Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Obama’s Greatest Failure is Leadership. Not Policies.

Ask yourself this. Can you think of a single time over the course of Barack Obama’s three year presidency, when he has shown true leadership?

Do a quick inventory of the major events that occurred on his watch. Ruminate over the fights he has waged and the way in which he has waged them. You may like the president personally. You may be ideologically simpatico with him. However, I would guess that even his most ardent apologists would have to ponder for quite a while before they could come up with an example of true, executive leadership in this president’s record.

Never has Barack Obama successfully rallied the American people behind one of his policy initiatives. To the contrary, when it came to selling his signature piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act, there appeared to be a noticeable negative correlation between the number of speeches Obama would give in support of the bill and the percentage of the American public who supported its passage. Every time Obama talked, fewer people liked his ideas.

What made the president’s inability to rally support behind Obamacare even more staggering was that he was selling it to the American people based on blatantly false talking points, such as the idea that ACA would reduce the deficit and that anyone who liked their current health care plan would be able to keep that plan after the bill went into effect. If you’re going to lie you might as well do it convincingly enough so that it achieves your desired goals.

Despite a federal debt rapidly approaching Athenian levels due to out of control entitlement spending, not a single time has the president proposed a serious policy solution or even sounded a much needed alarm concerning the future of Social Security and Medicare.

Instead, the president has put his public focus on tax increases that would not come anywhere close to solving the problem.

He allowed his party, which had huge majorities in both houses at the time, to punt on its basic responsibility of passing a budget, simply to protect the party from electoral losses which ended up happening anyway. Gridlock is a reasonable excuse for inaction. Cowardice is not.

At the beginning it was almost understandable that a president taking over in the midst of economic uncertainty would focus on the fact that he didn’t cause the initial problem. But to continue to blame your predecessor three years later—whether warranted or not—is poor leadership no matter how you slice it. Particularly from a president who campaigned on promises to bring America together.

If Obama had divided the nation unintentionally, simply by standing on principle, that would be understandable. However, this president has pitted Americans against each other intentionally and for no other reason than to gain a political advantage over his opponents. How else can one characterize firing rhetorical bullets at straw men labeled “Republican” who would leave children with Down syndrome to “fend for themselves” and creating a fantasy narrative in which the gains for those at the top have come at the expense of the poor and in which the fortunes of the poor would rise if only those at the top were not so selfish.

There are arguably two occasions on which President Obama has flirted with something that could arguably pass as courageous presidential leadership. The first was his speech following the Gabby Giffords shooting, in which he rightfully admonished the Left for politicizing the tragedy. Of course, this only came after giving his allies on the Left a full, uninterrupted week to push the false narrative that right wing rhetoric had caused the tragedy.

The other example was authorizing the successful assassination of Osama Bin Laden--a call that was a no-brainer, regardless of the political risk that came with it, which in that case was minimal.

Perhaps it’s time to reassess what the office of the presidency is supposed to be. Is it simply another co-equal branch of government aimed at achieving narrow ideological goals or is it something more? Does the president have a responsibility to rise above the permanent campaign and take the political hits that come with making unpopular but necessary decisions? Does the chief executive have a responsibility to mend rifts, solve real problems and unite a country behind a common purpose or is the office of the presidency simply a means to achieve a place in history by doing as little harm as possible over the course of an 8-year period?

Right now we are a nation with no common purpose. As much as some would like to blame the two-party system for this fact, the truth is that the President of the United States is the only political figure in the nation with the power to move us towards that goal. Whether you agree with his ideological bent or not, there is little doubt that President Obama has failed the leadership test in almost every measure.

- Dan Joseph

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