Obama in the last election was accused of being short on leadership. The Political Left thought him to have deferred too much to the captains of industries in the auto industry bailout program, and the financial qualitative adjustments (read, print more money) stimulus package to keep the market from crashing. The more militant parted ways early when he seemed to defer too much to moneyed interests, bending precariously too far without showing any gain in the effort.
The Political Right faulted him, aside from being a socialist in domestic policy, for apologizing too much to the world, not to mention their disdain for his allegedly being pro-Muslim v. Israel, and being anti-military in his reliance on diplomacy rather than bold military intervention. The latter was severely criticized when the U.S. ambassador to Libya died in what was a lapse in diplomatic security. He was also chastised for getting too much credit for Osama bin laden’s assassination!
Obama’s shift of military might from the ’Stans (i.e., Afghanistan) and Iraq/Iran, to the Pacific Far East, is characterized as a pivot turn. Deployed American forces heretofore split 50-50 between the Pacific and the Atlantic will now be 60/40, tilting on the Pacific side.
But the U.S. electorate did not re-elect the President on his pivot turn overseas. He was sent back with the clear message that the 1 percent might have spent their 1 percent of wealth (duh) to boost the Romney candidacy, but the impending financial cliff (a Bernanke jargon that the reader might just want to Google/wiki) cannot be laid on the shoulders of the middle class. Briefly, certain laws in place to cut federal deficit by Jan. 1, 2013, will kick in, with the U.S. economy projected to stagger on the drastic cut of federal spending on the one hand and increase of taxes on the other.
OK, so I have saddled the reader with three images: pivot turn, leadership, and the financial cliff. We will leave Obama and Congress to figure a way out of the legal conundrum of the cliff the Democrats and Republicans laid out on the budget when they were prodding each other on who would blink first.
We will look at the pivot, and our practice of leadership. We do so in the context of what is happening in the two leading countries in the world today, in economic development, political reform, and cultural awareness: the United Sates and China.
Obama took the basketball image of pivot turn to explain shifts. He means that the fundamentals have not changed as the anchor remains in place, but the nation can hook, jump shots, or pass the ball, in a turn it can decide.
Pivot in the taiji sense is not anchored on either the half of yin or the yang. The pivot point is actually invisible but in the middle of the swirling dialectic. Thus, the pivot point is a place of transparent freedom in a world of turmoil and revolution. In a passage in Tao Te Ching, 6th century BC Lao Tzu opined that the successful leader, after accomplishing a task, has followers congratulate themselves, saying: "We did it ourselves."
Obama, in both his background and actuations, leads in what Robert Greenleaf wrote about in the '70s servant leadership. Citing the ethics of Jesus as an example, the leader facilitates and enables others to serve likewise. This leads by looking at the requirements of those who will be led rather than on the leader’s personal gain of status or social advancement.
A native distinction in West Africa defines a "slave" as one who waits for a master’s command, while a "servant" discerns the need of the master, and facilitates the method to meet what is needed, often without the knowledge or consent of the master.
Obama’s farewell to his campaign staff recognized the election as won by the ground game. Obama volunteers pounded pavements, knocked on doors, and staffed the phone lines. In his victory speech, community organizer Obama went on his trademark, Yes-WE-can stance, rather than the individual assertiveness of Yes-I-can genius.
China’s form of collective leadership will be in place this week at the CPC National Congress. The open public discussion focused on the three-decade-long reform and opening up policy that Premier Wen Jaibao described in a 2011 speech in England as: People’s democracy is the soul of socialism. Without democracy, there is no socialism. Without freedom, there is no real democracy. Without guarantee of economic and political rights, there is no real freedom.
The current code words include the "rule of law." A high profile weeding of corruption within the CPC’s ranks toppled Politburo member Bo Xilai. Inclusiveness and openness are articulated, and collective leadership at the altar of service is unmistakable.
As in all critical times, the line between despair and hope is drawn clear. The pivot point is where transparent freedom to choose at every turn is made at the juncture of hope and despair. It means, free participation. A long time ago, it was called, life in the holy spirit!
These are the times! We are the People!
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Jaime R. Vergara (firstname.lastname@example.org) previously taught at San Vicente Elementary School on Saipan and is currently a guest lecturer at Shenyang Aerospace University in China.