President Obama’s appearance on TV with Bear Grylls last night revealed two fundamental beliefs that the President has that are generally good, but also represent two of his biggest weaknesses.
First, the President stated that he is a big believer in science. This is a good thing, but risks missing the fact that scientists, despite their often insightful arguments backed up by accurate evidence, frequently get things wrong.
The reason for this has repeatedly been an underestimation of the human capacity for creativity and adaptation that have found ways to continue on and even prosper despite the clear warning signs. Often, the ultimate solutions to our problems do not come from the same people who provided the warnings, but from some unexpected places.
The President should therefore be careful not to put too many eggs in one basket when looking for and promoting solutions. He should also work harder to include more people and solutions to addressing the climate problem, to include those who do not believe it is a problem. Bill Clinton recently said that our society’s intolerance of other’s opinions was the last great bigotry we need to overcome. Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in the climate debate.
Unless the President can take a broader view on his understanding and application of science, finding solutions to our most pressing problems will become more difficult and the best chance we have had in decades for science to play a positive role in our society will risk being wasted.
The second belief the President conveyed on the show was his belief that persistence and resilience will pay off in the end. This is also a good, but can sometimes be a dangerous view to have. As persistent as a President can be, a failure to change strategies and appreciate public perceptions can prevent us from accomplishing our goals, or at least make it much more difficult and costly than it should be.
Successful Presidents of the past have shown more appreciation for the importance of achieving near term victories in the pursuit of their goals. President Lincoln had to be willing to get rid of General McClellan whose dithering made the Civil War much more damaging than it should have been. President Eisenhower understood the importance of achieving Allied victories early on in what he knew would be a long war sending troops to invade North Africa before invading the European mainland.
To become effective, the President must learn these lessons of history if he hopes to have a successful legacy. If he fails to do that, the next President may trump all of his efforts.