I consider myself blessed. I have two presidents, and both of them are good people. After GW Bush and GM Arroyo, or course, just about anybody would be a step up. But both of my presidents are major steps up. Like big, like constructive. Like way up.
Let me tell you a little bit about my presidents.
First of all, they are alike and they are not alike.
Here's how they are alike
- They both have leader's ego, which is confidence mixed with personable graciousness. Confidence helps project competence. Graciousness inspires as it brings others warmly into activities.
- Both display a capable kind of leadership that impels them to appoint people to jobs who are good at those jobs. They see competence in others as a gift rather than a threat.
- Both delegate well, giving their subordinates wide latitude to manage their departments, relying on them for advice, and making thoughtful executive decisions.
- Both are honest men, bright, with values inclusive of God and family.
Here's how they are not alike
- One is tall, the other not. One is resistant to sunburn, the other moreso than me. One is married, the other not. One plays basketball, the other chases women.
- One is gifted with Lincolnesque speech, issuing lofty words in the American king's English. The other is more like Mark Twain, writing and speaking the local dialect. One preaches with Baptist fire and brimstone bombast, the other natters like Auntie Mildred at the sewing bee.
- One operates from a soaring, hopeful part of the heart, extolling the virtues of liberty and diversity and the American dream. The other operates from a somewhat tighter part of heart, extolling the victories of jailing people and imposing libel laws, with a lot of braggadocio to enhance one's standing.
- Intellectually, President Obama is like a college professor, conceptual. President Aquino is like an engineer, detail-minded.
Here's why they are both remarkable leaders
- History welcomed both with desperate need.
- President Obama walked into a global economic collapse that threatened to be much worse than the 1929 depression. He stopped the fall on the strength of his charisma and the confidence he inspired.
- President Aquino was thrown into office by a people totally fed up with corruption and cheating. He has curtailed large ticket plunder.
- Both subsequently faced an intense backlash from opponents.
- President Obama bore the brunt of poisonously partisan Republican jealousy and anger. He was demeaned racially, slandered in terms of competence, and accused of being socialist and weak. Republicans went extreme, and they went nasty, and they went stubborn. He also faced the complaints of a broad population that was grossly less wealthy than the year before, many out of jobs.
- President Aquino faced the wrath of the corrupt. Early on, old generals were rumored to want to organize a coup because the drill-down on unexplained wealth accumulation was applying too much heat. Young officers said no way. Other corrupt people are reportedly laying low simply until President Aquino's term ends. He approached the task like a hangman looking for clients. Those with something to hide got scared, got angry.
- Both have persevered with important achievements.
- Mr. Obama has steadied the economy. It was once one step from death's door and is now about ready to climb out of the sick bed. He passed groundbreaking health care legislation, something other presidents have tried to do for decades but failed. He established a new foundation for American global prestige and leadership by pulling methodically out of Iraq and Afghanistan and engaging in other global hot spots as a partner and leader rather than the unilateral boss. He has pursued the war on terrorism as a "cell to cell" war, using drones and a brave and brazen raid to kill Bin Laden. Al Qaeda has been systematically carved up.
- Mr. Aquino has jailed predecessor Arroyo and dumped the Supreme Court Chief Justice into the trash bin of Arroyo's failed manipulations. He has steadied the economy by investing only in projects that are known to be clean of graft. He has re-written rules for bidding and is establishing tax systems that are efficient and fair. His ombudsman and justice secretary work diligently to hunt down the corrupt. He is investing in infrastructure, roads and airports and schools and highways in Manila. He has articulated a fine line of firmness with diplomacy in a tense face-off with China.
- Both face risks to their legacies as great leaders.
- President Obama must deal with partisan warfare that is intense and angry. He must carry the economic rebound through a minefield that Republicans have planted to make sure the President of the United States fails. So that they can win in the next election. It is a horrible form of democracy, a shame to those of us who are forced to watch, but that is more likely to be the downfall of Obama's legacy rather than the guns and rockets of Iran or other belligerent states.
- President Aquino must show that he can do more than jail people and manage an economy that was sound when he took office. To have a profound legacy, he must do tough things rather than bow to the traditional pressures that hold the Philippines back, the narrow values of the Catholic Church and the trading of favors that keeps those in power rich and powerful. Right now, he is failing to do that. Two legacy-making bills, RH and FOI, have languished without his support while a constitutionally challenged, oppressive cybercrime bill was pushed forward. If that tenor continues, he will waste the people's faith in him and return the Philippines to its days of lackluster progress and moral decay. And he will be labeled the grandest disappointment in Presidential history. In on a wave of adoration, out on wave of same-o same-o.
- Confidence levels
I am confident that President Obama will work diligently to protect American interests and build a safer, productive nation that is respected internationally. It will be a battle all the way because of Republican obstructionism. But he is a smart, pragmatic man. Confident. Right thinking. He'll do well.
With regard to President Aquino, I regret to say that I have turned pessimistic. Two acts define my pessimism: (1) the President's eager support for an oppressive cybercrime law and his current pronouncement in favor of a "Right of Reply Bill", and (2) his failure to support FOI. It is clear that he has small vision, not big vision. Big vision is the idea that liberty energizes and motivates a nation. It energizes and motivates pride, effort, investment, and productivity. But this big vision escapes President Aquino in favor of small-minded authoritarian controls. Withholding information by failing to push for FOI is one of those authoritarian controls, freezing out the good governance of transparency. He equates good governance with jailing people. Fine. Jail the crooks. But where is the uplift? Where is the Philippines soaring?
Mr. Aquino is approaching a breaking point, driven by the internet which allows people to watch what is going on carefully and prod government relentlessly. Mr. Aquino is feeling the heat. He complains about biased media frequently and his comments in favor of the Right of Reply Bill fairly reek with vengance against those villains in the media. But the media aren't biased. They accurately reflect the impatience of a capable and ambitious people who know their nation, particularly their Legislature, abetted by Executive, is under-performing.
Either President Aquino will recognize that the will of the people is for transparent government, freedom and a big nation, or he will be eaten alive, his legacy eroded by three more years of disappointment and criticism.