Obama’s credit default crisis and the crucible of adversity

August 1, 2011

Leaders are said to be truly tested only in the crucible of adversity. We explore that crucible from the dilemmas it presented to President Obama and other leaders addressing America’s default crisis of July 2011

At the last moment

At the last moment [August 2nd 2011] a deal was struck. The treatment in the American media had a hysterical note to it. The possibility of a default was treated seriously although some commentators expressed the view that a deal was always going to be struck. The international finance markets had already factored that in to their actions. However, it was suggested that the President’s timing of the deal did seem to have been made to reassure stock markets opening in Asia.

Winners and losers

There have been attempts to simplify the issues into a series of winners and losers. At simplest, the Tea Party members of the Republican Party have been declared winners. President Obama declared a loser. A more nuanced view came from a discussant on Fox News who answered the question snappily. The big losers are The American people, she declared. The in-studio audience responded enthusiastically. The discussion host seemed a bit thrown.

Interestingly, the liberal-leaning UK newspaper The Independent, also offered a simple winners and losers evaluation, as did the BBC . The Independent also provided a pungent attack on the Tea Party members as destroying themselves in the longer term as well as screwing up the Republican chances at the upcoming Presidential campaign.

Leadership notions

The New York Times tackled the leadership issue:

Winning a debate on points isn’t a substitute for looking like a leader. It’s one thing to bemoan politics-as-usual when you’re running for the White House. It’s quite another to publicly throw up your hands over our “dysfunctional government” when you’re the man the voters put in charge of it. In fairness, the president’s passive-aggressive approach is a bipartisan affliction. The ostensible front-runner for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, took a deliberately hazy position on last week’s crucial House debate, preferring to flunk a test of leadership rather than risk alienating either side.

CNN and Foxy News takes

Watching from within the US I was struck by the wall-to-wall coverage on CNN and Fox News. Presumably viewers tune in according to their political preferences. CNN is more worthy. Fox, to an outsider like me, appeared like one of those Murdoch tabloid newspapers, overflowing with energy and uncomplicated reduction of complex issues to meet the editorial line.

I particularly enjoyed the sight of a Groucho Marx lookalike who wielded a giant electric saw, as he outlined how to cut spending by a trillion more dollars. In the UK, this style of entertainment would go down well with Sun readers, or (dare I note it?) with readers of the currently defunct News of the World.

If the 50 stations available to me in my hotel room are anything to go by, the American public has a limited choice in the presentation of news stories. The summaries expressed in the UK, even in the so-called ‘quality’ papers were for me a bit too close to the bumper-sticker views of the Fox presenters.

To be continued

Acknowledgement Image is from The Crucible of Leadership


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