Compare and Contrast

Posted on October 8, 2009. Filed under: America | Tags: , , , , , |

As we wend our way through the first year of the Obama administration, it is hard not to notice a stark contrast in style between the American president and another democratic leader who has been in power for almost the same amount of time: Binyamin Netanyahu. The political trajectories of the two men have been almost perfectly opposite. Obama started off his presidency blessed by great popularity only to see his fortunes plummet, while Netanyahu began under a cloud of public uncertainty and suspicion yet today enjoys healthy public-approval numbers. More than anything else, the leadership styles of the two men explain their divergent fortunes.

The most obvious difference between the two is in the level of public exposure that each has pursued. Obama seeks to place himself in the headlines of newspapers and to lead the television news broadcasts on a daily basis, achieving an omnipresence unprecedented in American politics. He has given scores of speeches, each heralded to be of great consequence to the nation and the world. He has staked much of his presidential power on the sheer force of his personality, giving little consideration to the sustainability of such a strategy or whether so much narcissistic pageantry is becoming to a national leader. His public pronouncements are astonishingly self-absorbed: to take one example, in their speeches to the International Olympic Committee in Copenhagen, the First Couple used the first-person pronoun 70 times in 89 sentences.

Obama’s permanent publicity blitz has rendered his pronouncements banal and is helping to create an impression that he is all talk, no results. Who can recall with any precision what the president says from one day to the next? Why bother trying when another speech is moments away? CBS News’ White House correspondent noted on July 13 that Obama had already delivered his 200th speech — on his 177th day in office.

Netanyahu has taken a completely different approach. He goes days without making public statements, often only commenting on events at his weekly cabinet meeting, and even so, by making the tersest of remarks. His response to the Goldstone Commission report was delivered without fanfare in a cabinet meeting and consisted in its entirety of a 330-word statement. Netanyahu has given only two major speeches during his premiership: the June address at Bar-Ilan University, where he rebutted Obama’s Cairo speech and laid out Israel’s terms for the peace process; and his UN General Assembly speech, where he shamed the “international community” for its indulgence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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