Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Aging and the Presidency: Exercises in Focus

At lunch on Saturday, I met and liked immensely another woman of a certain age who is a nationally recognized artist. Trailing behind her is a body of work that demonstrates both her great talent and her great ability to focus on putting that talent to use.

I'm not sure which I admire more: raw talent or a strong, consistent work ethic. Combine them in one person and you can expect the results to be magical. Which, in my opinion, this woman's results are.

We, as woman of a certain age are wont to do, got to talking about life; or, more specifically, about what's left of ours and what we want to do with it. Both of us agreed that we had specific goals, that accomplishing each of them took time and focus, and that we were acutely aware that our productive years were limited.

"Five years," my talented, lunch-time companion said. "I figure it will take five years to do each undertaking right."

Somehow this all got me thinking about being president of the United States.

It was long ago, in conversation with a friend of mine who studied history at the University of Virginia, that I first heard about a theory that the President of the United States is the only major head of government who is head of state, as well. This means our current president, Barack Obama, not only has to run an administration and any wars we're engaged in, ride herd on Congress, direct our foreign policy, and keep an eye on politics, he must also find time and energy to do such things as honor the NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers at the White House and host the White House Easter Egg roll.

This in contrast to other systems of government where one person is head of government and another is head of state.  In England, for example, Prime Minister Gordon Brown runs the government, while Queen Elizabeth II handles the egg rolling.

This morning I opened up The Washington Post and read that President Obama is about to propose a three-year freeze on government spending in all areas not related to national security. Oh yes, I reminded myself, not only does the President have two wars going on, a struggling economy, not enough jobs to go around, a health care crisis, and a dysfunctionally partisan Congress yapping at his heels, he has a staggering national debt to deal with, as well. Oh yes, and there are still those Lakers to be honored and those eggs to be rolled.

If I could sit down for fifteen minutes with President Obama (whom I think even his worst detractors would admit is among the brightest, most thoughtful, and well-educated chief executives we've ever had) I would ask him this: How do you maintain your focus? How do you decide what you can get done and what you have to let go? How do you make sure that, at the end of your four years, you will have taken your best shot at accomplishing those projects you most wanted and needed to get done

His day, after all, is the same length as my creative and artistic lunch-time companion.  And she figures on   five-years per project.

1 comment:

  1. With the democratic agenda falling apart at the seams and the recent disenchantment with Obama's and the democrats' attempts to steer a middle political course, I, too, have wondered what the heck I'd be feeling if I were Obama right now . . . . this proposed spending freeze struck me as a kind of shut-down response to all the chaos. I remember what his detractors said during election time: don't be fooled, he can't make the changes he promises. And I thought: just give him the chance; his vision will carry us a long way.

    What is vision? What is Obama's talent? Is it belief and perseverance? Or is he just a honey-tongued lightweight? This is what I wonder now.

    My high school French teacher said that talent is only 20% of success, the other 80% is hard work. When I was young I thought she was just saying that to build character in us, and that really, no one got anywhere without a great preponderance of talent. But I don't think that now. I might even say it's 99% work, 1% talent. He's really being put to the test now.