Soft Power vs. Quiet Power: Barack vs. Robert

By | July 31, 2014 | 0 Comments

words deeds

A few days ago, my wife and I had an educational day in Los Angeles. We learned about power – externally granted power with all the accouterments and trappings, and real, innate power without any trappings.
We were driving along Santa Monica Boulevard, and the traffic was even slower than usual. Eventually it came to a complete stop, and we saw a police car blocking the intersection. But the lanes going in the opposite direction were oddly empty.
Soon we saw California Highway Patrol motor officers coming in the other direction, and we suspected what was happening. Next came Highway Patrol SUVs, and then a black Suburban with flashing lights. And sure enough, then came another black Suburban, with a surprisingly large American flag on the right front fender and a matching presidential flag on the left. The smoked windows did not allow a glimpse of President Obama, but we assume he has there as he was visiting the city to attend fund-raising events.
The procession continued with more black Suburbans, more Highway Patrol SUVs, an armored car that probably contained a SWAT team, an ambulance, and finally another SUV sounding a siren – apparently telling those concerned that this was the end of the procession, so they could break down the roadblocks.
Years before, we had seen a similar but much smaller procession carrying Bill Clinton to a jazz club. So now we could boast of having seen two presidents, albeit from a distance, and provided that this is suitable cause for boasting.
Whatever one’s political leanings, one must admit that it was impressive to see a powerful man pass by with the trappings of his power displayed for all to see.
Later that day, my wife went to the gym where she has been a member for years. More exclusive gyms cater to dilettantes wanting to lose weight. But this gym tends to have serious people doing serious workouts.
The gym includes a heavy punching bag, inevitably patched with duct tape, as well as a speed bag. This equipment, and the people who use it, are overseen by a serious-looking gent. He is expert in boxing and kick-boxing, and I suspect in other martial arts as well. Though he isn’t large physically, he is impressive in a way that makes people reluctant to cross him. I’ll call him Robert, because I don’t have permission to use his real name, and because he gives the impression of not wanting – or needing – to advertise.
Two men were sparring as Robert looked on. One of the men got too aggressive with his punches. Robert stepped forward and grabbed both men’s arms, hard enough that his hands turned white with the pressure. The men stopped sparring instantly. Robert pointed at the offender, then pointed at the door. Without voicing a protest or manifesting the least resistance, the man headed for the door. Robert then donned gloves and sparred with the other man.
During this episode, other people in the gym stopped what they were doing and watched intently. And most significantly, from beginning to end, Robert never uttered a word.
There is quiet power, and then there is soft power. They are often confused, especially by the Obama Administration. But they are very different, and often diametric opposites.
Robert exemplifies quiet power. Through the force of his personality, he exerts influence over those around him. He has no need to shout or gesticulate, much less to do anything physical. Everyone knows that should he feel the need to do something physical, things would not go well for the object of his attentions.
Some may try to deny this, but true respect often includes a bit of fear. In past generations, this was true of how children felt about their parents, especially their fathers. But it was also true of how children, and adults as well, regarded teachers, clergy, police officers – and ultimately, God Himself.
If the patrons of the gym had no respect for – and no fear of – Robert and people like him, patrons would be less likely to wait for their turn to use machines, less likely to wipe off the equipment after using it, less likely to treat one another with respect, and – in the extreme – less likely to avoid getting into fights.
Many people, especially on the “progressive” end of the spectrum, seem to have great difficulty grasping this simple idea. Rather than the quiet power manifested by Robert in the gym, they prefer the soft power exemplified by Barack Obama in the Oval Office.
● In contrast to Robert, who feels no need for the trappings of power, Obama, who feels the need to advertise his importance, surrounds himself with flags, lecterns embossed with the presidential seal, backgrounds filled with adoring supporters, and lengthy processions.
● In contrast to Robert, who feels no need to bloviate, or even to speak at all, Obama talks incessantly, as if he could talk problems to death, and as if words could take the place of actions.
● In contrast to Robert, who was trained in martial arts, and hence knows how painful reality can be, Obama was trained as a lawyer and academic, and hence recalls that cutting remarks are the most painful things he has experienced.
● In contrast to Robert, who deals with people and things as they are, Obama builds a fantasy world in which leaders of other nations think exactly as he does, and therefore will act exactly as he wishes them to act.
● In contrast to Robert, who does not need to say a word to convince people that he is serious, Obama draws a “red line” in Syria, and when terrorists step over it, he does nothing but talk – reinforcing the impression that he is very far from serious.
● In contrast to Robert, who unhesitatingly steps forward to remedy a situation before it becomes dangerous, Obama vacillates until four Americans including our ambassador are killed in Benghazi, until ISIS slaughters thousands in Iraq, until Hamas feels free to launch thousands of missiles into Israel, and until Putin feels free to ingest parts of Ukraine and shoot down an airliner, killing 298 civilians – and still Obama does nothing but talk.
Granted, keeping order in a gym is a thousand times less complex than keeping order in the world. But the same principles apply. First, one must resolutely take on the responsibility for keeping order. Next, one needs to generate personal respect, backed up by the fear of what would happen if that respect were met with disrespect.
Yes, it was an educational day in Los Angeles. First we saw soft power in all its affected glory. And then we saw quiet power in all its glorious effectiveness.
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