Style matters in politics. Political style is a matter of how politicians lead.
It is possible to suffer as a leader by showing too little personality or projecting too much.
President Barack Obama is a clear case of keeping his light under a bushel. Because of projecting little or nothing of himself as a strong leader, he makes himself and his policies vulnerable.
Take Obamacare. After several presidents failed to achieve a program to provide health care coverage to millions, Obama took advantage of a momentary, overwhelming Democratic majority in Congress to gain the passage of a national health insurance plan.
The program was passed without a single Republican vote and immediately came under attack. The GOP realized that it could make an issue of Obamacare, because its complexity would allow Republican candidates to pull out touchy issues and attack them.
In the 2010 congressional elections, the GOP campaigned against Obamacare, but Obama was nowhere to be seen in defending it. Since then, he and his party have done little to campaign in its support.
A couple of weeks ago, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office announced that Obamacare would cost 11 percent less than originally forecast. That’s because health insurance premiums are rising more slowly than foreseen.
Have you seen the Democratic television ads touting the millions of increased signups and the decreased cost? Of course not, because they have never been produced or aired. The result is that Democrats, lacking Obama’s support, sometimes run away from the program.
The Republicans have been successful in turning majority opinion against Obamacare, because it lacks the president’s vigorous and persistent defense. He did not mention it once in this year’s State of the Union address.
In foreign policy, Obama has provided massive aerial support in the conflict against the Islamic State. The American contribution has been critical in turning back the tide of the terrorist advance.
But he has done little to wave the flag demonstrating to Americans and allies that the United States is committed to defeating the Islamic State and that it leads a coalition making real progress on the ground.
Oddly enough, he walks the walk but doesn’t talk the talk, just the reverse of many public figures. That opens the door for unfounded claims he doesn’t love America.
Obama has also fallen short in the easiest of leadership responsibilities – directing his own troops in Congress. He has difficulty in building support among Democrats, because he takes what seems to be a hands-off approach to dealing with them on key bills.
The president comes across as a cool intellectual in a country yearning for a leader to provide a national rallying point. Many people believe that a strong country demonstrates its power through the governing style of its leader. Obama’s style undermines that sense of leadership.
If Obama’s style is too restrained, Maine Gov. Paul LePage is just the opposite.
Unlike Obama, he does not want the Legislature to operate independently, but treats it as if it is meant to be subordinate to the governor. He more often bullies it rather than cajoling it into supporting his proposals.
Increasingly, observers wonder if he recognizes the difference between being the chief executive officer of a private corporation, which he was, and only the head of one branch of state government.
Take his recent tax reform proposal. It is a bold, new look and includes at least some changes worth considering. Like virtually any other government proposal ever made, it won’t gain enough support to be adopted exactly as presented, but, through compromise, some key elements could be enacted.
Instead of working with legislators to fashion compromises that could advance his ideas, LePage, obviously believing his electoral victory last year gives him extraordinary powers, threatens to campaign against legislators, including those of his own party, who do not go along with him.
That stance could poison the political atmosphere, undermining both his proposals and public confidence in state government.
Because of a relatively minor difference of emphasis with the immensely successful head of the state community college system, LePage threatened to withhold necessary funds for the colleges unless their leader was ousted. The governor won.
And he forced the Legislature to break an approved deal with Statoil, one of the world’s largest corporations. He was willing to use unusual and short-sighted political clout to sacrifice the state’s drive for new business investment.
Somewhere between Obama and LePage, there’s a political style needed both to build public confidence in government and promote respect for its leaders.