The ability to inspire is the most important quality a presidential candidate can possess.
That was the consensus Wednesday morning as former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle, Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel and presidential historian Michael Beschloss addressed a group of … about 120 people who turned up for a discussion about what it takes to be the chief executive of the nation.
“You have to be able to inspire, you have to be able to identify. Identify with the people with whom or for whom you want to lead. I think Barack Obama has shown a remarkable capacity to do that,” said Daschle.
The breakfast was one in series of talks hosted by the Denver Athletic Club this week as the DNC continues towards Thursday evening’s finale.
It was agreed that one of the toughest issues for Obama to overcome with undecided voters in the last days before the election will be the experience question.
Does Barack Obama have enough to lead the country?
“As for experience, I would just say, arguably the greatest president in all of history, Abraham Lincoln, had 2 years of Washington experience. And so experience and judgment are 2 factors that you’re going to hear a lot about” said Daschle.
Anything Obama lacks in experience he makes up for with judgment, according to Daschle.
Beyond the ability to inspire Beschloss said a successful president must be able to accomplish three things.
One, a president has to have a willingness to tell the public the truth even when it isn’t politically expedient. Beschloss said the public respects a president that will stand on principal even when it is the unpopular decision.
Daschle offered up a few examples of Obama exemplifying that quality, first in his unwavering opposition to the Iraq War from the very beginning, even when the majority of Americans supported the idea.
“He (Obama) said ‘look, in spite of whatever it is you may think, I think we’re making a huge mistake here.’ And he stuck with that position now, through thick and thin, for the last 6 years,” said Daschle.
Daschle also cited Obama’s unwillingness to pander to frustrated voters by getting behind the proposed gas tax holiday many of his competitors endorsed.
The second quality that presidents that are viewed in a historically good light possess is the ability to effectively communicate with the people said Beschloss.
“A lot of what we pay a president for it to go to American’s at certain times and say ‘I am going to ask you to do something you may not want to do’,” said Beschloss.
Being a great communicator make those kinds of efforts successful according to Beschloss.
Finally, Beschloss said that great presidents have the ability to get legislation through Congress. The usual way in which a president does that is by having served in the Congress for some length of time in order to build alliances and friendships according to Beschloss.
“If you’re going to criticize Obama, that’s where. If you don’t have a long history in the U.S. Congress it’s probably a little bit more difficult, but that’s talent a president can hire,” said Beschloss
As an example Beschloss cited Ronald Regan. Regan was elected without any national political experience but managed to have great success in getting his programs and reforms through Congress during his tenure in the White House.
Daschle noted that Obama has surrounded himself with experienced people. According to Daschle, somewhere between 30 and 35 former Daschle staffers now work for Obama.
Questions from the audience about whether Obama is tough enough to be commander-in-chief where quickly dismissed by the speakers.
“You always have to look at personal biography. Is this guy a fighter? Tell me how he got here from Honolulu. He was given nothing, didn’t have a rich family, connections. He did this all himself,” said Beschloss.
Daschle pointed out that when Obama was pushed on the race question he responded with a powerful and well received speech in Philadelphia that he crafted himself.
Emanuel pointed out that Obama continued to fight determinedly for the nomination despite being a huge underdog even as late as January of this year.
Emanuel also remind the audience that Obama has lost an election in Chicago and still persevered.
“Barack has survived, and remember, he went from a loss to then coming back and then advancing,” said Emanuel.
Editor’s Note: Truett Scofield, a mass communications/political science major at CSU-Pueblo, has been writing about the DNC for the Colorado Press Association.