Intellectual Rigor and Vigor

By John DiIulio 11-06-2008

Dear President-elect Obama:

Probably the hardest single thing for any modern president to maintain amidst the daily storms, both real and media-manufactured, that surround and pound the White House is the personal quality that former Secretary of State Colin Powell cited when he endorsed your intellectual rigor and vigor.

Loyal and talented, wise and well-meaning though they may be to an individual, your White House senior staff will, by degrees, and before the "first 100 days" have elapsed, succumb to diverse daily pressures to simplify the complex, ignore inconvenient facts, and, in what they will sincerely believe to be yours and the nation's best interest, shrug off or silence even the most constructive critics.

Neither the electronic press nor the print media (what's left of it) will long suffer complex answers to complex questions, not even if delivered by a master rhetorician and great communicator. And your own supporters in Congress will be among your worst enemies when it comes to delays justified only by your determination to deliberate a bit longer (he's indecisive!), gather more facts and perspectives (he doesn't truly respect or trust us!), or craft creative alternatives (he's actually still wet behind those big ears!).

But, come what may, you will be a great president if, and only if, you retain, against odds no less long than those you faced as a candidate, the intellectual rigor and vigor that, more than any other single trait, got you into the Oval Office and into the history books forever.

John DiIulio, who has a Ph.D. in government from Harvard, is a professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University and director of the Partnership for Research on Religion and At-Risk Youth. He was the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and author of Godly Republic: A Centrist Blueprint for America's Faith-Based Future.

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