I was chatting with my Dad last night, and the subject of American politics came up. We both seem to agree that Barack Obama has been a huge disappointment as President. Although we come to that conclusion from different perspectives, the central point for me (and my Dad as well, I think) is that Obama is a weak and ineffectual leader, not because he isn't smart (clearly, he is), or because he doesn't have ideas (clearly, he does), but because he lacks the will and the courage to take a stand, and risk his political future. In short, he would rather "go along to get along" in the hopes of re-election than do what's right and run the risk of defeat. In doing so, I think that he has lost people's respect, and if he faces a remotely competent and capable Republican next year, I think there's a good chance that he will lose the 2012 election.
All of this led Dad and I to a discussion of leadership, and what makes a good leader. Some familiar names popped up (Churchill, Roosevelt), and then we got around to Pierre Trudeau, who was Prime Minister of Canada from 1968 until 1979, and again from 1980 until 1984. Trudeau was the kind of intellectual that Obama can only dream of being, but he was also a thug. He preferred to reason his way to a solution, but if people didn't agree with him, he would do everything within his power to have his way. Compromise was not part of his nature, although he was forced to do it from time to time. As a result, he was hated by many Canadians (and loved by many as well), but his political enemies (and he had legions) always respected him, as did the Canadian people.
With Trudeau, what you saw was almost always exactly what you got. He made many mistakes, including in my opinion the implementation of the War Measures Act in 1970. He had style and courage, both personal and political, and his considerable intellect was wrapped in brass-knuckles. He was never afraid to engage the people who disagreed with him, including the media.
Above all else, Trudeau always seemed comfortable in his own skin. He knew who he was, and didn't worry about what others thought of him in the personal sense. It came across as arrogance to many, and self-confidence to others. Both are hallmarks of a true Philosopher King, and Trudeau was as close as we've come in many years to seeing someone who fits that description, for good and ill. As he said in the interview below, "living should be fun."
At best, Obama might aspire to be a pale shadow of the leader and the person that Trudeau was, but even that would be better than what we have now with the President - a suit and a smile, a few catch-phrases from a teleprompter, and a man who seems to lack the intellectual integrity and moral courage to take a stand, and stick with it, even if it means being defeated.