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Wed Sep 03 01:54:42 SAST 2014

Churchill should feature in Obama's office decor

David Shapiro | 27 November, 2012 00:07

After 18 months in office, US President Barack Obama began redecorating his office, reupholstering chairs, removing ornamental plates and replacing antique coffee tables. He also substituted a bust of Winston Churchill that Tony Blair had lent George Bush with a bronze of Martin Luther King junior.

One could easily understand the consciousness behind his decision.

His election to the highest office in the land was a victorious salute to a revered and iconic civil rights activist. King's tireless, non-violent campaigning during the 1950s and 1960s that called for an end to racial inequality and discrimination earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Four years down the line, the novelty of electing a man of colour as the president of the US has long passed.

Even the movie industry has returned to portraying the commander-in-chief as a man with a quarterback's good looks and a thick mop of blow-waved hair.

If Obama wants to be remembered for more than being the first black president, he has a lot of hard work ahead of him. He is fully aware his first term failed miserably to live up to his lofty promises and that his recent margin in the popular vote was the lowest ever for an incumbent president. By far his biggest and most immediate challenge is to begin putting his country's finances in order.

In a few weeks, unless he can strike a deal with a Republican- controlled congress to renegotiate a series of automatic tax rises and spending cuts, the fragile US economy could plunge back into recession, toppling any chance of the world moving out of its economic malaise. A bipartisan agreement, addressing a measured deficit reduction plan, the removal of unwarranted tax exemptions and a cap on certain entitlement programmes would help bridge the divide his and Mitt Romney's negative campaigning produced, hopefully regenerating public confidence, encouraging businesses to expand and creating more jobs.

Before he commences his crusade, though, he can draw inspiration by returning the bust of Churchill to the Oval Office. In economic terms the challenges he faces over the next four years are no different from the battle Churchill faced when appointed Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1940, shortly after the outbreak of World War 2.

Churchill, the offspring of an aristocratic British father and US socialite mother, was regarded as the most influential person in British history and voted the greatest Briton of all-time in 2002.

He was at the forefront of British politics for more than 60 years, holding a number of important government and cabinet positions, but was best known for his gritty leadership of the UK during World War 2.

In the bleak days of the conflict, when his country stood alone staring defeat in the eye, despite cries for an armistice, Churchill refused to consider surrender. His indomitable spirit and motivational speeches kept the nation's resistance alive until the enemy was conquered five years later. Back in 1984, Harvard historian Simon Schama summarised the enduring qualities that made Churchill a great leader, many of which Obama could readily follow as he embarks on a mission of rebuilding the US's financial and political clout.

The first quality was hard work: a capacity to absorb, analyse and act on mountains of material. His work habits drove many of his younger colleagues to exhaustion. The second was an impressive grasp of military strategy. Through his vast personal experiences he developed an unerring nose for selecting fine commanders. Third was the passion and dignity of rhetoric. The notion of engaging a bank of speech writers would have appalled him.

Churchill considered the gift of oratory as the most precious talent bestowed upon man, believing it wielded a power more durable than that of a great king.

His radio broadcasts during the war lifted the courage of his people, empowering them to take on an enemy far better equipped for the fight. He conceded later that Britain had the heart of a lion while he had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.

Fourth was Churchill's unwavering moral decency. He savoured power and authority but was always upright in his conduct. According to his biographers, his career was not without blemish but they were nothing more than imperfections on the face of virtue.

His fifth characteristic was perhaps his most redeeming and the one attribute that distinguished him from the crop of modern leaders; his actions and stands were never designed to attract votes.

He adhered resolutely to his principles and was rarely motivated by political opportunism.

Part of Obama's redecorating plan was to add a new oval rug inscribed with favourite quotations, including one from King: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

As the president enters negotiations over the US's economic future, he should ask his designers to add a Churchill classic: "In finance, everything that is agreeable is unsound and everything that is sound is disagreeable."

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Wed Sep 03 01:54:42 SAST 2014 ::