It’s as if by magic that we expect the world economy to suddenly correct itself; even more to expect our populaces to elect leaders with miraculous qualities of leadership. We listen to the content in talking points to assuage our hungers for balance and plenty. We often forget that leaders are people and people bring to offices of governance a lifetime of personal experiences. Cultural histories dictate moments when change is marked by populace uprisings. That has not changed. Some call them collective moments of awakenings. It is most commonly economic hardships that initiate and promote sociopolitical change.
Two global leaders have emerged from populaces whose cultural ideologies are shifting like sand ergs. Their faces don’t resemble those that came before them. Out of the morass and cacophony of social revolution two geopolitical leaders have emerged. Both claim citizenship in countries that at one time held polar opposite ideologies and racial composition. Their names are President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
As I wrote in a previous article about German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she was born and educated in a radically divisive society. She first came to public office the same year of the German Reunification in 1990. She witnessed Germany’s horrendous post war scars that were brought on by an economic twilight. Every fiber of Angela Merkel’s being embraces the concepts of frugality and moral hazard. Her rise to power was not a straight unencumbered path to the top. She created successful ways while collecting political wisdom with each step. Social and economic divisions forged the steel of her individualistic persona and the style in which she now faces economic and political crises. Although a conservative Angela Merkel and Barack Obama’s approach to governance is shaped by cultural similarities.
President Barack Obama’s political beginnings were fomented in the perfect political petri dish of the Chicago Democratic machine. Known for its rough sophistication and political dynasties that were known as king makers, he became the occidental conservative Democrat. The political machine mentored him, taught him, supported and carved out a political niche. A child of a broken home that reconstituted itself around a loving mother and grandparents, his education in how to survive and achieve from the outside is embedded in his DNA. His drive to become a populace leader became central to his self-perception.
Anyone who has entered the apartments or sat in the playgrounds of the slums of Chicago Housing Authority (fondly called the CHA), understands the true meaning of how difficult the role of a community leader. In a racially divisive urban environment, the Community Organizer and future president Barack Obama sat listening to problems and challenges facing families living in high-rises with broken elevators. Unclean odors drifted from garbage filled corridors. Cheaply dressed well-scrubbed children played in yards barren of grass, but decorated with spent bullet shells and broken glass bottles. He listened to the challenges of living in one apartment or townhome sometimes housing three generations of welfare poor. Community Organizer Obama labored within political organizations to make a system work for families that felt trapped within its political web. He left his work to attend Harvard Law to graduate with honors. Returning to Chicago’s Southside he resumed his advocacy for the poor.
In a speech published in the Chicago Hyde Park Herald on October 30, 2002. Six years before leading his country through a global financial calamity. The newly elected Illinois Senator Barrack Obama said the following “ What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Roves to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income”. He went on to say, “Those are the battlefields we need to fight. Those are the battlefields we need to join. The battles against ignorance and intolerance. Corruption and greed. Poverty and despair.” President Obama understood then the changing socioeconomic paradigms of our world. He and Chancellor Merkel understand what their predecessors never experienced; the expansion and responsibilities of their geopolitical roles.
Both face sovereign debt crisis never before experienced. For Merkel it is the Greek tragedy and the survival of the Euro. Her counterpart President Obama has made it clear that as leader of one Europe’s strongest economies, the onus is on her to lead in the difficult path to the achievement of Eurozone solvency. There was no doubt in his voice when President Obama stated that she would overcome the objections of many. She must sift through the constant barrage of mistrust from other leaders and from within her own borders. To glean the truths needed for a sound and productive discussion. The German Weekly Sie Zeit writes that Obama’s open comment to Merkel was “…Don’t hide behind your history,” said the president. “Act in accordance with your importance”.
There is an affinity between Merkel and Obama that is apparent to the casual observer. It’s hard to understand the world today without them. With them the changes that loom ahead are the lynchpins for geopolitical growth for future generations. When Merkel returned home after their meeting in Washington on June 6, 2011, she immediately began putting into place plans with the help of her finance minister. They created new initiatives in resolving the Eurozone financial crisis. She would lack populace support, but Merkel reluctantly understands her growing role is central to Europe’s recovery. With a political realignment of leadership occurring among many emerging markets, the stability of Europe and the United States is important.
The summation of European articles written about President Obama’s relationships with other global leaders surmises that his methods are far different from his predecessor George W. Bush. He does not surround himself with hangers on or favorites, rather he prefers to conduct the business of his country with leaders that will be of benefit. As a realist he recognizes that on the world stage there is more to be considered than viewing other leaders as friends or enemies. With his own fiscal and economic woes at home, he looks for leaders that will take work off his hands. The new leaders of the world – like Angela Merkel must become the problem solvers of today.
The German center left news periodical Suddeutsche Zeitung writes “One shouldn’t count the firecrackers in front of the White House, but rather the number of political projects that could bring together the common interests of America, a superpower, and Germany, the engine of Europe’s economy.”
The resemblances between President Obama and Chancellor Merkel are the struggles of an underdog – both coming of age within a suppressed segment of their societies. Both have extreme love and loyalties to their countries. Both found assimilation as sovereign leaders through education and mainstream mentoring, bravery and extreme intelligence. They are building their alliances upon a base of need for global balance and an acknowledgement of change. Both have statesmen attitudes that serve them well in the international arenas.
When you sit across the table during a G20 summit, the participants wants to know that you’re not communicating in platitudes.
Angela Merkel’s and Barack Obama’s Governance Shaped by Cultural Similarities
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