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Piece of Mind: No sound bites please, just leadership

Posted: Thursday, Nov 8th, 2012

Like millions of other Americans, I sat in front of the television Tuesday night wondering who would lead us into the future; wondering how life would change if we continue to move forward or… whatever Romney’s slogan was. Not that Tuesday’s vote made the future crystal clear, but at least for the next four years I can constrain my imagination within the bounds of Barack Obama’s leadership. And leadership is what it will hopefully be.

I’ve been increasingly interested in Michael Bloomberg since he announced his plans to pass a city-wide ban on the sale of sugary beverages over 16 ounces. This, plus other initiatives he has led on his tiny crowded island have changed and continue to change the way many Americans think about the government’s role in health and directing personal decisions. From what I can tell, Bloomberg is a great leader because for one, he’s following any good parent’s advice: do what is right, not what is popular. He doesn’t care about his poll ratings. He has even said in an interview that if he leaves office with high poll ratings, you probably didn’t work hard enough. “High approval ratings mean you’re skiing down the slope and you never fall. Well, you’re skiing the baby slope. You always want to press, and you want to tackle the issues that are unpopular, that nobody else will go after.”

When Ohio was officially declared for Obama on Tuesday night, I immediately thought about his “hopey-changey” post-politics vision in 2008 for how the parties could come together to make the world a better place. Sarah Palin was partially right; it didn’t work out so well. The parties didn’t come together, but President Obama took his vision and his congressional majority to take positive steps forward in health care, energy, the economy, and abroad.

Looking towards the future, I hope that President Obama continues to choose to ski the hard slopes. Now’s the time to talk seriously about climate change, about energy, about transportation, about education, about the billions we spend on defense every year. With the worries of re-election behind him, President Obama can now become the leader that as Bloomberg says, has a vision and then builds a constituency around it.

But, for President Obama to lead and to lead well, he needs a populace that supports him, generally understands the issues at stake, and if nothing else, gives him space to at least try and succeed. But, as Bloomberg (my current obsession) explains, “Innovation is very difficult. The more exposure there is, the more difficult it is. And people say ‘Why does government not work?’ It is partially because the public demands answers before they are available; it’s partially because (the public) expects a sound-bite solution to how you’re going to cure cancer or bring peace to the Middle East; it’s partially that government fuels those things because it makes it easier to avoid answering and taking specific positions and getting blamed for everything.”

It’s in our nature to search for sound bites, even before we knew to call them sound bites. Powerful words and phrases help divide us into like-minded groups, making us feel part of something. But once divided, we, like pieces of fabric, begin to fray. As our leader, we expect President Obama to darn the edges of our discontent and stitch us into one beautiful tapestry. This never was nor will be possible. It’s up to us to stop expecting it. This is what President Obama starts with and hopefully, with great leadership and a willing populace, can overcome.

Gena Akers can be contacted at gena.leneigh@gmail.com.

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