush and his legacy of war, debt and international disdain.)

For people hungry for decisiveness and full of fear, a warrior looks pretty good while a sage seems too considered. But letʻs please please give the fact checkers and sages their due and avoid the fear-mongering, so we can make a decision based on the leadership we need, not the leadership our fear dictates!

Why does Romneyʻs face always seem so tense? The warrior mask, the angry smirk…

The dictates of Fear…

Afraid of staying unemployed? Afraid times will never change? Look at the evidence, says the sage — slow recovery is how recovery works, historically, economically, rationally. “The U.S. economy finally seems to be recovering in earnest, with housing on the rebound and job creation outpacing growth in the working-age population. But the news is good, not great — it will still take years to restore full employment — and it has been a very long time coming.

“Why has the slump been so protracted? The answer — backed by overwhelming evidence — is that this is what normally happens after a severe financial crisis. But Mitt Romney’s economic team rejects that evidence. And this denialism bodes ill for policy if Mr. Romney wins next month.” (Paul Krugman, NYTimes — read the full article for well-presented documentation and thought.)

Afraid of a nuclear Iraq? Who isnʻt? But letʻs look at the patterns…. The Huffington Post noted a striking parallel between Bushʻs non-existent WMD and the Iran threat. “While questions have loomed for years about Iran’s nuclear intentions and ability to produce weapons-grade uranium, we’re now in the midst of a full-scale flood of stories suggesting that Iran is on track to build a nuclear bomb, and even some speculating that the Iranian regime may strike the United States, perhaps in collusion with terrorists.”

For a history of this divisive issue, go to the New York Times (10/22/12). there are reasons for concern, and dangers to the West and Israel. But there is progress as well as worry. “In October, The New York Times reported that the United States and Iran had agreed in principle for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, according to Obama administration officials, setting the stage for what could be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran. News of the agreement — a result of intense, secret exchanges between American and Iranian officials that date almost to the beginning of President Obama’s term — comes at a critical moment in the presidential contest, just two weeks before Election Day and the weekend before the final debate, which is to focus on national security and foreign policy.”

The Romney warrior wants us to be afraid so we turn to him, and ignore the evidence that change is happening — the very meetings the moderator of tonightʻs debate asked about. He is activating the most limited aspect of that archetype, the patriarch/protector, without much substance behind his promises. The Obama sage wants us to overcome our fear and look at the evidence, and hope for the best from diplomacy. He is activating a much fuller aspect of the sage archetype — combining action with diplomacy as well as a respect for knowledge and research.

Our challenge: itʻs hard to resist fear, especially when weʻre hungry for reassurance…

and the sage isnʻt a particularly reassuring archetype for a President. Weʻll get it done, Obama says, slowly and surely. And even though the evidence supports his approach, weʻre an impatient people. We pray nightly to become lottery winners and to lose that 30 pounds we put on over the past 10 years. Most of all, the people who love that warrior/entrepreneurial bulldog Romney want him to turn us all into his successful investors — to bring the solutions of venture capital into the capital.

But thatʻs not how leadership works. It doesnʻt matter what kind of leadership weʻre talking about — authentic, entrepreneurial, innovative, sustainable — itʻs not leadership if followers are scared into following. Itʻs not leadership if followers are unrealistic about the risk of their voter investment.

Entrepreneurs are amazing business investors, risk takers, innovators. They are warriors for themselves and their investors, willing to lose money in the adrenaline rush to wealth. They love the battle; their values focus primarily on taking care of their own. Theyʻre really good at attack, at taking sides, and at saying what has to be said to convince their troops to fight with them.

I believe we need sages — not warriors — at the head of our state table. And itʻs not because weʻre NOT afraid — in fact, itʻs because we are. We need a leader who can look at the big picture, not just the bottom line. Our leaders need to engage mind as well as feeling. Governance is more than a battle for — whatever will get someone elected.

Granted, governance includes battles — Obamaʻs fought his fair share in the last four years. But with such complexity in the challenges we face, we need a leader who -granted, sometimes maddeningly — is willing to weigh the consequences to everyone involved before he takes action. We need a sage, not a warrior. Even though there is much to fear, there is more to learn.

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